Interview with Chip Proser (Adopt a Writer)

by Paul William Tenny

chip-proser.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I signed up for a project to interview striking writers, to give them the same kind of publicity that the studios and networks get by default from their parent corporations owning all of the largest newspapers and TV stations -- basically they own the media we depend on to get "fair and balanced" news.

What follows is my interview with veteran jack-of-all-trades writer, director, producer, and everything else you can imagine, Chip Proser. who has been busy for much of the last three months working a cause that he deeply believes in.
Paul: I'd like to write an introduction to this interview where I can give readers a sense of who you are, and what you consider important in your career -- to give some context to these later questions and answers, if you will. Looking at your resume, I see a lot of work that isn't what most people would identify with television and feature writing, perhaps because they (like myself to a degree) are not familiar with all the many facets of writing.

Chip: I come from a showbiz family and certainly should have known better. My father, Monte Proser, created the Copacabana nightclub and lost it to the Mob. He produced "High Button Shoes" on Broadway and very early television, including the very aptly named "Coke Time" with Eddie Fisher. My mother was a Broadway chorus dancer, a Copa Girl and Gregory Peck's first screen girlfriend in "Keys to the Kingdom". He left her for the priesthood and moved to China, which, if you knew Mom, made a lot of sense.

My Dad always told me to become a writer because "You can sleep late, and there's no equipment to carry." In film school, I was turned down for the writing class by Marti Noxon's grandfather. So I never studied it or read any of those books about it. This is the secret of my "success". I actually majored in Mekong Avoidance.

All the other kids we're so artsy-fartsy that they never bothered to learn how to load the cameras, so I did it and found myself to be a director cameraman by default. I worked my way though BU by writing and performing improv and cleaning films for the Mental Health Association until I developed a carbon tetrachloride dependency. While at BU I had an idea. More about that later.

I co-founded the Orson Welles Film School and shot a couple of skin flicks for money, then got hired by WCVB-TV which had just scored a license to broadcast. I became their main documentary director cameraman and shot every day for seven years on every kind of production including the famous Lesbian Pigeon Walk.

On becoming bored with reality, I took a job in Vegas writing a gangster talk show. I told them I wasn't actually a writer, but they said, "It's Vegas. Who'll know?" Here I learned a valuable lesson - It's probably a bad idea to put a radio mike on a murderer.

The show was a result of the "Sinatra Clause" in the Nevada Gaming Regulations whereby a known associate of gangsters couldn't be a key casino executive unless he was an entertainer and then it was sort of required. My job was to write snappy patter for convicted felons and try and not get clipped for it. The audience was all federal agents. Talk about a tough room! Their job was to prove it wasn't entertainment. I believe my material helped get them a conviction. This episode became the movie "Casino". Lefty didn't really warm to my material or humanity in general and I spent a lot of time avoiding Tony the Ant.

While there, the idea reoccurred, (see paragraph 2) along with a need to get out of town fast and I started to write "Interface".

Upon arriving in Hollywood, I got a call that my great friend Horace Greeley McNab, "The Man With the World's Most Beautiful Feet", and the advance man for "Chorus Line", had gone on his bi-annual bender and was missing in action in San Francisco. The girl he had hired to be his assistant was panicked because the show opened in three days and Horace was nowhere to be seen. Some days later he was seen in his underwear in the vicinity of the Jack Tar hotel with a snootfull of bourbon. Needless to say, two crazy people, thrown together by circumstance in such a romantic city... I bonded, if that is the word, with the girl, who, as luck would have it, was the babysitter of the wife of the Story Editor of Coppola's Zoetrope Studios.

Coppola bought "Interface" for his short-lived Hollywood Studio. Lucy Fisher said "This is the most brilliant, absolutely perfect script I ever read. Now for the first rewrite..." Thereupon I lost interest in whatever it was she said next.

Coppola needed fast cash to buy the neon for the Vegas set in "One From the Heart" and sold "Interface" to Paramount for ONE MILLION DOLLARS. He didn't even leave me a tip.

Paramount bought it, then read it. They then promised never to make it, sell it, let anyone else make it or let me reacquire it. It was POV. You never see the main character. At present it's been at Paramount for 28 years. AFI magazine called it "One of the Ten Best Films Never Made."

I then became a hot writer and was offered virtually every re-write in Hollywood, most of which I turned down. I felt that I was a director/cameraman tragically trapped in the body of a screenwriter, but didn't have the cash for the operation.

