Less money for scribes and thesps

Studio cost-cutting choking writers, actors

When it comes to writers and actors, studios are finding that they can get more work for less money.

One example is the one-step deal for writers, which has been growing in popularity at all the majors.

The traditional two-step deal involves money paid for a first draft, two sets of revisions and a polish. In the one-step deal, a writer is hired for a single phase of the script, with options for the rest.

Ostensibly, this enables a studio to limit its commitment and move on if the writer’s work is not up to snuff.

“But the reality,” fumes one agent, “is that a writer feels he or she has only one shot, so will do multiple rewrites for free.”

“The studios and producers treat writers this way because they can get away with it,” one attorney notes.

“There is so little work for so many writers,” one top scribe laments. “It used to be amazing the amount of money that got tossed around. Now that only happens if you’re the flavor of the month or working with Tom Hanks.”

Most writers say they cannot recall a tougher stretch.

WGA West stats show annual earnings rose only 6% to $782 million between 1998 and 2001; yearly employment edged down 2% to 4,525 during that period.

Thesps are feeling the squeeze as well.

“When it comes to actors, the middle class has basically disappeared,” a top showbiz attorney muses. “If you’re not an absolutely essential element to getting a picture greenlit, the studios don’t care about your reputation.”

Actors who were once “stars” now routinely are offered “scale plus 10” — the SAG minimum ($655 daily, $2,272 weekly) and the 10% agency commission.

“Actors’ egos get in the way of reducing their quotes to realistic levels,” one agent notes.

Veteran thesps also grouse that studios will simply hire inexperienced actors at the lowest possible rate.

But they don’t have a leg to stand on. A mega-star will get his asking price, but everyone else in the film is given a take-it-or-leave-it offer. Networks and cable shows have embraced reality so much that scripted work is even rarer — meaning actors and writers jump at whatever chance they get.

The ripple effect of such cost-cutting is huge: The one-step deal, for example, chops an agent’s potential commission, which in turn can lead to cutbacks at agencies.

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