Writers: dodging the Death Star

One of the minds behind Shrek 2, David Weiss, told Miguel Gonzalez that everyone thinks they can write, but being a Hollywood writer is definitely not an easy job.

“The [2007-2008 Writers guild of America] strike definitely raised the image and the perception of writers being more powerful, and it did so globally. However, it didn’t change the reality that the studios are immensely powerful, and the writers are still artists who  only have as much power as they can muster by virtue of their unity,” says American writer David Weiss, one of the keynote speakers at this month’s National Screenwriters’ Conference. He likens the writers’ situation to that of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars. “We managed to dodge the Death Star, but the Emperor is still lurking and still has a lot of power. We have to continue fighting for writers’ rights.”

According to Weiss, the strike secured the American writers’ future on the internet, “which is where everything is migrating, but we still have a lot to do”. The situation, however, is different for international writers.

“Most other unions have not yet enjoyed the leverage that we’ve been able to muster here. Internationally, writers don’t typically have the degree of respect and power and contractual abilities that I think they deserve for their contribution; the original creation is an amazing thing.
“I talk to my fellow writers overseas and they lament the situation in their countries. In Australia the government itself is not necessarily supportive of the efforts of the union, which makes it harder for people to get organised and negotiate agreements,” he says.

Weiss has worked on high profiles such as Shrek 2 (the #10 highest-grossing film of all time, worldwide) and the upcoming live action/CGI adaptation of The Smurfs. Having worked mostly on family films, the writer admits such specialisation can be limiting, but it’s not  a big problem “unless you have this real desire to prove that you can make horror films, action, drama, etc. People want to go to someone who has a track record; they usually want to hire you to do what you did last.”

Weiss has travelled to Europe and New Zealand, talking on behalf of the WGA. The most frequent question is always one without a clear answer, how do you make it in Hollywood? Weiss believes that there is a process, a road that writers can take but over which they  have little control. Being a writer is “an incredibly difficult job” that requires two main elements.

“A moderate amount of talent is enough if you’re willing to work incredibly hard, but you also have to be able to survive the emotional ups and downs, the abuse. “Nobody thinks they can be the DOP; studio executives don’t think they can light the movie better so they  don’t question that, but everybody thinks they can write.”

The development process, he says, is 90 per cent ‘horrendous work and agonising failures” while the remaining ten per cent is the one that brings the most enjoyment.

“That’s just the nature of the beast. You have to develop a very thick skin, but it also has to be porous enough to let your sensitivity in. If you get so bitter from the process that you can’t find your sense of humour and the heart and the joy and the tender little pieces and subtleties of the characters, then you’re dead,” he explains.

The Conference will take place on February 25-27 at the Barossa Valley, South Australia. www.awg.com.au/nsc


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.