The first three pictures I wrote and a TV pilot all got made, albeit apparently directed by baboons. I developed an attitude. I felt that if I created something, that somehow I was at least as capable of shooting it as the next guy. Call me crazy! You may have to get in line to do that.

Actually Top Gun wasn't that bad, but Simpson pulled an UZI on me and I took it away from him and it put a kink in our heretofore rather unpleasant relationship and I didn't bother to arbitrate.

I told people I wasn't really a screenwriter, and thankfully, after 17 years they believed me. I then created the documentary series Sworn to Secrecy which I also produced, directed and shot. Presently, I'm rather concerned about the future of humanity, being closer and closer to leaving it, so I'm making documentaries and new media projects on climate change, global warming, the energy crisis and Colonizing the Moon to mitigate such.

Um, what was the question?

Paul: Would you like to explain which of writing, directing, etc, you consider your main interest, and between feature films, television, and other things, you like the most? I don't want to just make the assumption that it's writing.

Chip: Oh, yes, Feature films take forever and there's just too much time to screw around with them, and they cost so much they want them rewritten over and over until you can't even remember what you wrote before. Television is better, because you've got to finish the damn thing and get it out. News is best because there's no time to think at all.

I like documentaries because you can lose yourself in the material and because they can't tell me I can't direct them cause I just whack 'em with the Emmys. I think writing without being able to finish what you started is just dry humping and I gave that up in high school. I really don't know how real screenwriters do that.

Paul: News writing is something I'm least familiar with, and something you have a great deal of experience with from the sounds of it. When I write, I'm working in the fairly standard form of one-hour dramas and feature specs, which are really not all that different from each other technically speaking -- that is to say they look very similar, and in many ways also work the same. You essentially tell a story as sparingly and visually as possible, and end up with a blueprint for the production.

How does news writing, editing, and those various tasks differ from how you sit down to craft a screenplay or telescript?

Chip: I was never a news writer. I was a cameraman. So my creative input was in listening to the producer or reporter and the interview and then trying to tell the story visually by what B roll I shot. You arrive on location, hopefully with time to discuss what the story is with the reporter. Your job is to try to grasp the story and give them coverage in a very limited amount of shooting time. The good thing is that you can see how it worked that evening if it's on the six or eleven news. For me there's a similarity in screenwriting. You arrive at a scene with your characters and you have an idea what the story is and the scene is about but you have a limited amount of time - pages - to tell that story. In my case, I see it visually and I get to cut it as an editor as well. So for me, each scene is an actuality cut like a news story to its shortest news clip.

Paul: What's your favorite thing that you've worked on for writing, directing, and/or producing over the years?

Chip: I really enjoyed the doc series Sworn to Secrecy, (Secrets of War) because I got to wander all over Europe and the Middle East to the weirdest places like Penemunde, secret underground war rooms, and Bletchley Park and because there was a great story of the deception war which had never been told on television. I didn't have to create fiction. It was more interesting to do the research, meet the historic figures and try to put all the secrets into an exciting and coherent story. Best of all, I got to make the shows with no interference, or even script conferences from either The History Channel or Pearson/(Fremantle) so that was a real plus.

What I find really interesting now is the next hundred years where I believe we are in a race to get off the planet before our ever increasing numbers destroy the ability of the earth to support us. We've just lived through years of complete venal stupidity, with billions of people in thrall to greed and medieval religious fantasies. But I've been able to spend the time with space scientists, brilliant engineers and visionaries. I think the average person doesn't really grasp how possible colonies on the moon, the asteroids and other planets are. With the new cameras and editing software I was able to write and produce a feature documentary on this and I'm working on a sequel. Of course I could always use an investor...

Paul: To craft a coherent story out of what at first glance might seem like stale facts and boring history must be an interesting challenge. You've got to really understand the whole deal before you can start talking about it in a way people can enjoy, and also learn from. Is there some specific method you have for finding people to talk to, absorbing that information, and forming it into a narrative short enough to keep people's interests?

Does that way of thinking and working then influence how you tackle fiction, and vice versa?

Chip: Not for me. First you have to be interested in the subject. You do as much research as you can so as not to look like a total idiot, but the fun is in the unexpected and in reacting to it and going off on a topic string that you hadn't really anticipated. For "Sworn to Secrecy", I got to buy a whole bunch of books on secret intelligence before I started to interview anyone. A lot of these were not even available in the U.S. Then I had notes from the books themselves. But for instance, in interviewing Anthony Hinsley at Cambridge, he suddenly revealed that he was the one who discovered that the German Cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisnau were making a break for the Kattegat. He did this through analyzing the locations of message traffic. So I suddenly realized I was sitting not with just an academic, but an actual player in the great game. So I took that into a complete sequence I hadn't anticipated.

