When the Safer At Home order went into effect in Los Angeles at midnight on March 19, 2020 it shut down the film and television industry, as we know it, from sets gone silent to the end of our stock in trade – the face-to-face meeting. For a little perspective, according the Motion Picture Association, the global entertainment market – including huge gains in streaming – hit $100 billion for the first time in 2019.
If you’re worried about what happens going forward, you’re not the only one. Everyone is looking for advice on what the New Normal might be.
The industry – which directly employs about 927,000 people across the country, among 2.6 million total Hollywood-supporting jobs – was one of the first sectors to shut down when the coronavirus took hold in the United States. It will likely be one of the last to reopen as unions, studios and public health officials scramble to establish new protocols and safety measures amid a public health crisis that continues to roil much of the country.
“Lights, camera, and sanitizer! Hollywood looks to reopen under a new normal” by Alicia Victoria Lozano, NBC News
While the situation is endlessly evolving, the industry is trying to figure out how to adapt. I’ve started “Covid Insights: Industry Scoop in Uncertain Times,” posting articles that highlight how Hollywood is impacted and how they are planning to get back to work on my Facebook page, Big Ideas for Screenwriters. I’ve found everything from a director in Iceland who owns a studio getting back to shooting, to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a historically slow moving institution, changing its rules regarding qualifying theatrical runs, to be fascinating.
I’ve been peppered by questions from writers and consulting clients. Many want to know if this is a good time to get someone to read their work, assuming agents, managers and producers would be sitting on their hands.
Far from it!
Cameras may not be rolling, as that will present significant adaptations for a long while to come, but work is happening. I wanted to find out what my peers and colleagues were up to and hopefully find some answers on what’s happening now and any insight they can share on what the future may hold.
Here’s a roundup of the replies I’ve gotten from writers, producers, agents, managers, executives, entertainment attorneys, and even distributors, offering their inside perspective and advice for screenwriters.
"It's all phone and email, obviously. Wish I had Zoom stock, which is becoming more frequent. Scripts are coming in and notes are being done. People seem more receptive to outreach by email. Conference calls (free lines and just connecting iPhones) are proving more challenging. Free conference lines don't always work. Conferencing via iPhones has become fussy. But, hey, even Netflix had an outage. Digital connecting services are clearly maxing out."
"Zoom and Skype. It’s much harder to get a chemistry reading of the room. Plus no one knows when the start date is. On the plus side, it’s a lot of pajama-bottom meetings."
"I’m going to try and make the positive and honest answer. In March, I closed two deals that had been in the works – and got an offer on another. People are working. I even did a Zoom with heads of a financing company to see what they are looking for – and sent them something. It’s weird...yes. Meetings are odd (I’m now usually drinking) and notes calls are hard. But the business has been moving a lot in that direction anyways. I feel like now is a perfect time to write/develop/find out what people want and find it. I think there will be a lot of demand coming up. So good time to work at it and make sure you’re getting out of bed in the mornings."
~ Navid McIllargey, President of Scripted Content for Storied Media Group
"I have execs at Hallmark looking at a few scripts for my client that got pushed to “considering” status. So development execs are still reading! And as for the future, regarding “virtual writing rooms,” it’s going to be interesting to see if that happens because I know a few showrunners are considering it. Which would be a TOTAL game changer."
~ Whitney Davis, Literary Manager
"I usually work from home anyway and am still busy. My writers are writing, development deals are moving forward and new deals are even closing. In fact, with everyone else working from home and not going to lunches, etc., it seems that paperwork is being turned around much more quickly than usual. Projects have been pushed, but so far it seems like the plan is for most to just be delayed and not cancelled and the dealmaking process is continuing for them."
~ Hillary Bibicoff, Entertainment Attorney, Holmes Weinberg
"Every writer’s dream – when a quarantined director reads your script during a global pandemic. No distractions!"
"As someone who used to be a "hot new agent" who is now approaching "eminence gris" status, I have to say that I have felt a deterioration of the relationship part of the biz for a while. Mostly it takes the form of not passing. Almost nobody will contact you back to pass any more, and it really, REALLY makes my job hard. It's hard to form a relationship with someone who won't call you back and say WHY they're saying no. It's not like "no" makes us mad, or anything like that. We just need a little feedback. "I hated it," or "it just didn't grab me," is actually GREAT feedback. It helps me, it helps me with my client, and it helps my client do better work. So, for me, the lack of handshakes isn't the issue at all. It's the lack of responsiveness AFTER the handshake (or lack thereof) and the meeting have taken place, where the relationship stuff breaks down. Having said all that, I was surprised to close a deal in early March and we got our start check by the end of the month. That’s unheard of. I really, really hope that’s the new paradigm going forward. I also have a new consulting side to my biz. I'm working with several clients in the film, business, and art world on business strategy and negotiation. Really fun! Way more engaging than ploughing through hundreds of mostly terrible scripts looking for something to send out to a marketplace that no longer values a good screenplay."
~ Rima Greer, Literary Agent, Above the Line Agency
"In distribution, it’s business as usual: 50% email, 10% on the phone, the rest in servicing and onboarding product. So the day hasn’t changed. Actually, it’s been a great week: closed 20 titles to Taiwan, 10 to Japan, 12 to Brazil, 43 to domestic AVOD (Ad-Based Video On Demand) platforms. Frankly, this situation would be prime for overturning the Paramount Consent Decrees (1948 Supreme Court ruling preventing film studios from also owning movie theaters). Theaters are the home of the studios and mini-majors – mostly studios. If theaters can't recover, the government will probably let the studios step back in… And they'd get a hold of cheap real estate. They’ve been looking at overturning the ruling. It’s the smaller, independent chains that will be most effected."
~ Jon Bonnell, VP, Summer Hill Entertainment
"Teleconferencing and email.
Reading and giving notes.
Writing as much as I can.The future is animation, webcam chat shows, and reduced crews when we get back to set. There is also a lot of firing and pay cutting going on among reps and execs and we may see more lightweight studio and agency structures after quarantine."
~ Stephan Vladimir Bugaj, Chief Creative Officer DF2 Entertainment
"I cannot argue with Stephan’s assessment."
"We are writing. An original and a book adaptation. Reps are available by phone and email for feedback and guidance. When all this is over (may it come quickly) new content should be very much needed. Perhaps more importantly, creating new material is the best defense against resignation and despair. Wishing all good health and a pathway to meaning in very challenging times."
My thanks to everyone who was so generous with their insights and advice for screenwriters.
And, as part of the #NewNormal, I’ll sign this off as I do all my emails now:
Stay safe and be well!