Inside Move: Draft war

Scribes kicking over one-step deal dilemma

Screenwriters have a growing headache, and that may translate to more pain for Hollywood as whole.

Scribes are increasingly aggrieved over one-step deals, which limit them to submitting a single draft for a far lower fee rather than what they’d receive for a traditional first draft, two sets of revisions and a final polish.

What that means is that writers — even big names — are being forced to perform multiple rewrites for free out of fear they’ll get fired if they protest the extra unpaid work.

“Screenwriters are getting angrier about one-step deals,” says Phil Alden Robinson, who received an Oscar nom for his “Field of Dreams” script and is co-chief of the WGA West’s screenwriters council.

“It’s just so disrespectful and counterproductive. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because you can’t get it right on the first try, so you wind up paying more in the long run anyhow.”

The carping has become loud enough for WGA West prexy Victoria Riskin to reveal recently that the Guild is considering making the issue part of upcoming negotiations over its master contract with studios, which expires May 1.

That’s a troubling sign for Hollywood since the writers, among all Guilds, usually take the hardest line at the bargaining table.

Combine the issue of free rewrites with demands for a bigger cut of DVD revenues and more employer contributions for health insurance, and the outlook appears rocky.

And though many producers continue to sign scribes to traditional deals, some studio execs and producers say whipping a script into shootable condition often requires many writers. They say the vast majority of projects never make it to the screen, so why not cut their losses with one-step deals?

“I can’t tell you how many times we get scripts that are searching for the movie. We’re somehow supposed to be like Michaelangelo seeing the sculpture in the block of marble,” one exec muses.

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