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WGA Negotiations Impasse: Why Options & Exclusivity Issue Is So Important To Writers

By | Friday March 14, 2014 @ 2:21pm PDT
Nellie Andreeva

Issues faced by TV writers again are the sticking point in the WGA negotiations amptp-wgawith the studios. In 2007, when the impasse led to a writers strike, it was residuals from series distributed online. This time around, it is the restrictive contracts for writers working in cable and on digital platforms. Under pattern bargaining, the deal between the WGA and AMPTP was expected to be similar to the recent DGA agreement with the studios with two writer-specific issues brought to the table by WGA — parity between cable and broadcast pay and the notion of exclusively and options. One of the two seem to have been resolved. “Every aspect of our contract has been negotiated and agreed upon with two exceptions — options and exclusivity — which remain points of contention between us,” negotiating committee co-chairs Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray wrote to their constituency last night. What are options and exclusivity, why are they so important to writers and what do writers seek to accomplish on them ?

While the number of scripted cable series at the time of the 2007 negotiations was a fraction of the number of such shows on broadcast, there is now parity between the two, with cable and digital scripted programming gaining an edge with rapid expansion. For instance, during calendar year 2013, broadcast networks introduced 23 new series, while cable/digital debuted almost 40, not counting kids fare. That means that soon there may be more writers working in cable and digital than in broadcast, all of them facing the underemployment problem that is at the heart of the current WGA-AMPTP stand-off.

Related:  New Development Model From Writers’ Perspective: More Opportunities, Less Pay?

What has been hailed as major part of the lure of cable as a superior creative environment — shorter orders — has become a major practical problem for writers. As Johannessen and Ray pointed out in their letter, broadcast dramas employ writers for 10 months a year to produce 22 episodes, followed by a two-month unpaid hiatus before writers start work on the following season. In cable/digital, 10-13 episodes a season is the norm, though shorter orders — as few as eight or even six (HBO’s Getting On) — also are accepted.

writers_room_middle“Writers on short-order shows now find themselves working for half a year or less, then stuck on unpaid hiatus for open-ended periods while waiting to see if their show — and their contract — will be renewed,” Johannessen and Ray wrote. According to a standard cable contract, because of the long lag time between seasons, shows have an option on a writer for up to six months after the previous season finale airs or up to 9 months after the season premiere. During that time, they are not getting paid. What’s more, “during this period they are virtually unemployable because studios demand ‘exclusivity’ and ‘first position,’ preventing writers from seeking other work, their ability to make a living cut off,” the letter said. That often involves not only inability to staff on another show, but also write a pilot or work as a producer on one, and, in some cases, even write a feature. The exclusivity is strictly enforced by many studios, and any side gig usually requires an exhaustive process of seeking the studio’s permission, which may or may not be granted. Read More »

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OSCARS Q&A: Julie Delpy, Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, Billy Ray & More

By | Wednesday February 19, 2014 @ 8:53pm PST

Interviews by AwardsLine Editor Christy Grosz and Deputy Editor Anna Lisa Raya.

Here are some of this year’s lesser-known Oscar nominees, whose skills helped make the director’s andAwardsLine actors’ visions come to life. Without their research, technical mastery, or their ability to translate a story into melodies or visual effects, there would be none of the groundbreaking, iconic, historically significant films we’ve seen this past year. These are the real players who toiled in front of and behind the camera to make the 2013 Oscar season one of the best in recent memory.

beforemidnight2Julie Delpy, Adapted Screenplay, Before Midnight

AwardsLine: What was the biggest challenge in writing and acting the 14-minute-long opening take?
Delpy: If we were able to do that as an improvised scene, we’d be geniuses. And we’re not geniuses. We work really hard at making it seem flawless, especially writing backstory stuff without seeming on the nose or expository. It’s the hardest part. How do you make it seem like we’re just having a conversation when we’re actually setting up the entire rest of the film, explaining what happened in the past nine years?

Related: OSCARS: How The Adapted And Original Screenplay Races Could Go Down To The Wire
Read More »

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Billy Ray Adapting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Last Tycoon’ As HBO Drama Series

By | Tuesday November 19, 2013 @ 10:15am PST
Nellie Andreeva

Captain Phillips writer Billy Ray is set to write and direct The Last Tycoon, an HBO drama series project based on F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s final unfinished novel. Party Of Five co-creator Chris Keyser is attached as showrunner to the project, which hails from Sony Pictures TV and I hear garnered interest from five networks, landing at HBO with penalty. Inspired by the life of film mogul Irving Thalberg, on whom protagonist Monroe Stahr was based, The Last Tycoon centers on Stahr, Hollywood’s first wunderkind studio executive in the 1930′s as he climbs to the height of power pitting him against his mentor and current head of the studio Pat Brady, a character based on Louis B. Mayer. With Stahr as a focal point, the series delves into the true violence, sex and towering ambition of Hollywood in the 30′s. Ray and Keyser executive produce with Perri Kipperman, Josh Maurer, David Stern and Alix Witlin.  Ray, repped by CAA, Management 360 and Peter Nichols, will direct the upcoming The Secret In Their Eyes and Departure. Keyser also is with CAA.

