If I had to choose one word to describe life on Earth these days it would be:
What I’m hearing from my consulting clients and in online screenwriting groups is:
“What does a world-wide pandemic mean for the aspiring writer?”
- Is the industry at work?
- What should I be writing now?
- Is this a good time to query managers with time on their hands?
- What happens to the industry when this is over?
What’s the New Normal?
In the industry, with no one truly able to predict the future of film and TV in the age of COVID-19, I started polling my friends in the business to see what their day-to-day work life was like now, as well as their thoughts for the future of the industry for writers who face uncertainty every day.
I have some opinions, as well as a few educated guesses, but no interest in attempting to be the Nostradamus of Novel Viruses. Instead, I’m talking to some of the smartest folks I know, trying to get some answers.
On my Facebook page, Big Ideas for Screenwriters, I’ve started “#CovidInsights: Industry Scoop in Uncertain Times.” I’m offering up some perspectives I’ve collected, from speculation to insights to updates. I’m sharing interesting articles on what’s happening in the industry and how things are evolving. Each includes a quote that stood out for me, and the date for reference as things progress. One of the most intriguing ones I’ve read is at the end of this article.
My next planned column was on building industry relationships, but as some of that is face-to-face, the timing didn’t seem right. For now, my column is going to focus on bringing you a perspective from the trenches through interviews with working industry pros. We will let you know what their current focus is and what they think writers should know to plan for the future.
To thank them for their time, one of my consulting clients who is also a graphic artist, dropped her writing to help design a website where people could purchase masks with rocking design choices and a reusable N95 material insert. That’s the best and one of the only acceptable excuses for not writing that I’ve ever heard. You can check out “Cool Masks for Cool People” at MaskMe.
My first interview is with manager/producer Rachel Miller.
Rachel Miller is a founding partner of Haven Entertainment, a management and production company based in Los Angeles. Haven is a dynamic company that produces award-winning documentaries, feature films and television shows; represents top writers, directors, actors, and improvisers; and collaborates with brands to develop cutting-edge digital content.
With over 18 years of experience in the entertainment business, Miller specializes in intellectual property development and has sold over 28 books to major publishers. Miller’s clients have worked across every entertainment platform including on such acclaimed television shows as “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “The Simpsons,” “Parks and Recreation,” “House of Lies” and “Family Guy.”
Additionally, she produced UNDER THE ELECTRIC SKY, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and sold to Focus Features and is currently producing a TV show for Netflix.
Miller is a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. To help pay for NYU, Miller taught at a Manhattan public school where she saw first-hand how low-income students struggled to compete. That experience, coupled with years of working in Hollywood, led her to found the non-profit program Film2Future (F2F) to tackle the real problem facing Hollywood – a lack of diverse students at the start of the pipeline.
Film2Future is a non-profit creative and technical filmmaking program for at-risk, diverse teens. F2F provides one-on-one professional mentorship and, upon graduation, works to create a direct pipeline into higher education or into a paid entry-level industry position.
Since 2016, over 125 students have gone through the program and have earned over $1M in college scholarship money. F2F students have also secured over 40 paid internships on shows such as GLOW, VIDA, BROOKLYN 99, & MAYANS MC.
Note: In addition – and I don’t know why her bio doesn’t lead with this – when Rachel was 16 years old, she decided she wanted mentorship from women in the industry. Her determination led to an internship with me while I was President of Debra Hill Productions. She arrived in a little black suit and told Debra and me that she was frustrated by reading books she thought would make good movies and stacking them up in a corner of her room, only to find that they were getting made before she could make it happen. I could not possibly be more proud of what Rachel has achieved in the industry, as well as in the nonprofit world.
Barri Evins: What’s your day-to-day work life like now?
Rachel Miller: I am still working, spending a lot of my day talking to executives and talking to clients. There's so much uncertainty – even the things that were a given in the past. Before, you knew what, for instance, CBS wanted. Now, no one really knows what's going on. You're making calls to executives, calls to clients, to figure it out because it's changing so fast. A lot more phone calls because there are none of the givens that used to be. Still making deals.
BE: What do you see happening on the other side? What’s the #NewNormal?
RM: I'm already starting to have conversations about, “What are the shows that can be made in an intimate way that tell a story?” I would say What We Do In The Shadows is a perfect example. It's a small show in its design, and in its humor. It's four people in a house. I think that's going to be the future. Things that can be made that don't have huge casts and crews as an essential part of the show. Not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, but organically. Is this a show on its own merits? Not just something that could be made in a post COVID-19 world. That’s got to be the new paradigm until a vaccine is invented.
We represent Ben Schwartz, and his three improv specials just dropped on Netflix. It's literally him and Thomas Middleditch and two chairs on a stage. Yes, there was an audience. Obviously, that wouldn't happen in the future. But the show is two people on a stage and that’s it. That's where I think the future is going to be, at least until there's a vaccine. What can you do with small crews and casts? It's going to be shows that can be more intimate, but organically.
BE: So everything is going to be Between Two Ferns?
RM: Yes. Basically, you're looking at small stuff. That’s a perfect example.
BE: What should writers know now and going forward?
RM: Writers have to realize that everyone is so overwhelmed, physically, mentally, emotionally... On top of that, most executives are now homeschooling. Every time I call an executive, babies are crying in the background.
The writing has to be A+++. There is zero tolerance. If it's not solid on the first page, by page two everyone is going to pass on it. Because everyone is trying to read but they've got three meals a day to cook. No one has any free time, so there is no forgiveness.
I think the other thing is that no one really, truthfully knows what audiences will respond to. Do you want to pretend COVID doesn’t exist? For me, every time I watch a crowd scene, ugh!
BE: When I read a script where people shake hands I cringe.
RM: It's going to be curious to see what audiences really want to watch. But I do think there’s always interest in a writer's personal truth that's told an A+ way. It needs to be practical to be made – a la Timecode versus Avengers.
No one is reading blind queries. No one has time. So take this time to make the script a f****** A plus plus plus, and then you can query people later.
I am deleting queries. Sometimes I used to take a shot. Now I just don't have any extra hours in a day because I'm trying to keep healthy and work, cook, email with lawyers who are back in their office. I don't think querying now is the answer.
You should spend this time making sure the script sings. When this is all over, people are going to be looking for content because – and this is my Rachel quote:
I personally think there is going to be a huge need for content, and now is the time to make sure your script is perfect.
Big thanks to Rachel for her time, and a MaskMe mask in her choice of Cocktails Blue!
The #CovidInsights Article of The Day from Deadline on 4- 28-20:
"‘Social Distance’: Netflix Preps Quarantine Anthology Series From Jenji Kohan"
“Our job as storytellers is to reflect reality, and in this new, bizarre, bewildering reality we are all experiencing, we feel passionate about finding connection as we all remain at a distance,” the producers said. “We’ve been inspired to create an anthology series that tells stories about the current moment we are living through – the unique, personal, deeply human stories that illustrate how we are living apart, together.”
And, as part of the #NewNormal, I’ll sign this off as I do all my emails now:
Stay safe and be well!