EXCLUSIVE: In a move that has writers and their reps buzzing, Warner Bros has just put out word that it will start to enforce delivery dates on first screenplay drafts. That means writers who signed contracts had better deliver on time, or risk the wrath of the studio. Deadlines are rarely enforced by studios, under the “better late and great” rationale. Writers function better under deadline, but scribes say procrastination isn’t the reason they fall behind on delivery dates. Low to mid-level writers are double-booking to make ends meet in an age when studios routinely slash writer quotes and offer one-step deals that leave scribes wondering if they’ll be jobless in three months. Some writers saw the Warner Bros move as another example of a studio imposing its leverage over writers, wondering how long before they return to the days when scribes reported to writer’s rooms on studio lots, turning in a day’s worth of pages when they clocked out.
Warner Bros said the new mandate isn’t nearly as bad as writers might fear. It is part of the studio’s campaign to streamline the development process and fix a fractured system. Warner Bros needs movies. Execs would pitch projects to stars and directors, only to see the screenplays turned in months late. The move came out of recent meetings that production chief Greg Silverman and his exec team took with agents and writers, and not all the results are bad. Based on a litany of complaints from writers and reps, Warner Bros is moving away from the one-step deals that have caught on like wildfire at most studios.
Studios turned to the one-step deals as a way to avoid having to invest more time and money in second drafts from writers who’ve gone off the rails on the first draft. Writers hate the deals because it puts tremendous pressure to get it right the first time, and some need the rewrite process to find the movie. The writers feel that one-steps are promulgating parades of writers, robbing a sense of authorship and contributing to a lack of originality, character development and depth evident in many films that are not performing at the box office.
The one-step deals have also pressured writers into doing free rewrites that violates WGA rules. Scripts are first turned in to producers, who give notes to the scribes. Writers feel compelled to address those in a second pass, done for free, before the script is formally submitted to a studio. Top scribes say no, but low and mid-level writers fear that alienating the producer is a good way to not be brought back.
Insiders at the studio said Warner Bros wanted transparency in its development system, but denied that 12-week deadlines were being given out uniformly. Time lines will be agreed upon upfront by the studio, producer and the writer. Scribes doing research-intensive projects will be given more rope. But the script better be there when the due date arrives.
Writers and their reps say they can live with the Warner Bros system, that this could be positive if one-step deals go by the wayside. Their concern: other studios will emulate deadline enforcement, and keep the one-step deals now so common all over town. One-step deals force writers to keep one eye on the next job. Assignments are harder to come by, and there can be 20 scribes pitching takes in vying for the same job. Writers who don’t take the time to prepare don’t stand a chance.
Warner Bros has another motive for the delivery deadline crackdown. The studio wants producers to move more quickly when they receive script drafts. One producer said that could actually could cost Warner Bros more money, because it won’t leave time for producers to squeeze out that free rewrite that has become all to common.