Nick Counter Wins a Screenwriting Oscar (seriously)

Okay, not seriously.  But he deserves one, and I intend to lobby to adapt Oscar nomination rules to include people who haven’t actually written a screenplay.  Because no matter who’s nominated for this year’s Best Original Screenplay Oscars, none will have written a second act break as dramatic as the one Nick Counter, the AMPTP’s bombastic head negotiator, handed the Writers Guild Friday afternoon.

After eight days of negotiations, just as it looked like the WGA-AMPTP bartering process might actually be taking hold, Counter ended Day 32 of the writers strike by offering the WGA a crushing take-it-or-leave it proposal/ultimatum, culminating with the statement “that when the WGA sends me a letter confirming that [their] six proposals (I’ll get to them in a minute) are withdrawn, the AMPTP will schedule another negotiation session with the WGA.”  In effect, Counter is saying that until the Writers Guild meets six deal-breaking demands, the AMPTP refuses to negotiate further.

I won’t give you a play-by-play of Friday’s events, because Nikki Finke does a bang-up job at Deadline Hollywood Daily, but the AMPTP’s demands are basically a complete revocation of everything writers are requesting, including: payment for original online content, fair residuals for online reuse of movies and TV shows, and guild coverage for reality and animation.  And while the WGA is willing to negotiate on most of these points, the AMPTP refuses to even discuss them.

As we all know, the “second act break” is the point in every movie when all is lost for the story’s hero.  It’s when E.T. dies.  Or Harry and Sally sleep together and things get weird.  Or Ben and Alison break up in Knocked Up.

Or the AMPTP walks away from the bargaining table, chucking all their progress and leaving the WGA with nothing but a ridiculously crappy deal.

In other words: all is lost.

But all is not lost.  Because this is the moment where our hero—Elliott, Harry, Ben—refuses to give up, regroups, and surges forward to win the day.

So first of all—congrats to Nick Counter (as well as Peter Chernin, Barry Meyer, Les Moonves, and the rest of the AMPTP).  You may like to spit on the writers, but at least you’ve learned a bit about screenwriting.  

(And don’t worry, Nick, et al—we know you don’t really like to spit on the writers, but if you don’t at least pretend to have bigger balls than the people giving you your movies and shows, you won’t be able to justify your bloated multi-million dollar salaries to shareholders keeping you in power.  We understand.  It’s a game.  But you’re gonna lose.)

However, Nick, like all screenwriters—even Oscar nominess—you need to learn to deal with notes.  So here are some thoughts on how to punch-up this little drama you’re writing…

NOTE #1:  IT’S PREDICTABLE.  I know you think your eleventh hour sucker-punch was a soul-crushing ambush, but it might’ve been more soul-crushing and more ambush-y if it hadn’t been predicted verbatim by everyone from Nikki Finke to John Aboud to Tom Schulman.

THE FIX:  Why not discuss, revamp, and come back with a reasonable proposal?  No one will see that coming, and you won’t have blown your wad by giving away what’s coming.  As we all know—sloppy plotting only reflects poorly on the writer (in this case, you guys).

NOTE #2:  THE VILLAIN NEEDS TO BE SMARTER.  The story’s villain should always be smarter than the hero, or it never feels like the hero is fighting a formidable foe.  Sure, this villain is a collective of multi-billion dollar studios with the ability to crush careers.  But we’ve all spent the last eight years watching this exact same drama play out in the music industry… and the music industry lost.  Big-time.  So it’s hard to believe the AMPTP, with its “titans of business” like Bob Iger and Jeff Zucker, is all that smart or powerful when it insists on following in the footsteps of a business destroyed by its own hubris and short-sightedness.  I mean, surely Bob Wright and Pat Weaver would never suggest using a strategy that just decimated an entire industry.  But apparently, most of the guys on the AMPTP haven’t read the news since 1996.  Or heard of iTunes.  Or Radiohead.  They’re still shopping for CD’s and wondering why they get disconnected signals whenever they call their music divisions.  

THE FIX:  If the AMPTP isn’t smart enough to avoid the mistakes of its predecessors, at least give us a beat where they explain how this is different from the music industry.  Because right now, they look like a bunch of old white guys who think the internet’s a fad.

NOTE #3: TAKE YOUR OWN ADVICE AND LISTEN TO THE FOCUS GROUPS.  For years, Hollywood network and studio heads have based pilot-pickups and movie cuts on the opinions of focus groups composed of the general public.  But the general public has announced, loudly and clearly, that they’re on the side of the writers.  Not only are most of Americans against the AMPTP, but the AMPTP can’t even articulate what it is they’re holding out for.  In other words, Nick—the villain’s motivation is unclear and audiences are responding negatively.  

THE FIX:  A hundred million Elvis fans can’t be wrong… and neither are two-thirds of the country.  But like George W. Bush—who, ironically, most of the studio heads have donated millions of dollars against—the AMPTP doesn’t think the public’s opinion matters.  But guess what, Nick and friends?… The same people who are telling you to quit acting like schmucks are the same people who told you Viva Laughlin sucked.

In other words: quit acting like schmucks—you’re not fooling anyone.

Anyway, while Nick Counter may have concocted the best second act break of the year, he seems to have forgotten one important fact…

The second-act break ain’t the end of the movie.

And neither is this.

Like all second-act breaks, this one feels shitty when you’re in the middle of it.  But like Elliott, Harry, and Ben… the heroes of this story will prevail. 

Even if Nick Counter gets his Oscar.

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