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Drama From Robert Zemeckis & ‘The Glades’ Creator Gets Fox Put Pilot Commitment

By | Tuesday September 24, 2013 @ 9:30am PDT
Nellie Andreeva

Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis has teamed with the creator/executive producer of A&E’s drama The Glades, Clifton Campbell for Billy Ray, a drama series project that has landed a put pilot commitment at Fox. Written by Campbell and to be directed by Zemeckis, Billy Ray is described as a character-driven drama about a family thrown into chaos when the child who was stolen from them as a baby is returned 16 years later after being raised in rural Alabama by someone with a questionable past. Campbell and Zemeckis executive produce with Jack Rapke and Jackie Levine. There is no studio yet for the drama, which will be co-produced by Compari Entertainment. This would mark Zemeckis’ first series in 15 years and the first series-directing gig since the cult HBO anthology Tales From The Crypt. Campbell spent the past several years working on his series The Glades, which was recently cancelled by A&E after four seasons. It was the first A&E scripted series to stick and helped establish the network’s scripted brand.

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Cannes: Good Universe Sets Billy Ray To Helm ‘Departure’

By | Wednesday May 15, 2013 @ 10:27am PDT
Mike Fleming

Good Universe has set Captain Phillips scribe Billy Ray to direct his script Departure. Jim Whitaker will produce the sci-fi/romance film and Good Universe’s Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane will executive produce. Good Universe has the project on the fast-track and will begin casting right away. Based on the true story of a never-explained avionic phenomenon, Departure follows a brilliant Miami-based FAA investigator who is obsessed with learning how a 727 suddenly vanished into thin air and then reappeared in the exact same spot ten minutes later. As mysterious occurrences continue to occur with increasing frequency in the skies over Miami, the investigation becomes personal when the employee’s beloved wife is on one of the planes affected. The story is inspired by the book Ghosts Of The Air by Martin Caidin, which documents real accounts from pilots who have experienced flight anomalies. Billy Ray is represented by CAA, Management 360 and attorney Peter Nichols.

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Future Oscar Winners? Academy Celebrates 2012 Nicholl Fellowships In Screenwriting

By | Friday November 9, 2012 @ 5:01pm PST
Pete Hammond

Thursday night one of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ most important events, the 27th Annual Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting named five 2012 fellows to an impressive honor roll that has included writers who eventually penned such films as Little Miss Sunshine, Children Of Men, Twilight, The Bourne Identity, Butter and many television shows including this year’s Emmy winner Homeland. The ceremony at the Regent Beverly Wilshire was opened by Academy CEO Dawn Hudson who announced that these finalists came from a massive 7,197 submissions. “I hope this is the last time you go up against that many people in your career”, she said before introducing producer Gale Anne Hurd, an Academy Governor who heads the Nicholl selection committee.

When the Nicholl fellowships started in 1986 there were only 99 entries but obviously word has gotten out that it’s a good place to be seen if you want a screenwriting career. Hurd pointed out that some 80 feature films written by these writers the Academy program has discovered over the past 27 years have earned $5.37 billion theatrically. She thanked the 173 volunteers from the Academy membership who judged the scripts. Read More »

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‘Hunger Games’ Scribe Billy Ray To Give Nicholl Keynote

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Screenwriter Billy Ray will deliver the keynote address at the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting ceremony on Thursday, November 8, at the Beverly Wilshire. Ray, who co-wrote this summer’s “The Hunger Games,” also wrote and directed “Breach” (2007) and “Shattered Glass” (2003). He is the writer of “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks, which is scheduled for release in 2013.

Related: Academy Announces Nicholl Fellowships

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Billy Ray Takes On ‘Sinatra’ For Universal And Martin Scorsese

By | Monday August 13, 2012 @ 1:05pm PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has set Billy Ray to script Sinatra, the film Martin Scorsese will direct about the life of singer-actor Frank Sinatra. The film will be produced by Scott Rudin, Mandalay’s Peter Guber and Cathy Schulman, Scorsese’s Sikelia and the iconic singer’s daughter, Tina Sinatra. It was Guber and Schulman who brought in the project to the studio after they secured life and music rights from Frank Sinatra Enterprises, which is a joint venture of the estate of Ol’ Blue Eyes and the Warner Music Group. Phil Alden Robinson had originally been hired as the writer.

I take this as a good sign that Scorsese is getting serious about bringing to life the seminal singer of the 20th Century, who parlayed that golden voice into a trip from New Jersey to Hollywood. Where he had the world on a string as he romanced the most beautiful women in town, and cut a swath with his Rat Pack pals and made films that included The Manchurian Candidate, From Here To Eternity and Pal Joey.

