Goldman, others lament state of storytelling at expo

Guests painted a gloomy picture of the state of movie storytelling for the nearly 4,000 aspiring writers at this weekend’s third annual Screenwriting Expo.

William Goldman, who once wrote that the 1990s were the worst decade in movie history, said, “I think this decade is worse.”

“Never have the studios been as disgustingly enthralled with stars as they are now,” he lamented. “Executives don’t read scripts anymore. They don’t like us.”

Meanwhile, lifetime achievement award honoree Jerry Lewis canceled on Friday, as did several other guests (no reasons were released), and the expo’s pitchfest resulted in at least one sale as Chameleon Entertainment will put an offer out on a reality TV show today.

The pitch, details of which were not released, came from an Austin, Texas-based writer who flew in for the meeting.

Chameleon director of development Bob Gustafson told Daily Variety that this was the rare reality pitch that had everything it needed.

“With reality, unfortunately it’s less about the pitch than it is about the business plan,” Gustafson said, “and the elements (the writer) can provide that make it as saleable as possible …. That’s what he brought.”

Writers came from as far away as Europe to attend dozens of seminars, the pitchfest and talks by guests of honor including Goldman, Aaron Sorkin, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, Dean Devlin and Ivan Reitman.

Cold comfort

Most of those speakers delivered a dose of cold reality to the hopefuls.

Several echoed a note sounded by Reitman: “You have to find a way to get your art out there,” the helmer warned, “because it’s not going to get read by people who have gatekeepers.”

Devlin told Daily Variety that he came to speak at the expo because he thinks the film biz is in some trouble.

“With the exception of the writers who make a lot of money, writers aren’t happy,” said Devlin. “Our better writers are going off and running television shows. It’s not just the money; it’s because they get treated better.

“Writers are writing novels, they’re doing journalism, they don’t want to write screenplays right now, and I think we need to get people writing scripts.”

Sunday’s two guest-of-honor seminars featured two sessions with Goldman, one solo and one in conversation with Sorkin, who said that the downward slide in storytelling started with the “Batman” franchise.

“All of those movies were huge hits, and I have yet to meet anyone who liked any of them,” Sorkin commented. “Movies are more and more about the one-sheet. It’s no longer an essential marketing tool for your movie to be good.”

Mean-spirited TV

Regarding TV, Sorkin commented that “the worst thing happening right now is the mean-spiritedness of reality television.”

The expo’s pitchfest, organized by Script magazine, gained momentum this year with some 60 companies, including the William Morris Agency, the Firm, ICM, Dimension Films and the Robert Evans Co., taking as many as 75 five-minute pitches a day.

Feedback from the companies was positive, and several said they planned to follow up with writers they met.

Screenwriting Expo, sponsored by Creative Screenwriting magazine, ran Friday through Sunday at the L.A. Convention Center.

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