For Gaia Selene I was interviewing Gerald Kulcinski, the head of the Nuclear Fusion Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was asking about actual fusion reactors, which I believed were limited to Tokamaks, multimillion dollar machines as big as a basketball court. He said there was another kind, a room temperature fusion reactor slightly bigger than a basketball, and it was over in the lab. We walked over and I got to see an actual fusion reaction, which changed the whole sequence and the documentary.

In screenwriting, if you can make that happen, when the characters take on a life and surprise you and send the thing off in a different direction, then you can just write that up and go to lunch.

Paul: I see that you attended the American Film Institute in 1993 for what I understand to be producing related courses. What did you learn there that has helped you since then?

Chip: At the AFI I studied computer graphics with Harry Mott and got a jump on what was happening with the Internet. I used that to get into 3D animation which I use to illustrate my documentaries. I'm not all that good at it since I can't draw but since the software is 3D it's more like being a lighting cameraman, in that you place objects in a scene, light them and move the camera. With this software I'm able to waste months of time in order to avoid writing. It's a screenwriter's wet dream.

Paul: Some of the principle players from the Stargate television franchise went off to create what is essentially a television show made entirely for consumption on the Internet, called Sanctuary. It was recently picked up by the Sci-Fi channel for broadcast sometime
later this year. In order to save money, I understand that they originally used 3D imaging software to fabricate sets in their entirety, having the actors work against blue/green screens for the entire show.

Even though this has been possible for many years, with many shows and films shooting entire scenes in CGI for compositing, this is to my knowledge the first time it has been used to create the "physical"
environment for an entire series. Based on what you've learned working with software such as this, and how you've used it yourself, do you see this becoming more common in the future?

Is this a stepping stone for writer-owned content to make its way into the real world on a larger scale at a faster pace?

Chip: Actually, I've been a proponent of this since before CGI, when they were trying to develop a means to sync live foreground and background cameras. Obviously building and tearing down huge sets is much more expensive than creating them in a computer. A number of people are doing this since it makes so much sense, especially for Sci-fi, where you can't shoot practical locations. For a project I'm doing, "Tranquility Dome", which is on the Moon, I'm going a step further in using Poser figures as actors. This also eliminates the need for a live stage, costumes, hair and makeup, etc. Craft-service is my refrigerator. Actually, in a continuing production, you would still need all the crafts, but instead of a costumer dealing in fabrics and laundry, they'd be dealing with pixels. You'd still have your art but without the need and expense of physical production. I think this is a positive step for all the creative fields, as it is more efficient, less costly, and therefore more in the control of the artists rather than the financiers.

Paul: Have you found that skills learned from one type of job -- say producing -- have had positive carryover to the others?

Chip: I've done so many different things that I don't really accept the boundaries. It's all part of the creation. I don't really understand when people stay in a niche and don't learn the other techniques. Of course I don't do hair and makeup.

Looking back, I think one of the things that really helped me as a screenwriter was the years I spent on the streets of Boston as a doc and news cameraman. I had lost count after I had shot ten million feet of 16mm, so I had a feel for how lots of different people acted in different circumstances. In Hollywood, so many people seem to come straight from Westwood to the Studios so they'd have some pretty strange ideas. You'd have a meeting and everything they related seemed to have come from some sitcom I'd never seen. So, I'd try to move it into how real people talk and behave. Of course then they'd have it rewritten by badgers.

Paul: If my memory serves me -- and I may be confusing him with somebody else who has said this -- J. Michael Straczynski often credits his work in news for his success in other facets of writing not just for television, but also film and I suppose in some ways comics as well.

Would you recommend people get their feet wet working in news before moving into other areas of writing to gain experience and perspective, or is more just a benefit in the right situations?

Chip: I'd recommend some kind of life-experience so that maybe we can get away from stuff like when the hero cuts down everybody with a .45 pistol from a thousand yards, while all the henchmen in the world can't hit anything with ten thousand shots from their assault rifles. And I think it's very valuable to have to do things on impossible deadlines. I'm a big fan of adrenalin.

Paul: I recognize many of the films you've worked on before, such as Top Gun, Biosphere, Innerspace, amongst others. They seem like a pretty eclectic bunch. Are there any types of stories that you gravitate towards, and how did you come to work on those three films?