Scorsese is currently directing Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role in Red Granite-funded The Wolf Of Wall Street, which also stars Jonah Hill, Jon Favreau, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin and Kyle Chandler. Scorsese hasn’t committed to his next film, and this now stands tall with several he has been developing. They include an adaptation … Read More »

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’24′ Heating Up For Spring Start With Kiefer Sutherland In Jack Bauer Mode

Mike Fleming

The clock has started on 24, the feature version of the Imagine Entertainment/Fox series. The project brings back Kiefer Sutherland’s tireless government operative Jack Bauer. Mark Bomback — a favorite writer at 20th Century Fox writing The Wolverine and Shadow Divers – is doing some last minute tweaking of Billy Ray’s script, and will turn it in by year’s end. Imagine and the studio have about five directors in mind — no, Tony Scott is not attached anymore — and it will all begin happening very quickly in the early part of next year. The goal is to get the film into production to match Sutherland’s availability, which begins in April. That should give producer Brian Grazer something to do after he completes producing the Academy Awards, and it is certainly good news for fans of the show who were beginning to fear the project wouldn’t happen.

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Mamie Gummer Set To Star In Indie Pic ‘Claire’s Cambodia’

By | Friday November 11, 2011 @ 1:31pm PST

EXCLUSIVE: Mamie Gummer is attached to star in writer-director Stacy Sherman’s indie comedic drama Claire’s Cambodia, which Billy Ray is producing. The story revolves around three sisters whose estrangement, resentment and envy of one another is barely dented by the news that their father is terminally ill. Gummer’s recent feature credits include Taking Woodstock, John Carpenter’s The Ward and Twelve Thirty. On TV, she was in the HBO miniseries John Adams and was a series regular on ABC’s Off The Map. She is repped by CAA and Anonymous Content.

Sherman won an Emmy and was Oscar-nominated for the documentary short God Sleeps In Rwanda and co-wrote Lionsgate’s upcoming Katherine Heigl-starrer One For The Money. Ray is currently writing to direct The Secret In Their Eyes for Warner Bros. Sherman is repped by ICM, Ray by CAA and Management 360.

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Billy Ray, JJ Abrams Team For Paramount Mystery Project

By | Monday October 3, 2011 @ 9:07am PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Paramount has acquired an untitled project that will team screenwriter Billy Ray with JJ Abrams and his Bad Robot banner. I’m told Ray and Abrams hatched the pitch together, and that it’s a mystery adventure.

Ray is scripting the revisionist Peter Pan pic Pan for Channing Tatum and Joe Roth, adapted A Captain’s Duty with Paul Greengrass directing Tom Hanks, and he continues to write the screen adaptation of the series 24 at Fox. He also scripted a remake of The Secret In Their Eyes, which Ray will direct. He’s repped by CAA and Management 360.

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Sony Pictures Zeroes In On Peter Pan Pitch For Channing Tatum

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: I’m hearing Sony Pictures is in negotiations to acquire Pan, which will be scripted as a starring vehicle for Channing Tatum. He’ll produce as will Reid Carolin and Joe Roth. Billy Ray will write the script, a dark re-imagining of the Peter Pan tale. Tatum is starring for the studio in 21 Jump Street. As for Roth, he’s turning fairy tales into gold, first with Alice in Wonderland, and Oz: The Great and Powerful, the Sam Raimi-directed pic that just locked in James Franco to play the title character.

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Billy Ray Directs Remake Of Oscar Winning Foreign Film

By | Wednesday October 6, 2010 @ 5:38pm PDT
Mike Fleming

Billy Ray has been set to direct The Secret In Their Eyes, the English language remake of last year’s foreign film Oscar winner El Secreto De Sus Ojos. Warner Bros acquired rights to the Argentina pic directed by Juan Jose Campanella. Ray adapted the crime thriller, with Mark Johnson producing. Campanella is executive producer. Ray just rewrote The Hunger Games for Lionsgate, which Gary Ross is negotiating to direct. In the original, a retired prosecutors writes a novel he hopes will allow him to deal with an unrequited love for a superior but mostly to gain closure on a particularly brutal unsolved crime that has haunted him through his career.

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Gary Ross In Lionsgate Cross-Hairs For Coveted ‘Hunger Games’ Assignment

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Gary Ross is in early talks to direct The Hunger Games, the first installment of the novel trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The film is a joint production between Lionsgate and Color Force’s Nina Jacobson. Filming will start next year with a script by Billy Ray, who rewrote a draft by the author. The huge sales of the trilogy make the film adaptations a potential game-changer for Lionsgate, the way that Twilight was for Summit Entertainment. It has been a coveted job among directors (Three More Directors Circle ‘The Hunger Games’), and Lionsgate picture chief Joe Drake and Jacobson spent the past two weeks meeting candidates that included Sam Mendes, David Slade (also a contender for the X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2 job), Andrew Adamson, Rupert Sanders, and Nanny McPhee Returns helmer Susanna White. There was also talk about Francis Lawrence. It’s unclear who stayed in or out as Lionsgate focused on Ross, who directed Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. He isn’t set yet, but he is the choice. Let the negotiating games begin. Mendes, for instance, bowed out of contention last Friday, and I’m told it was because the MGM picture is clearing up and it looks like production on 007 could begin by late summer or early fall, 2011 with Mendes at the helm and Daniel Craig back in the Aston Martin. Read More »

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