The last several months have been a unique time for most of us on the planet, fraught with uncertainty. It’s confusing. It’s confounding. It’s complicated.
When a quick trip to grocery store to pick up a couple of ingredients for dinner becomes akin to prepping for a spacewalk and then doing a full Silkwood scrub down after, you are physically and mentally exhausted. Even if you have more time to write, you may be less productive. I’ve been trying to spread the message, “Be kind to yourself.” You brain is programmed ensure that you survive. The very reason stories were invented was to make sense of things, to create meaning. Now it is struggling to process an unprecedented situation. It’s doing the best that it can to figure out the story.
We are in survival mode. Survival mode is stocked full of adrenaline and being on high alert and constantly having to look over our shoulders. All of these things demand energy from us, and we only have so much energy in the bank for use every day.
Writers are not only pushing themselves to be creative despite brain fog and new demands on their time and energy, many are questioning what the future of the industry will look like.
You are not alone in this. Guilds, unions, studios, and state governments are working to figure out how the film and television industries will be able to resume production safely.
The Industry-Wide Safety Committee, a task force assembled to address the safety issues, generated a 30-page draft of a white paper – with input from epidemiologists to industrial sanitation specialists – but is still wrangling for input and consensus among the many industry factions. It’s worth checking out, as there are even suggestions for creatives, such as minimizing the need for sex scenes, fight scenes and other close-contact sequences.
On my Facebook page, Big Ideas for Screenwriters, I’ve started “Covid Insights: Industry Scoop in Uncertain Times.” I’m sharing interesting and insightful articles on what’s happening in the industry. Each includes a quote that stands out for me, and the publication date, as the situation is constantly evolving. One of the most fascinating and comprehensive pieces I’ve read about the future of production posits that it will become reliant on Virtual Reality from top to bottom. Find more at the end of this article.
For the time being, I’m forgoing my monthly column for a series of weekly pieces devoted to bringing you a perspective from inside the industry on how people are working now and what they think writers should consider as they look to the future. I’ve been soliciting insights from across the business and getting in-depth through interviews with working industry pros.
As a timely and appropriate thank you, each person I interview is being gifted with a facemask. One of my consulting clients stopped the screenplay rewrite we were working on together to devote her skills as a graphic artist to creating a website where people could purchase masks with rocking design choices and a reusable N95 material insert. That’s probably the best excuse ever for not writing. You can check out “Cool Masks for Cool People” at MaskMe and see which hip style my interviewee chose!
My second interview is with manager/producer David McInerney.
About David: As an industry vet for over 20 years, David McInerney started his career at WME, moving on to Favored Artists and Sony Pictures. Currently, David represents writers and directors in film/television at his own firm MaCroManagement and works as a producer.
Barri Evins: What's your day-to-day work life like now?
David McInerney: It’s a strange new world. I’d say that it’s sort of not business as usual, but also is business as usual. People are reading and receptive. Not driving to meetings saves time, but then that time is devoted to more calls and emails. Emails take longer than calls, obviously. But phone calls also have a drawback because of distractions: kids, multiple lines, news alerts, emailing while on the phone. Conference calls are spotty and usually one or two drop out and have to call back. The wheel seems to be moving, just moving a bit slower. It’s funny, because I have been deluged with scripts since everyone thinks I have all the time in the world now.
Some days are incredibly busy. Today was kind of an open day, so I decided to go out and get some supplies. But yesterday, I was slammed. Busy to the point where my mom called and I couldn’t even talk to her – so it's an up-and-down sort of thing. To be honest, I don't look at it as days of the week anymore. I could be doing work on a Sunday as opposed to doing work on Monday. It all depends on when people have the time. People are trying to juggle. Some of them have kids or other situations, so it changes from day to day.
I'm part of a message board that has managers from all over town. I have a project that I'm producing, and want a director attached who can push the needle in the five to seven million dollar range. A manager posted that they were looking for a project for their client, a great TV director, and I contacted him, even though I didn’t know him personally, just met him over the phone. I would expect it would take a couple weeks to a month to hear back and literally in two days, I hear from him, “I really love it for my client.” The next day his client got back to us and said he freaking loved it and wanted to get on board. So now we're putting together a Zoom call. Yesterday all five of us spoke, the director, his manager, and me and my partners. A two-hour session where we basically agreed that this could be the right director. Now we're putting together a hit list of places we think really want to do a movie with this director and looking at next week to strategize how we go out to them. We're still aiming at production sometime in late winter of this year.
BE: Wow – that’s incredibly fast! Can you tell us more about the messaging board? Was it around prior to COVID-19?
DM: Yes, and its purpose is to do this kind of joint packaging. Essentially, instead of competing against each other, we're actually helping each other. I will say that the participation has really picked up since the lockdown. There are a lot of names on there recently that I didn't see before. People are communicating a lot more about what they want and what they need. You’re not going to get somebody to buy something right now without some sort of an element attached, either cast or director. You're not going to send out a spec to three dozen producers on a Thursday and then Monday morning, 25 call saying they want to bring it into a studio. I just don't see that happening currently. So you’ve got to figure out how best to position yourself to get the project off the ground.
