Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Imagine Entertainment partners Brian Grazer and Ron Howard have started the Imagine/Reliance Writers Lab, an enterprising venture that pools a group of 10 screenwriters. Those writers are being paid a set annual salary to generate scripts in a variety of genres, and they are financially incentivized to participate in a collaborative support system.

Universal Pictures and Reliance gets first crack at the screenplays that come out of the arrangement.

The venture hatched from an idea that Howard has worked over in his mind for 15 years. The Lab will be run by Karen Kehela Sherwood, who has been an executive at Imagine for 24 years. She will continue to oversee other Imagine projects but will be the connective tissue between the writers who are participating in the experiment.

“Basically at its core, the idea of this is meant to take away the loneliness from the creative process that writers face,” Howard told me. “We are adding a collegial environment to authorship, a support system and guidance and we will help get their work made into movies. When we talk to the writers Karen has recruited, the thing that was attractive to all of them was the notion that this will be an antidote to writer’s block and the terror that goes with the blank page. There will be a running exchange and conversation going on about the projects, led by Karen and with me pitching in. We are grateful to have found in Reliance partners who share our excitement for the Lab and all it promises.”

Kehela has so far recruited so far recruited Margaret Nagle, Michael Fitzpatrick, Lee Patterson, Glen Lakin, Michael R. Perry, Stacey Harman, Jason Mantzoukas, Scott Aukerman and Daniel Casey. Another writer is in the process of being hired. While exceptions will be made for projects that predate the Lab, the writers will be exclusive to the venture for one year. The scribes range from TV to feature writers, and the goal is to generate between 10 and 15 scripts in that year. There is also development money to acquire material the writers can work on.

“We wanted a diverse group, and there was an emphasis on getting writers who work and play well with each other,” Kehela Sherwood told me. “There are some writers who don’t like to share, and others who already have a community who read what they write and lend feedback.”

The project came together through Amitabh Jhunjhunwala, who leads the media and entertainment business for Reliance ADA group. “When Ron and Brian brought this unique concept to Reliance, we immediately recognized its tremendous value and potential,” Jhunjhunwala said in a statement. “We are delighted to expand our existing relationship with Imagine and look forward to working with them on this new venture.”

While it’s easiest to compare the system to the use of multiple writers on TV shows, Howard likened the inspiration to something closer to what happens at collaborative businesses in other industries.

“With TV shows, one person writes a scene, somebody else does another, and then you run them through and figure out who gets credit,” Howard said. “There are better examples of creative groups working together in architectural and advertising firms, or even magazines, where ideas are bounced around. I see this as closer to a magazine situation than a TV show.”

Kehela Sherwood said that aside from an annual salary, the writers will benefit from projects that get acquired by Universal or Reliance, and the other writers will also benefit financially from projects they helped move forward through the support system.

UTA reps Nagle, Fitzpatrick, Patterson, Lakin, Perry and Harman; CAA reps Mantzoukas and Aukerman and WME reps Casey.

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