Chip: My first script, Interface, basically predicted what the Internet would be. This was in 1980. The Internet or ARPANET was developed in part by MIT and Bolt, Beranek and Newman in Boston. Leo Beranek was one of the owners of WCVB so I don't know if somehow I got the idea by osmosis. Anyway, naturally, I was then offered all the sci-fi jobs in Hollywood. The first one I did was Iceman. The script was actually a lot more like E.T. than the movie you (didn't) see. They apparently then decided the Iceman should be scary. But how much of a threat can a guy be who doesn't know what a doorknob is?

Innerspace was basically a rip off of Fantastic Voyage. My idea was that the big guy was up and moving around and could react to what was going on inside. That's about all I remember. I never actually have been able to sit through it all at once. They don't pay me to watch this crap. Like H.L. Hughgly, I wear a mask to cash the check.

Top Gun, they brought me in because neither the Navy nor the Studio would make the script they had. The Navy wouldn't approve because the planes were flying all wrong. The first writers didn't understand what going ballistic meant. It means your airfoils aren't working and you are acting like a bullet. The studio hated the girl who was an aerobicize instructor, so the dialogue sucked. Naval Aviators are mostly brilliant type A characters, (not that I'd vote for one for President) They had to have someone they could relate to on their level. So I found the girl's character in a TAGREF, at Miramar. Why was I asked to do this job? Because I was hot at the time, I did sci-fi and high concept and I knew aviation from a lot of the stories I shot in Boston and from flying gliders. Also I'm a U.S. Naval Intelligence Section 8 official government certified mental defective. That helped.

Paul: I can see from one side of the coin that doing certain projects might open doors, but then you look back and don't really like what the result was -- for whatever reason. This is just my opinion and feel free to correct me, but you sound very passionate about the
non-fiction work, and so these fiction scripts don't sound like your cup of tea. Would you continue working on fiction that has a high potential for interference and questionable expectations of quality, or are you now mostly dedicated to non-fiction work?

Chip: I'm writing fiction all the time and have a bunch of spec scripts and projects. Most of them are over there, by the couch. I'm motivated by the story and the talent of the people involved, and, oh yes, my wife says to mention cash. The Strike has actually affected me deeply. I've suddenly made friends with all these other writers, even Ian. You know, if you had to pick a pick a subset of people to hang out with, what could be better than a bunch of writers? So I'd like to get on staff of a series because I've heard they also serve lunch.

Paul: Which script that you've worked on, either original or rewrite, are you the most proud of (produced or otherwise)?

Chip: The Ultra Enigma was the pilot for the series, Sworn to Secrecy, titled Secrets of War in foreign territories. It's the story of the Enigma Machine, the secret coding device the Germans thought unbreakable, which was, in fact broken by Polish and other Allied mathematicians including Alan Turing who invented the first computer to break the Enigma. It's all about codes and deception and the official secrets which weren't disclosed until 1973. In doing the research we found many heretofore unknown and unsung heroes including Hans Thilo Schmidt, a German who changed the course of the war and was executed by the Gestapo. I found the story absolutely fascinating and difficult to tell. It's the basis of the secret history of the war and it's interesting that all the Allied governments lied in all the official histories for nearly thirty years. Sound familiar? Also David Kahn, the code and cypher expert said it was the best doc on the subject he'd seen, so that's like a geek Emmy.

I also like Gaia Selene - Saving the Earth by Colonizing the Moon because I think the subject is so important.

Paul: What kind of fight is it to get things like this made and on the air?

Chip: Actually, it's easy for you to see it. Just go to my webpage or Amazon DVD's or Unbox, or, in a few weeks It was pretty easy to make. I just had one too many pitch meetings, got fed up, threw my equipment in the car and took off across America. And I can tell you one thing for sure. If you're ever on Route 40 and see an Olive Garden, pull over right there and eat. That's the best you're gonna get.

I financed the project myself, so the only fight was with the wife. The kids need shoes to go to what? The hardest part was teaching myself Final Cut Pro without reading the book. The fight is to get publicity, so thanks for all your help. Discovery wouldn't even look at it. Perhaps they're still pissed they didn't get Sworn to Secrecy. But I made a deal with Journeyman.TV for foreign. I'm really big in Finland and Portugal. It's a one-of and really doesn't look like the normal PBS documentary, so its US prospects are probably not so good. I know from that confrontation at Sundance that P.O.V. pays only $30K and wants all the DVD rights, in perpetuity throughout the universe, so that's not gonna happen. I think I'll take my chances with downloads, and, of course, word or mouth from astrophysicists.

