The New York Times: How the billionaire Koch brothers fueled the right-wing movement

In 1980, David H. Koch, one of the two billionaire industrialist brothers at the center of a sprawling and powerful political network, served as the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee. The ticket earned 1.1 percent.

But in the years since that failed run, Mr. Koch, who died on Friday, and his brother Charles, found far greater power and influence outside of elected office as they became two of the most prominent faces in a new era of megadonors in American politics, building a political apparatus that, at its peak, rivaled the Republican Party itself.

The Kochs and their network spent hundreds of millions of dollars in support of their particular brand of conservatism: One of limited government, more lenient immigration policy, free trade, free markets and limited corporate regulations — all while running Koch Industries, a conglomerate with annual revenues of $100 billion. But not long after they rose to become two of the most coveted political donors in America, they saw much of their worldview rejected by President Trump’s ascendant version of the Republican Party.

Because so much of their network’s money was funneled through an array of nonprofits, where full disclosure of finances is not required, it is near impossible to assess the full scope of their operations, but the influence is vast.

“The Koch brothers have been very strategically thinking about how best to shape politics over decades and at the same time they were amassing a fortune that would power whatever strategy they devised,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. She noted that they were especially effective working on narrow issues while pursuing a larger strategy.

“The Kochs,” she said, “have built an empire.”

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” opened a letter from Charles G. Koch to donors in 2010, inviting them to join what the Kochs called their semiannual “seminars,” gatherings of major contributors that would become the hallmark of the network.

The Koch-funded political operation would help propel the Tea Party takeover of Congress in 2010, spend an estimated $400 million on the 2012 campaign and fund heavily the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2014.

Along the way, the Kochs took full advantage after the Supreme Court sided with Citizens United and other rulings loosened spending rules. They became the most feared, recognized and loathed (by the left) Republican donors in the nation, surpassing even Karl Rove, as the boogeyman of Republican big money. In a sign of the vitriol around him, the hashtag #DavidKochisDeadParty was trending on Twitter Friday.

Matt Schlapp, who oversaw federal affairs for Koch Industries during President George W. Bush’s second term and is now the chairman of the American Conservative Union, said the most lasting legacy of the Koch network will likely be its funding of a large network of think tanks and universities.

“I give the Kochs and their network high marks on understanding that if they don’t change hearts and minds and build institutions that can educate people in the nonprofit world then the world will drift to the left, the government will continue to grow,” Mr. Schlapp said.

He said their direct impact on politics was less pronounced. “The best judgment you can give it is mixed,” he said. Part of that mixed legacy is linked to the rise of Mr. Trump. Some prominent alumni of Koch-funded organizations do hold high-ranking positions in the Trump administration. But the Kochs’ approach to governance, beyond curbing business regulations and cutting taxes, has often been sidelined, if not rejected outright, by the Republican Party under President Trump, who dismissed the brothers as “a total joke” last year.

Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and the current president of the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, said the true Koch legacy was having “diminished our democracy.”

“The Kochs changed two things. First, the system went from transparent spending to secret spending,” Mr. Potter said. “The second was they were an important part of the wave of billionaires who took campaign spending to an entirely different level in American politics.”

Both developments, he said, gave average Americans a deep sense of disenfranchisement.

Parts of the Koch network have at one point touched on nearly every facet of the conservative movement. There have been separate organizations for outreach to Latinos (the LIBRE Initiative), veterans (Concerned Veterans for America), younger voters (Generation Opportunity) and older voters (60 Plus Association), for instance. A national political group, Americans for Prosperity, established outposts in the majority of states across the country.

“David Koch helped design and implement the center-right, free enterprise, activist wing of the political spectrum,” said Scott Reed, the senior political strategist of the United States Chamber of Commerce. “And he became a historical power player.”

The agenda for the 2010 Koch seminar was revealing. It included fighting “climate change alarmism and the move to socialized health care,” as well as “the regulatory assault on energy” — issues that would recur over in the coming years.

In 2014, the Koch network was at the center of the successful Republican efforts to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. A network of six Koch-linked nonprofits had paid to air nearly 44,000 television spots by August of that year, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.

Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was then the Senate majority leader, took to the Senate floor in early 2014 to declare that “Senate Republicans are addicted to Koch” (the name is pronounced coke), as the network’s television ads hammered Democrats in key races.

The sweeping Republican Senate victories that fall put Senator Mitch McConnell in power. He would use the majority to block some of President Obama’s final judicial appointments, most notably forcing a vacancy on the Supreme Court for nearly a year until it was filled by President Trump’s selection of Judge Neil Gorsuch in early 2017.

