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The Latest on The Industry, Screenwriting & COVID-19: Where are We Now? V2

And so it begins. The need for yet another industry updates, because while we are all sheltering-in-place and living a life where one day often feels like it bleeds into the next and it’s easy to forget whether it’s a Tuesday or a Friday, but the industry continues to move forward at a fascinating clip, as things continue to shift and change. For the record, I started working on this blog post a week ago. But every day things kept changing, so I kept adding on update and finally… I decided that come hell or high water, I will push this update through. 

It’s not even been three weeks since my first The Industry, Screenwriting & COVID-19: Where are We Now? blogpost. In all honesty, I didn’t think it would go quite that fast. But nonetheless, here we are, so… Let’s do it! It’s time for a fresh new update on all things COVID-19, screenwriting and the industry: 

Fellowship & Contest Updates:

This is not really news, per se, but gotta put it somewhere as it’s sort of important information for anyone who is preparing to submit to fellowships and contests in the coming weeks so here goes:

  • NBC’s Writers on the Verge will be accepting applications from May 1st to May 10th. This year, they are asking for two original pilots up front, instead of a spec first. We are expecting to see essay questions go live on the Writers on the Verge site on May 1st.
  • This year, the ABC/Disney Writing Program is changing up its requirements a bit. They provided a sneak peek HERE. Official application period will open on May 4th.
  • Final Draft’s Big Break Contest has extended its early bird deadline (i.e. lower submission fees!) until April 30, 2020.
  • In addition to such prestigious contests as the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition, PAGE International and The Nicholl Fellowship that I wrote about before and whose submission period is soon coming to a close, Tracking Board now has its Feature Screenwriting Competition open for submissions, just as it TV Pilot Writing Competition submission period is, like those comps I mentioned earlier, soon coming to a close.

Free Resources!

There are a ton of free classes, panels, workshops, talks, and other writer-friendly COVID-19 inspired opportunities available online, more than ever before. The abundance is staggering, and allows access to so much, especially for non-L.A.-writers who usually miss out on the live stuff. If you want to find out what those are, CLICK HERE to check out my All The Things blogpost, detailing as many of them as I could find.

And now onto everything else going on in the industry space:

WGA/AMPTP Negotiations

In Volume 1 I wrote all about the WGA and AMPTP delaying negotiations of a new contract indefinitely, until such a time when negotiators could once again do what they do in face-to-face meetings.

While there is no question that the appetite for a strike has changed with the onset of COVID-19 and all of its consequent societal changes, it seems that negotiations may commence sooner than expected. On 4/8/20, the President of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reached out to the Writers Guild of America, requesting that initial proposals for a new contract be exchanged between the two organizations by April 15th, with negotiations starting in earnest by April 20th. So even though the WGA stipulated that writers can continue working under the expired contract, the AMPTP is pushing for negotiations to begin earlier than expected.

On April 17th, the WGA responded, offering to begin negotiations on the week of May 11th. At this time, the current agreement has been extended through June 30th, 2020. 

In the grand scheme, what does it mean? Time will tell whether reaching a new agreement in a time when our industry is suffering will work for or against writers. Everything that’s up for negotiation in the rewriting of this contract has an immediate impact on writers’ livelihood so… stay tuned as this develops.

(Most) Virtual Upfronts Postponed 

Every year, around the middle of May, network and studio executives descend on New York for glitzy, high-end presentations of their upcoming fall TV schedule for Madison Avenue ad-buyers. This is the time when executives bring the big guns and the glamour, aiming to impress buyers with exciting lineups that can easily translate to meaningful and significant ad revenue (commercial break, anyone?).

Due to fears of COVID-19 and since-implemented social-distancing standards now in full effect both in Los Angeles and New York City, the networks announced in March that this year they will be sitting out the in-person presentation, and instead promised star-studded lineups, to be presented virtually, but adhering to the traditional schedule. 

Now it looks like that’s not to be. Per The Hollywood Reporter, all networks but one (CBS) have opted to suspend their online upfront presentations indefinitely. As the plan is still to very much proceed with TV’s fall season, this is not a cancellation, but a delay, emblematic of the challenges that arose from a mostly aborted pilot season. Because most pilots shoot in March and into April, very few pilots were actually completed prior to the industry’s shut down of production. Therefor, networks and studios are now hustling to figure out what their lineups will look like come fall, despite not having the usual number of pilots already shot.

This, however, does not mean that there won’t be a fall TV season! Networks are expected to go down kicking and screaming before they let that go, because launching their TV season in fall (rather than later) represents significant revenue. What this does mean, though, is that it may take longer to figure out what the fall lineup looks like when it is finally launched which, in return will have an effect on…

Staffing Season

Traditional network staffing season is intrinsically linked with upfronts. If upfronts are delayed, then it is reasonable to expect that new shows as well as potentially-returning shows that have yet to get their official pick-up, will have to pause staffing until the various networks’ primetime lineups are locked into place. Therefore, our current staffing season, which started early due to a proposed strike, may now stretch long beyond its generally expected timespan, as new and returning shows are added to nightly lineups, and fall schedule is cemented. Traditionally, TV staffing season spans from April through June; this year, we started staffing as early as February, and may go through early or mid-summer. Because only once fall schedule is cemented, and we’ve identified mid-season replacements, will we be ready to lock all of our writing staffs into place.

Feature Markets

Earlier this week, I heard from a number of industry friends that while TV staffing is still slow going (though certainly starting to pick up), on the film front there is lots going on. Not only did agencies and independent production companies lock down dates for the Cannes Film Market’s virtual turn, I am also hearing that discussions are on their way regarding what new production protocols will look like once principal photography, on both the film and TV front, will look like once we’re going full steam ahead. 

There is no doubt that when we get back to producing content, we will get back full force, as viewership numbers have only been on the rise. However, we are expecting to run into a resource shortage, which The Hollywood Reporter broke down in its post, Hollywood Braces for Production Logjam Post Virus. 

Representation

In my last installment, I wrote all about layoffs and cost-cutting measures implemented across the various agencies powering this town. This week, I started hearing that some management companies have begun laying off literary and talented managers as well. This is by no stretch happening across the board, and by no means do I expect to see this happening at every management firm. The reason? Not all management firms provide their managers with a salary, and even when they do, it’s usually only a small percentage of their overall income, most of which is expected to come from commissions. Therefore, for most management firms there will likely not be big bucks saved with managers being laid off. Keep your eye out for my next COVID-19 blogpost, in which I will be exploring whether it’s advisable to see the attention of a manager at this time!

 

Overall, the news here is good: even though we are not yet coming back, there is more and more exploration of how to do that, and how to keep things moving forward. Even though this moment can feel as though it is lasting FOREVER, when you talk to industry folks there is no question in anyone’s mind that we are going to come back with more content, more stories, and more storytellers, bigger and stronger than ever.

Author of Breaking In: Tales from the Screenwriting Trenches from Focal Press and Getting It Write: An Insider’s Guide To A Screenwriting Career published in 2014, I am a career coach for screenwriters, with an exclusive focus on the screenwriter’s professional development. My clients include working film and television writers, writers who sold feature specs, original pilots and pitches to major studios and networks, as well as contest winners, television writing program participants, feature film lab participants and fellows, and emerging screenwriters just...



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