Paul: I would be remiss if I didn't also ask if there's something you aren't all that fond of. I think most of us have made something we'd rather bury under a stump somewhere and forget about.

Chip: Innerspace. It's really embarrassing. And the pilot, Micronauts. I was actually on the set watching that train wreck, begging them not to let him have the luma crane on a comedy. Talk about flop sweat. I was drenched. There's nothing like hearing your lines land with a thud. Reminded me of the gangster talk show. At least this time nobody was packing.

Iceman. I walked out of the screening in the middle. That song in Top Gun which I didn't put in there. It really creeps me out. And the naked beach scene which I also didn't do, so screw yourself, Quentin.

It's really difficult to watch something you've created go horribly, horribly wrong. Most of what I write that's really bad is stuff that I never finish and the good part is that sooner or later you forget you even did it. Until you're cleaning out the closet and you go "Jesus what was that? What was I thinking? I'm glad nobody ever saw that." The other thing I learned is that I probably need some more therapy.

Paul: It's ironic that the studios end up paying for driving their own employees nuts.

Chip: We are not employees but independent contractors. Employees would get parking and healthcare. You wouldn't constantly tell your employees that everything they just did was all wrong and to do it again, different, and would they mind working for a few extra weeks for free.

Not ironic, more like bronc busting. Some horses can be broken and taught to eat out of your hand, carry you around and pull a plow. Others can't and are sent to the slaughterhouse. Anybody knows that constant insult and frustration will break you or cause you to rebel. That's why writers can retire at age 52. By then you've pissed off everybody. And there's always new meat off the bus from Dubuque. Studios and Agents are always looking for the new, fresh brains, unencumbered by experience.

Paul: I've learned that you've been very active during the current writers' strike, producing video for the Writers Guild of America, United Hollywood blog, and something called Strike TV. Could you tell me a little about these things, and why you think they are important?

Chip: Actually, I told the Guild about a year ago that they needed to get a video unit together and start using the new media for propaganda. So on the day of the strike I walked in and volunteered. It was selfish, of course. Much more fun screaming through traffic and acting like a news crew than marching in a circle with a sign. Most people seem to think that we did a good job getting our video up on the web and countering Counter. Who am I to argue with praise? I think it helped to demonstrate to everyone that there was a new sheriff in town. We actually found a bunch of volunteers in the Guild who could shoot and edit and we put a unit together that could cover daily news while others did videos on their own and posted them. Stuff on the WGA site had to be vetted and approved....They're soooo serious over there, so stuff that we wanted up quickly we posted to United Hollywood, where there was some plausible deniability. Personally I like to blame everything on Ian.

Strike TV is an experiment in having professionals do our own shows directly for the Internet. It's a great learning experience. And I think the sum may be a great bit greater than the parts. I'm personally involved with half a dozen projects and I'm really impressed by how much underused talent there is out there. People are having a great time doing their own stuff with four thousand dollar cameras and two thousand dollar laptops. The great thing about this all is the sense of community not only in the WGA but with SAG and other unions and Guilds. A lot of people will go back to the studio model, but some will keep working in the new media for one big reason, creative control. And ownership of your copyright. The best thing is the migration of professionalism and union coverage to the new distribution channels.

A real eye opener for me was in monitoring our opponents; the established media...When six international conglomerates control virtually all media outlets, they control information, culture and thought. If you're not careful, they could, for instance, sell you a war. They can keep you dazzled with celebrity hijinks while, the treasury is looted. Their pundits can distract you while the constitution is destroyed. All of these corporations use the public airways for which they pay nothing, zero. They've had their broadcast licenses since the dawn of television and reform from the top is problematic and unlikely. So, the migration of professional creatives to the Internet may be even more important than we now realize.

I've personally been shooting practically every day for three and a half months and frankly it's been great to get out of the house. I had been starting to dress up the cats in children's clothes.

Paul: Are they really that stiff to work with?

Chip: No. The Guild was totally right in vetting all video. They were in the middle of a strike and would be held responsible for anything on the site. They were also, as it turned out, all far too busy to screen video. That's why United Hollywood became so important. There were things like David Tuohy's brilliant vampire send-up of Nick Counter, which was great viral propaganda, but which would have been totally inappropriate to be posted to the official WGA site.

