Many other similar efforts have sprung up in recent days, including in-person mixers.
Staffing spreadsheets and other resources include:
- Bodies of Work, for writers with disabilities
- The Rainbow Pages, for LGBTQ+ writers
- Glass Elevator and Women Occupy Hollywood, for professional women in the film industry (including writers)
Most significantly, the WGA itself recently launched two new initiatives:
- The Staffing Submission System, explained in this video, which allows writers to list references and demographic information. (Showrunners can register here.)
- The Weekly Feature Memo – a weekly email list of available specs and pitches sent to producers and execs, linked to the WGA’s Find-a-Writer Database. WGA writers can make up to two submissions per month.
The WGA Find-a-Writer Database allows searches based on criteria like:
- Job title
- Areas of expertise (from animals to world history)
- Sexual orientation
- Age group (over 40 and over 50)
- Transgender writers
- Women writers
- Disabled writers
Resources for Non-WGA Screenwriters
Non-WGA writers also have other tools to promote their work and seek gigs. Some are free, and some are for-profit.
All of them are far from ideal, as discussed below.
Some writers have been able to launch their careers using script-listing sites.
The problem with for-profit script-listing sites is that the return on investment for writers is dismal. Only a tiny percentage of scripts get read, and an even tinier percentage of listings lead to options, sales, representation, or paying work.
These are a few of the best-known script-listing sites:
Screenwriting Job Sites
The problem with screenwriting job sites is that most of the “jobs” are what I call #GarbageGigs.
Either the gigs are ridiculously underpaid ($500 for a feature script) or they’re posted by people looking for free work (“You write the script based on my great idea and we’ll split the proceeds!”).
Although you can sometimes find decent gigs on these sites, virtually none are anywhere close to WGA scale.
Here are some sites that list screenwriting gigs:
Why are there agents?
As Vulture explains,
In the most basic sense, agents find jobs for writers and negotiate their pay. They get meetings for their clients with film studios or networks or showrunners, seek out openings on writing staffs, and find available projects in development. Writers then take the meetings and pitch themselves for jobs, and if they get them, the agent negotiates for the most lucrative contract possible and takes a commission of up to 10 percent.
Getting Jobs for Clients
Agents supposedly add value by obtaining and using knowledge that isn’t available to screenwriters, and by trading on their relationships with people who have the ability to hire writers.
For example, they’re supposed to know:
- Who is hiring for what
- Who wants to buy what
- What’s the best price a writer can get
But as Vulture reported,
75 percent of respondents in a recent WGA survey said they got themselves their most recent jobs, not their agents.
Lawyers (rather than agents) commonly negotiate the fine points of screenwriting contracts.
Also, agents involved in packaging deals are asserted to have a conflict of interest with their screenwriter clients, which is at the heart of the current WGA-ATA dispute.
Agents serve as “gatekeepers,” screening scripts and writers and only passing on the ones they think are worthy of consideration, and thus (supposedly) saving potential employers from the hassle of reading a lot of bad scripts or dealing with unsuitable writers.
This is, of course, not 100% effective, and producers sometimes complain about the quality of scripts they get from agents.
Worse, the wrong kind of gatekeeping can lead to a lack of representation:
- As the WGA has reported, 91 percent of showrunners are white and 80 percent are male.
- According to Women and Hollywood, on the top 100 grossing films of 2018, women represented only 15% of writers.
- According to a study reported in the Huffington Post, between 1991 and 2000, women wrote only 14 percent of spec scripts sold — and only 9 percent between 2010 and 2012.
Agents are supposed to advocate for their clients, including protecting them from producer abuses and making sure they get paid on time. But as discussed in this Scriptnotes episode and elsewhere, that doesn’t always happen.
So do screenwriters even need agents any more?
Certainly, agents have been very helpful to many screenwriters, and many screenwriters are very fond of their agents.
But agents may not be as vital to the screenwriting marketplace as the ATA wants to believe. And a modest technological solution could make them even less relevant.
Disrupting the Screenwriting Marketplace
The new WGA screenwriter services and private screenwriter initiatives are great, but they’re all limited in some way.
- The WGA tools aren’t available to non-WGA writers. Non-WGA writers can still work with ATA agents (until they qualify to join the WGA), as well as with agents who have signed the WGA agreement. But it’s always been notoriously hard for an unestablished writer to get read by an agent or manager – and that’s probably not going to change.
- Some screenwriter spreadsheets are only for WGA members, and some are only for writers who have been vouched for by WGA members.
- Finding and searching multiple spreadsheets and databases full of writers is inefficient for those hiring writers.
- The existing script and writer databases lack the ability to perform highly granular searches. For example, what if you’re doing a M*A*S*H reboot and you’re looking for a Black woman screenwriter who is also a doctor, has served in the military, and has written a Grey’s Anatomy spec episode?
Script-listing and screenwriting-job sites have additional limitations:
- Again, most of the gigs are garbage, so writers need to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for the decent ones.
- Most of the listed scripts aren’t up to professional standards, and the ones that are can get buried in the dross. (However, some sites allow pro users to search for highly rated or award-winning scripts.)
- Many sites cost money, and not all screenwriters can afford to use them.
- With some job sites, screenwriters have no assurances of getting paid.
An Immodest Proposal
I propose that a better screenwriting marketplace – one that could truly disrupt the current ecosystem, and perhaps make agents (and even managers) obsolete, would have the following features:
- It would include a database containing both writers and scripts, for film, television, and perhaps games, graphic novels, and other media.
- It would allow for differentiation between WGA and non-WGA writers and producers, but allow both on the same platform.
- It would provide unlimited search criteria, for writers, scripts, producers, and gigs.
- It would have a quality rating system, for both writers and those hiring them, where parties can give each other scores once a job is completed. (This is the model used by UpWork, as well as by Uber and many other “gig economy” platforms.)
- The platform would be free to use at a basic level. It might charge for some “premium” features.
- The platform would support itself by charging a percentage of fees for completed jobs – just as agents and managers do now. (Again, this is the model for job sites like UpWork, UpCounsel, etc.) It would probably be viable for the platform to charge less than the 10% (for agents) and/or 15% (for managers) that screenwriters pay now.
- It would allow for competitive, auction-style bidding for scripts and writer services (as on eBay).
- It would allow for competitive bidding on writing gigs, subject to WGA minimums for WGA members, perhaps with some floors to prevent a “race to the bottom.”
- Payments would be made via the platform and guaranteed by a set time (as UpWork and UpCounsel do now). For example, UpWork has an escrow system, and UpCounsel guarantees payments of up to $5,000 within 10 days of an invoice.
- Payments for WGA projects would be based on WGA rules, and the platform would integrate with the WGAW Start Button.
- The platform would integrate with the WGA residual-tracking system.
- There would be an arbitration process for non-WGA payment disputes (as many job sites have now).
All of these functions already exist in other online markets. They just need to be combined in one platform directed at screenwriters and those who employ them.
Ideally, I’d love to see this platform run by the WGA, as a for-profit subsidiary. (Yes, they can do this.)
Alternatively, this platform could be an expansion of an existing service like The Black List, or a brand-new business – maybe one started by a screenwriter. For example, screenwriter John August also runs a software company.
What do you think, writer folks?