Strike threat greases summer of the scribe

Prod'n companies, studios rush to buy projects

With a possible Writers Guild strike looming next year, the Walt Disney Co. appears ahead of the curve in putting many of its potential “go” projects on the fast track with A- or B-list writers attached.

In the past week alone, the Mouse House has enlisted the high-profile scribes Michael Leeson (“The War of the Roses”) and the writing duo Steve Pink and D.V. deVincentis (“High Fidelity”) for projects at the studio. (Leeson and Pink/deVincentis are negotiating mid- and high-six-figure pay days).

These deals underscore an uncharacteristically sweet climate for writers. Even the spec business has also shot into overdrive, instead of suffering the lazy heat of August, when the studio development machine normally grinds to a halt.

Two weeks ago, the studio purchased preemptively the spec script “Cassanova” from tyro scribe Kimberly Simi for mid-six figures. The deal came with a blind script commitment for the writer’s next project (Daily Variety, July 28).

And three weeks ago, Disney-based Jerry Bruckheimer Films scooped up tyro scribes Travis Wright and John Glenn’s futuristic spec “Red World” for mid- against high-six figures (Daily Variety, July 19).

Roy Lee, who developed the online spec tracking service iFilmPro, says that during the last two weeks alone the number of weekly specs to go out from high-level managers and agents has shot up from an average of 20 a week to more than 50.

Whatever their quality, many of these specs are selling to production companies and studios whose appetite for material has become nothing short of voracious.

Besides the Mouse House, among those especially active are Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios and Coumbia Pictures. Earlier this month, Roth nabbed “Animal,” in turnaround from Disney and has already greenlit the film. And the company has been signing top writers — such as Mike Rich (“Finding Forrester”) and Michael Petroni (“Queen of the Damned,” from the Ann Rice novel) to name just a few — to accelerate the development of an idea they initiated inhouse.

Two weeks ago, Columbia-based producer Neil Moritz (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”) took off the market the teen spoof “Ten Things I Hate About Clueless Road Trips When I Can’t Hardly Wait to Be Kissed,” from scribes Phil Beauman and Buddy Johnson (“Scary Movie”) in a deal that could ultimately yield as much as seven figures for its writers. That pic was also immediately greenlit.

“This is not a summer … it’s bizarre!” said Endeavor’s Adriana Alberghetti.

Added Lee: “Everyone wants to stockpile as much as they can — especially scripts that are more likely to get made and not impossible to develop.”

The downside?

“Yes, it’s great for the writers, but there’s also the fact that studios are rushing things and are buying scripts that they just may never make,” said a well-placed agent.

Leeson is repped by CAA. Pink and deVincentis are repped by William Morris.

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