With the film industry shifting almost exclusively to franchises over the past few decades, screenwriters are increasingly strained as they find themselves replaced and replaced again through protracted development processes. It’s a punishing road that can be demoralizing for writers who have often spent months presenting an open-ended writing assignment. But as more streamers look to add content to their movie slates, writers are finding new opportunities to flip the script.
A high-profile comic book movie slated to debut next year recently had its final script submitted to the WGA for screenwriting credit, and insiders tell Deadline that an impressive 45 writers had a sort of involvement with the script at various stages of the development process. The likelihood of all of these writers getting credit is “fundamentally impossible,” according to a source close to the project. And while that might be an extreme example, having up to 20 writers involved in a storyline has become all too common. This can be especially frustrating for the original writers in regards to the bonus credit they receive when the guild approves who will ultimately get a signature on the script. According to several literary agents, writers often rely on these big credit bonuses, and the fear that they won’t come is growing.
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But over the past year, writers have started to get hopeful as streamers rush to outbid major studios for high-end spec scripts with top-tier talent. William N. Collage’s Emancipation sold to Apple for over $100 million with Will Smith attached to star and Antoine Fuqua to direct. An untitled Formula 1 screenplay by Ehren Kruger, starring Brad Pitt, was also sold to Apple for over $200 million. In both cases, the writers were properly compensated from the start and they were better placed to control the rewriting process.
These sales were some of the biggest, but streamers’ interest in original content seems to indicate that the trend won’t dissipate any time soon. An agent, describing the streamers slates, said: “We have these big buyers with these huge houses and no furniture. At one point we were stocking their shelves; the writers now give them the furniture.
It’s an approach to creating projects that is also beginning to seep into the theatrical side of the business. MGM recently acquired a package for Challengers, written by Justin Kuritzkes, with Luca Guadagnino and Zendaya attached. Kuritzkes wasn’t even a member of the WGA when the package sold out, but given MGM’s need to compete with streamers, the studio paid big bucks and Kuritzkes scored a seven-figure payday. .
It’s not just improved pay for writers coming out of those big sales. They’re also finding new leverage as a key part of the deal, negotiating producer and executive producer credits that make it harder for studios to cut them out of the process. In some cases, such as with the seven-figure sale to Netflix of Below by writers Gregory Weidman and Geoff Tock – the deal even includes a provision not to replace writers at all.
For years, the theater industry has weakened writers and decimated the spec market. But as the fight for content intensifies, it’s the stars of the spec who are taking back control.