Paul: Though perhaps this isn't for the best, most people seem to have an opinion about the deal recently made between the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) -- the same group of billion dollar conglomerates the WGA is dealing with.

All the facts aren't in, but some things are already known. The DGA managed to get some jurisdiction over so-called "new media", which basically refers to TV shows and feature films that are both "streamed" over the Internet, and downloaded both for pay, and for free. This isn't even addressing made-for-Internet programs.

Based on what you do know, do you feel the DGA contact is something that writers and directors can both live with, or is it closer to being a good starting point for writers, who depend more heavily on residuals than do others?

Chip: I don't understand how the DGA can give the studios a 24 day free ride on the Internet. My kids can download those shows in 24 seconds. And I believe the studios will be making money off advertising for those days. It destroys paid reruns and therefore residuals. If this is our deal I'll vote no. But it will accelerate other financing for the move to new distribution channels. People will be motivated by self-interest.

Paul: You must be looking forward to doing something different now, though. Is there something stashed in the back of your mind that you've kept simmering on the stove, that one magical and intriguing "thing" that will be the first thing you'll tackle once the strike
is over?

Chip: I really love to direct and shoot, so I'm shooting a bunch of pilots for Strike TV, including "Don't Get a Boner", and two of my own, "Tranquility Dome", which is all CGI and "The Crew" which is the recent action from the point of view of the video crew. The finale will be behind the scenes at the Shrine Auditorium, where the switcher failed, the intercoms failed, the camera designations got screwed up so the wrong camera went live, the video guy had a seizure, some people were bouncing on the risers, the fluid heads stuck and the entire audience turned and screamed at us. I haven't had fun like that since George Wallace tried to get the mob to kill us during School Bussing.

I'm also going back to looking for financing for my sequel, "Colonizing the Moon in Ten Easy Steps." I can't wait to find out what those ten steps are.

Paul: Based on your supportive actions for United Hollywood and the WGA's video productions, it would be easy -- and I think a mistake -- to assume that you fully support the strike in all areas. I believe you can support the strike, and still have other opinions about how it has been handled. I'd like to kind of get your pulse on a couple of distinct events from the past three months.

For now, how do you think the AMPTP and WGA handled themselves in the month prior to, and leading up to the expiration of the previous contract?

Chip: The AMPTP forced the strike to try to break the unions and control new media. It's Disaster Capitalism. I've always believed that denying writers fair compensation with all the deception of the net profit participation and other cheats was not about the actual money. The studios could easily afford to pay writers fairly. It's about control. When writers get rich they don't want to put up with the conditions of a studio project. They'd write and produce their own stuff. If this new deal is unfair, with the new equipment and distribution channels you will see more people doing that.

I think the leadership did a remarkable job herding writers who are slightly more difficult to herd than cats. I hate to see all this blogging about how we all love to write and would do it for free. That just weakens our position. No. We hate to write. It's hard and when it comes out bad, really embarrassing.

Paul: A very select group of successful feature film writers have negotiated a very enviable deal with (Warner Brothers was it? I need to look that up..) a single studio. They give up their traditionally high initial script fee in return for becoming more "involved" with
the production of the film. If it actually goes into production, they get their normal fee, otherwise the studio got a very cheap look at a very expensive script and was able to back out.

If the film goes into production, they to be producers who can't be re-written without their permission, and participate in the films profit in such a way that they get their cut before the studio gets a chance to juggle the films costs into infinite debt -- precisely the kind of deal that writers basically never get.

We could discuss that specific deal, but I think the more interesting debate is the potential for other deals to be negotiated outside the union in ways that benefit writers, but are considered against the writers professional history of success and failure. Do you think that's an avenue the union itself ought to be exploring in depth? Not so much that the union would tailor its contract so that a certain class of writers get better treatment, but that the union encourage all writers to try to get better deals, so that it becomes a widespread phenomena, so that ultimately the union can demand these things as new minimums down the road.

Chip: The board and negotiating committee are unanimous, so I think the strike is over. I think any free promotional window should be free. That is, they shouldn't make any money on it either. Then we'd see how short it really should be.

...a very select group of successful feature film writers , ...

I've asked my various agents to do a deal like that starting in 1980. They'd look at me blankly and take a phone call. I think that's the only way to be a screenwriter. It's closer to how a playwright is treated. I've demanded exactly that over the years with my spec scripts. The studio execs look at me blankly and take a phone call. But I'd love to be in that club. I'm gonna ask Nick.

Paul: Thanks Chip.
in Digital Media, Feature, Labor


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