BE: I know a lot of aspiring writers think this is might be a great time to get a manager, as people have more time to read.
DM: Yes, it is a great time, but keep in mind that we’re seeing a lot of material so it's going to take longer for people to read. But people are reading now. I would say that yes, I am reading. I know a lot of other managers are reading. But bring your best right now.
BE: You told me in the last week that you've never had so much stuff to read in your life.
DM: I've got great stuff, from known writers who don't have agents right now to recommendations from people who are big deal writers. With the WGA and Agency negotiation breakdown, there was a glut of writers that had agents but not managers, who were looking for representation. A lot of those writers were part of the WGA virtual meetups, a group of people connecting on Twitter because of the strike. There were virtual cocktail hours with WGA writers, showrunners, directors, and people would put together their own projects. I've heard of projects that came out of those meetings. Prominent writers were saying, “Hey, tell me who is WGA, and who I can give a bump to?” They were not saying, “I'm going to read your script,” but “How can I help you?” I think the community of writers was really helping themselves. So I got a glut of scripts at the beginning, and then that fizzled out a little bit, then lockdown began and I got hit with a bunch of material. Even more so than the WGA dispute.
BE: A bump? I feel embarrassed to admit that I don’t know that term. It sounds like a recommendation or referral.
DM: Yes. “I'm going to make sure somebody notices you.” People who were already working were helping other people who were not utterly green, but had a connection to them, a relationship. They wouldn’t read the script, but they bump it if they thought it was a great idea. By sharing it on Twitter, they could get your story in front of a bunch of eyes. And if someone is interested, they reach out and contact you, slide into your DMs and hit you up. I think the WGA battle with the talent agencies established a different kind of sort of decorum. Writers helping writers. Showrunners thinking, “Hey I don't need my fired agents to staff up. I can find good people.” You have a network of people you know, producers, showrunners, financial people. Writers aren’t going to get new projects from agents at that point, so they have to find other ways to do it through managers or through other writers. It was just a little community of people trying to help each other, but it's still prospered, even in the lockdown.
I was on one of these virtual meetups since the lockdown, and a prominent writer was basically saying, “Hey, let me get your script to pop. I'm not going to read your script, but if I like your logline, I can give it a bump.” They’re a professional writer – they’re not going to steal your idea – they’re trying to help you. One girl posted a logline and someone I know, that I respect, who does script consults, basically bumped it. They said, “This is a really good script, people should read it.” I jumped in and said, well, if he gives the okay – the stamp of approval – I'm into it, so send me the script. I’ve never done that before.
BE: What else should writers know about getting repped right now?
DM: Whatever you thought was good before – it's just not good enough anymore. You better be f****** amazing. There’s a big push for diversity right now. I just saw a post on the managers’ board yesterday that someone was looking for Native American female writers. I’ve never seen that in this town. I almost never saw people looking for a female writer to work with another female showrunner, to put together a project that’s set up at say, Netflix.
People are actively looking for diverse writers that can bring something special to their project. I think it's amazing. I think it's amazing that it’s happening now. It should have happened many years ago. I think I can at least do something about the diversity that I'm seeing in a way I've never seen before.
BE: What do you think aspiring writers should know about the future?
DM: I feel like in the next year, because of the actions of the studios smartly to shut down productions, that there are going to be gaps that need to be filled. You don't have blockbusters that are shooting now to serve you next summer. Summer blockbuster season is going to be nothing next year unless they hold off on the stuff they've already got in the can and then bring it out slowly.
I do think you're going to see more lower to mid-budget movies to fill the demand if you don't have blockbusters. I think eventually people are going to go to the movies. Maybe it will take a little while, but this country has been through something like this before and rebounded. Remember how terrified people were to get on a plane after 9/11? But how long did that last? In 1918, when 50 million died, it didn't take people long to get back to normal. I think we have this habit of saying, “We’ll never forget,” but honestly, we have trouble remembering.
I think it's going to reshape the business at least in the short-term, and then in the long-term. A lot of big agencies are going to drop a lot of agents, and they're going to become managers, and they are going to become producers. I think that you're going to see a network of people that are getting together to put projects together.
I'd love to see more drive-ins. My dad worked three jobs. The only night he got off was Friday night. He used to take my brother and me and every other kid in the neighborhood that could fit in the car – because you paid a one-time fee per carload to get into the drive-in. There would be a double feature and most of the time he would be asleep before the first 20 minutes of the first movie. But I remember watching movies from the back seat of the car. Or we'd put blankets on the car and lay on the roof, and it was awesome. There was something special about it. I’d love to see drive-ins make a comeback.
We are gonna get through this. Everybody stay safe.
Big thanks to David for his time, and a MaskMe mask in his choice of…
Skull & Crossbones!
With a little bit of imagination, it’s easy to see how 60–80% of all the TV shows and movies we watch (especially outdoor scenes, large rooms, or vistas through windows) will, in the very near future, actually be billions of digital triangles (Nanites as the folks at Unreal/Epic Games call them) that make up these 3D worlds, and the majority of all productions will be studio based or at the very least one key location that could double up for many different environments.
As part of the #NewNormal, I’ll sign off as I do with all my emails now:
Stay safe and be well!