We've Got Hollywood Covered

Screenwriter: ‘I Just Don’t Want to Answer Phones at Some Place I Used to Pitch’

His first movie grossed more than $80 million, but tough economic times force him to scramble to pay the bills

The writer was on top of the world.

His first movie had grossed more than $80 million, and he had sold another. Want a Hollywood dream? He had it.

At least, that's what he figured.

Today, the 40-year-old screen scribe — who fears notoriety from this article will exacerbate his employment situation should he be identified — is working a two-week temporary job in sales.

"I didn’t have any backend points and I knew that the residuals wouldn’t last forever," he told TheWrap. "But you assume that once you have a hit movie out, more work will fall into place." (Photo of screenwriter has obscured his face to protect his identity.)

The economy changed that.

"I was doing fine for a while, and then it seemed like after the writers strike, studios and production companies used that as an excuse to cut in-house deals and use that as an excuse not to pay writers for anything."

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He suddenly found himself competing with A-list writers for B-list jobs.

"A lot of the jobs I used to go up for, A-list, like super A-list writers are going for those jobs right now," he said. "In the past, they wouldn't have. There was enough of every level to go around."

Now, he said, with studios cutting back on the number of movies they make, it's a tougher world.

"They used to make films in the 5-to-10 million dollar range," he said. "Now everybody wants to do either the super micro-budget stuff, they want to make remakes or sequels, or they want to make tentpoles. A lot of those middle-ground movies that filled the marketplace, those assignments are gone now."

And he said studios have used the economy as a justifaction for their own greed.

"The studios aren't hurting," he said. "They're just trying to keep as much money as possible."

In addition, he said, "Studios used to buy and develop projects a lot more. Now, you almost have to have the project developed and packaged to get it picked up."

He said that when he was writing full time, "there were a lot more meetings, there were a lot more projects in development, there were a lot more deals being done."

But with the slowing economy, there were fewer projects.

And then, he said, "the residuals shrunk up, some projects didn't turn out like we had hoped they would, a couple of projects went direct to DVD."

He still has a manager and an agent, and he tries not to be discouraged.

Yet he finds that studios and production companies, "basically want us to develop a project with them for free, and spec it out in the hopes that they're going to buy it down the road."

And even though it's hard to do that while also working temp gigs to scrape enough money by to pay the bills, he does it.

But he's afraid to let many people know how bad his situation has become.

"Most people don't know, because obviously it's a business of perception," he said.

Even his family and old friends don't know just how tight things have become.

They figure he made a fortune.

"But when you only get a payment for your script and some residuals on DVDs — which are dropping — that's not going to last you long," he said. "This obviously isn't where I'd hoped to be at this point in my life, but I'm not depressed about it, or bent out of shape."

Instead, he copes by modifying his expectations.

"I adjusted to being, 'As long as I'm living comfortably, I'll be happy.' And now it's down to, 'I gotta pay my bills.' And I certainly think this will be just a temporary situation. I was kind of in denial for a little while, about how dire the situation was getting."

So, like newbie writers, he works his temp job in the day and writes at night. And he's finding that writing has lost its drudgery.

"Because I don't have a lot of time now to write, when I do get to write, it's really exciting," he said.

He has remained optimistic about his future. He has a few projects in the works, and is looking at directing, perhaps producing.

One thing he won't do is give up.

"I love movies and I love writing," he said. "That's one of the slings and arrows that we have. We don't have the stability of a full-time job with a steady income. But you make that sacrifice to do what you love.

"I'm still obviously fighting the good fight and have some projects that are moving forward, but I don't know if any triggers are going to be pulled," he said. "In the meantime, I'm having to do some temp work just to pay the bills."

While he's trying to stay upbeat, he acknowledges it's difficult.

He's thinking about approaching a temporary agency to look for more work.

"Luckily I have good office skills," he says.

But he won't work at an entertainment company. It'd just be too weird … too uncomfortable.

"You don't want to answer phones in an office you've pitched to in the past," he said. "It's a little humiliating."