Writers worry: are studios engaged in “sweepstakes pitching?”
“Sweepstakes pitching” debated as WGA surveys members about economic downturn.
It’s an issue that could again strain relations between Hollywood studios and screenwriters, but just how prevalent it is in the movie and TV industry is subject of debate.
The practice is called “sweepstakes pitching” and here is how it works:
Four or five writers will be asked individually to pitch a studio executive. The executive will then cherry-pick the ideas he or she likes best, package them and re-pitch them to yet another writer, crediting no one.
It’s only after writers start to compare notes over lunch (as many of these A-listers know each other) that they realize a studio executive has taken ideas from several writers and then assigned them to other writers.
Guild spokesman Neal Sacharow said: “I have not heard anything about (sweepstakes pitching) but it doesn’t mean this doesn’t go on in the industry.”
Still, sources told HollywoodNews.com that the issue was sparked after the Writers Guild of America sent a survey to many of its members asking them to gauge the effects of the economic downturn on writing jobs in Hollywood. Some A-list writers are concerned that studios are using the recession to pilfer movie ideas at pitch sessions and then hand them to other writers to develop without giving credit where credit is due.
Sacharow said the findings of the survey were still being tabulated and he didn’t know what the results would be.
Two veteran screenwriters interviewed by HollywoodNews.com said that while they personally have not experienced “sweepstakes pitching,” they are aware of the concerns being raised about the practice.
“In the economically compressed Hollywood that we are living in today, (studios) want something for nothing and they want something that they don’t want to shell out a lot of bucks for,” said Charles Edward Pogue, whose credits include “Dragonheart” and “The Fly.” “I think there is always a concern about material being stolen,” he added, noting: “I always have a paper trail. I’ve never gone into a pitch without a written pitch already prepared.”
“I don’t know if it’s a legal issue or a contractual issue? it’s an ethical issue,” said Ed Solomon, who wrote “Men in Black” and who is currently working on “Hardy Men.” Solomon said if a writer has 75 or 80 percent of a script written and it’s a good story but is missing a few things, and a studio executive hears a couple of gems from other writers, it’s human nature not to convey to the writer they choose to hire.”
As for the survey itself, Sacharow said it was sent out to guild members working in feature film, long-form TV and movies of the week. The survey seeks to gauge how the economic downturn is affecting writing jobs in Hollywood and the impact the recession is having on film and TV production.
The results “will help us better understand what challenges screenwriters face in the present market, how working conditions have changed and whether the WGAW is appropriately prioritizing the concerns of working screenwriters,” Sacharow added.
Asked if the results would be made public, he replied: “Our plan is to share the results with our members.”