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The Fast Five: Screenplay Lists Kick Off Their Holiday Season As Does Oscar® Controversy

November 25, 2019
5 min read time

‘Tis the season for the industry’s ‘best screenplay’ lists. While these lists are now used for companies to vote for their own projects, they can still help get new screenwriters representation and launch their careers. Many writers now write specs with The Black List in mind, helping to turn a “Black List script” into its own subgenre—mostly made up of biopics about pop culture icons. For the writers featured, these lists are hopefully just the first step in a long career that culminates in luring Indiana Jones back to television…

HARRISON FORD OVERCOMES HIS STAR WAR HOLIDAY SPECIAL FEARS AND RETURNS TO TV

The Golden Age of television has lured many movie stars to the small screen by giving them the opportunity to flesh out their characters through long-form, serialized storytelling; something not available to them in features. From Jim Carrey in Kidding to Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies, movie stars are being seduced by the stellar writing that has shifted over to the small screen. Now we can add one more name to that list: The Fugitive himself, Harrison Ford. Although, like most performers of his generation, he got his start in the medium with bit parts on shows like Gunsmoke and Kung Fu, he has only been seen on television once since the disastrous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special—and even that was just a cameo, on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

Ford will re-debut on the small screen in The Staircase. Writer Antonio Campos and Annapurna Television will adapt the French documentary it’s based on, about an American novelist accused of murdering his wife. And while Harrison Ford is great at yelling about how he didn’t murder his wife, this story doesn’t have a one-armed deus ex machina he can use to get himself out of trouble.

THE BRIT LIST KICKS OFF THE ANNUAL SCREENWRITING GOLD RUSH

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of a thousand writers panicking because they had to fire their agents and no longer have somebody who can pressure executives into voting for their script on The Black List. When Franklin Leonard started his annual collection of the best unproduced screenplays, he just wanted something good to read over the holidays. That list has transformed into a business for him and spawned a slew of copycats in specialized categories like “Best Unproduced Horror Script” and “Best Unproduced British Script.” And while the intentions are noble, this industry will bastardize anything it can get its grubby paws on, which is why scripts like Disney’s HoverCar 3D had the honor of making The Black List.

Writers and their reps are desperate to get their material on these lists as a way to boost their profile, but even that has become more difficult as executives save their votes for their own projects. This year’s Brit List is the first of the holiday list-giving season, and only eight of the 24 scripts that made the list are available. The other 27 are set up at studios or production companies. There’s also an interesting disparity between what people liked, and what they have to vote for. The number one script with 20 votes is Karen Cogan’s available spec, Fled. The next two only have eight and seven votes each, and both belong to the same production company, while most other screenplays made the list with four or five votes. So at least everybody can come together and admit that the best of the bunch is a project none of them owns.

HULU LIVE TV NAMED THE NUMBER ONE SKINNY BUNDLE AND IMMEDIATELY RAISES PRICES

The same day as a new report announced that Hulu overtook SlingTV as the number one skinny bundle internet-TV service, Hulu followed in the footsteps of every service before it and raised prices by 22%. That’s up from $45 to $55. The price-hike follows a pattern and shows the difficulties faced by skinny bundles that have to deal with the same negotiation system that cable finds itself up against. Here’s how it works: There is a popular cable network that everybody wants. But the media conglomerate that owns it also owns six more cable networks that nobody wants. When it’s time to negotiate a new contract, that media company says, “If you want the popular channel, you have to pay me for all of my other channels, too.” The internet-TV provider knows that if it loses the popular channel, it will lose subscribers, but if it keeps the popular channel it will have to pay for all these other channels and will have to raise subscription prices. It’s what drove people away from cable to skinny bundles and it’s what will drive them away from Live TV altogether…and into the waiting arms of streaming services.

A CHANGE IN NAME LEADS TO OSCAR CONFUSION

Follow me on this if you can. The Academy Awards® have a category for movies made outside America. But the group didn’t want the category to be monopolized by movies out of the UK, knowing that voters are more likely to watch Love, Actually over a movie in another language. So, they named the category Best Foreign-Language Film and went on with their lives…until the year 2019. Fearing outrage culture would come for them, the Academy pre-emptively changed the category to Best International Feature Film, so they wouldn’t get in trouble for referring to people as “foreigners.” The rules didn’t change, but the title may have been misleading enough to make countries believe the “foreign language” aspect was axed with the name change. This led to Nigeria and Austria using their one submission on movies (Lionheart and Joy) that are predominantly in the English language. Both of the movies were disqualified from eligibility, and a huge controversy erupted partly because both were directed by women of color—a group that hasn’t had the best luck with representation in any part of the industry. So, it turned out that the Academy jumped out of a puddle and in front of a tidal wave.

As with all things, there’s no easy answer. The Academy is right that if it lifts the language requirements, then pretty much any movie not in the English language will have a tough time getting nominated. I’m a tin-foil hat guy myself, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both movies submitted are owned and streaming on Netflix right now. Maybe Netflix found a way to convince countries to use their submissions on Netflix movies, or, more likely, the countries just assumed a movie on Netflix would have a better chance of getting noticed. The field is competitive this year with Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables, and Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite leading the way, so there was no guarantee either movie would actually have been nominated for an Oscar. The unintended (or intended, if you’re wearing that tin-foil hat) side effect is that more people may end up actually watching Lionheart and Joy because of the boost in profile this controversy gave them.

LORD OF THE RINGS GETS AN EARLY SEASON TWO RENEWAL

Writers JD Payne and Patrick McKay’s Amazon adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy received a season two renewal before season one even begins production. Genre shows tend to be more expensive in the first season because of the costs associated with building sets and creating costumes, so sometimes it’s cost-effective to order a second season, especially on material as popular as Tolkien’s franchise. Amazon has released no details about the show, including the title, but rumors say it will mine the books to tell stories from the history of Middle-earth. There’s plenty of material for Payne and McKay to work with and, because the books didn’t go into detail on many of the back stories, they have the opportunity to stray from the source material and make the series their own without upsetting the fans.

 

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