The old studio system may not be dead after all.
In a unique arrangement reminiscent of 1920s-’40s moviemaking when stables of writers toiled in on-lot bungalows, the Walt Disney Co. has inked exclusive one-year pacts with Ron Anderson, Chad Beguelin and Mark Perez to function as writers-in-residence. In addition, the Mouse House is close to a deal with a fourth writer.
Walt Disney Motion Picture Group co-presidents Nina Jacobson and Todd Garner are overseeing the program. Each writer will receive a low-six-figure yearly salary, with bonuses built in for movies that are greenlit.
The idea may augur a new way of operating under new Walt Disney Studios chairman Peter Schneider, who is used to the “story group” development process from his animation days.
Working out of studio offices, the writers will pen treatments and read scripts in development, meeting with studio execs at least once every two weeks. They can team up or work on projects individually; at times, they will be asked to offer different takes on the same material.
The deal is another wrinkle in attempts by every studio to improve relationships and biz dealings with writers.
While Disney’s plan focuses on attracting new talent, Sony in January 1999 unveiled a plan to cap costs for A-list writers. Its agreement gives certain scribes 2% of the backend gross of their pics (or 1% for shared credit). In exchange, the writers pen scripts at their previous going rate, for a period of four years.
At Disney, the writers’ main focus will be to make quality fare.
“The great thing about them is that they can bring us ideas and material that we may miss,” one Disney exec explained.
“I feel really lucky to be involved,” said Anderson, a 1999 graduate of USC’s School of Cinema & Television with a BFA in film writing. “I was shoving books at the USC library when I got the call. I think this is a phenomenal opportunity to develop relationships with the studio and to see the process from the inside.”
Anderson is working on a treatment for Disney’s “Inspector Gadget II.”
Beguelin, who moved from Gotham to L.A. two weeks ago, comes from a background in musical theater. His play “Swing Alley” is scheduled to open at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Va., in the fall. “Wicked City,” another musical he wrote, was produced at the American Stage Co. in New Jersey.
Beguelin also penned the screenplay of a biopic, “Tchaikovsky,” for which he won the Waldo Salt Award while an MFA student at NYU.
“I think it’s a great mix of writers because we all come from such different backgrounds,” he said.
Perez created the half-hour animated TV series “Pinheads,” optioned by Klasky Csupo. His feature script “Find Stevie!” is under option at Disney-based MBST Entertainment, while “The Miscellaneous Man” and “The Amazing Barry” are in development.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” Perez said. “You get young writers who are good and they develop ideas. I am super-excited to be here at Disney, especially making Disney family comedies.”
Perez said he looks forward to making quirky comedies and putting his spin on material that he finds or is given by studio execs.
Anderson is repped by Rob Carlson at WMA and literary agent Mikkel Bondesen; Perez is repped by manager Brian Lutz at Mediachase.