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Movies

Let the writers' sniping begin

Guild members rant about Hollywood executives on an anonymous website.

September 24, 2004|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

One Hollywood exec is described as a "nightmare" who engages in "endless lying." Other movie bigwigs are labeled "obnoxious," "gutless" and "afraid to express any opinion for which she might be held accountable." It gets even nastier: One producer is accused of abusing female staffers, and of another, it is said: "instead of putting money on the screen, he puts it into his pocket."

Hollywood writers have long suffered at the bottom of the Hollywood pecking order, the only members of the filmmaking establishment who are so routinely fired and replaced. But no longer are their complaints confined to rants at Writers Guild of America meetings or over the pastrami at Canter's Deli.

A private website, WriterAction.com, lets guild members air their feelings about the executives and producers who hire them. It's a sort of Zagat guide to power in Hollywood, where WGA members post anonymous evaluations, grading Hollywood suits on qualities including honesty, story sense and clout.

About a year old, WriterAction.com is still in its infancy. It is open only to verified Writers Guild members, and so far, just 400 out of 9,000 members have registered with the site.

But for some, it is quickly becoming required reading in a town that loves to gossip.

"I love it," said comedy writer Matt Prager ("South Park"). "Because it's anonymous, people tell the truth, the truth as far as they know it. There's something gratifying -- Hollywood is not a town famous for its accountability. It's nice to have action meet consequences."

If the posted snippets are to be believed, stupidity is rampant in the upper echelons of Hollywood. There are also apparently quite a few development people who yearn to be scribes.

One writer groused about executives who took it upon themselves to rewrite scenes or even rework a movie's climax: "He'd changed the antagonist to one of the minor characters as a cool twist -- that made about as much sense as revealing that Toto was really the Wicked Witch of the West."

Given the frustration that generally trails screenwriters, there are a surprising number of producers and executives who receive high marks, such as producer Chuck Roven ("12 Monkeys"), described as "a gentleman and an old-school producer who actually knows what he's doing." Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, the former head of production at Warner Bros., is said to have "incredible insight into the business.... When he talks, the execs listen." And producer Mace Neufeld ("The Sum of All Fears") is described as "one of those guys who really does do what he thinks is best for the film."

Some of those who learned they were singled out on the website were none too pleased and questioned the fairness of posting anonymous criticisms that they can't respond to.

Producer Mark Amin ("The Prince & Me") said some of the complaints seem petty.

"Look at Harvey Weinstein. If he cared about what people say, he wouldn't be where he is," Amin said. "All I can say to you is that I've been involved in the financing and the making and the causing to be made of over 100 movies. I get movies made. This is what writers like."

WriterAction.com, stressed Writers Guild spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden, is not an official WGA website, although there is a link to it from the guild's official website, WGA.org.

WriterAction.com is the handiwork of a group of high-profile WGA members, including Steve Chivers, Ted Elliott, Katherine Fugate, Clifford Green, David Hoag, Craig Mazin, Denise P. Meyer, David Odell and Alex Sokoloff. Elliott, Mazin and Sokoloff were earlier this week elected to the board of directors of the Writers Guild.

Elliott, who co-wrote both "Shrek" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," said the impetus of the board was not to slam executives but to provide writers with information so they can make informed decisions about their collaborators.

"Everybody talks about development hell, but nobody does anything about it," he said. "This is us trying to do something about it. This is writers taking more responsibility for the development relationship. The first step is having greater information about whom we're going to be in the relationship with."

As to those who question the board's fairness, he quipped, "It's all coming from disgruntled executives."

Website proponents say the site is a response to the informal Hollywood grapevine, as well as to the sophisticated online tracking boards that studios and development people keep on writers, where executives trade information on scripts. Although these comments are highly subjective, the buzz does affect livelihoods.

When a Los Angeles Times reporter contacted the administrators about the postings, the evaluation portion of the website was shut down. Administrators said they were fine-tuning it and would make it password protected when it is restored in the near future.

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