Environmental groups have denounced the Kochs, whose business empire includes oil operations, as “secretly funding the climate denial machine,” as Greenpeace put it, adding up to $127 million in such spending over two decades. Among the recent Koch brothers pursuits has been killing mass transit projects around the country.

“If someone has the freedom to go where they want, do what they want,” Tori Venable, Tennessee state director for Americans for Prosperity, told The New York Times last year, “they’re not going to choose public transit.”

The Kochs were perhaps at their peak in 2015, as the last Republican presidential primary was heating up. Koch officials outlined plans to spend as much as $900 million that cycle — possibly as much as the Republican Party itself. In a sign of their influence, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina all trekked to a luxury hotel in Southern California to pitch the network’s donors in person that summer.

“I, for one, cannot wait to see who the Koch brothers pick,” President Obama joked at the White House Correspondents Association dinner that year.

But the Kochs did not get their pick. Instead, Mr. Trump would go on to win the nomination and redirect the party away from the Koch network’s brand of fiscal conservatism, and their preference for free trade and a more open immigration policy. (The Kochs did spend millions supporting Mr. Trump’s tax cut legislation.)

“Trump’s passion was clearly focused on stopping immigration and stopping free trade and that was pretty well unacceptable to the Kochs,” said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that has longed received money from the brothers.

In mid-2018, Charles Koch, without naming Mr. Trump, warned of the “rise of protectionism” and those who were “doing whatever they can to close themselves off from the new, hold on to the past, and prevent change.”

Mr. Trump quickly responded. He attacked the brothers, saying they “have become a total joke in real Republican circles” with a “highly overrated” political network.

“Two nice guys with bad ideas,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

In a shift last year, the Koch network ran ads in support of a Democratic senator, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who was being challenged by a staunch Trump supporter, Kevin Cramer. Mr. Cramer won the election. This year, the network has signaled plans to stay out of the White House contest entirely.

Yet even as the Kochs have receded somewhat from electoral politics, alumni of their network continue to hold sway in Mr. Trump’s government. A former top Koch operative, Marc Short, for instance, served as Mr. Trump’s legislative affairs director and is now chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Schlapp’s wife, Mercedes, is a senior White House official. And a former director of communications for Koch Industries, Matt Lloyd, is a senior adviser at the State Department.

“It is really hard to quantify their impact,” Ms. Krumholz said of the Kochs. “It was enormous. It was pervasive.”

Original story:

‘Publishing is still a business that is owned by white men’: Three women on race and genre

Martine Powers talks with N.K. Jemisin, Jasmine Guillory and Lauren Wilkinson about challenging narrow perceptions of race in literary genres. And Marian Liu on the segregation of American music awards.

The book publishing industry still has a long way to go
“Publishing is still a business that is owned by white men,” romance writer Jasmine Guillory says. “And you know the people at the top are all white men.” She’s not alone in her sentiment. Lauren Wilkinson debuted her novel “American Spy” with a black woman as the protagonist. Wilkinson grew up reading John le Carré and James Bond novels. She says she always noticed a similarity between all of the spy novels she’d read as a kid.
“They looked very very white and male,” Wilkinson says. So she decided to do something about it by writing Marie Mitchell as the main character of “American Spy.”
“I mean, for me this is a spy book, but it’s secretly just an opportunity to talk about a black woman’s feelings for 300 pages,” Wilkinson says.
Science fiction also faces the problem of inequality in the publishing industry. That’s why N.K. Jemisin chose to put black experiences of oppression in a distant, imagined future. She says, “In a lot of science-fiction stories, you know, the way that they choose to engage with [oppression] is by having aliens be oppressed.” Instead, Jemisin chooses to show how the black experience fares in the future with the “Broken Earth” series.
These women tell Powers about why the industry remains so homogenous and what challenges remain.
Original Link:

Ann Peacock VRP

Ann Peacock is a screenwriter who has written NIGHTS IN RODANTHE and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. She won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries or Movie for A LESSON BEFORE DYING.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by BEI/REX/Shutterstock (560163eg)
Stephen McFeely, Chris Markus, Ann Peacock and Douglas Gresham
Novemer 12, 2005 Hollywood, CA
Stephen McFeely, Chris Markus, Ann Peacock and Douglas Gresham
There was standing room only at the first all guild screening of the new Disney / Walden Media production of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Photo by Alex Berliner ® Berliner Studio / BEImages
ManagerDavid Gardner (Artists First)
Lawyer: Don Steele (Hansen Jacobson Teller Hoberman Newman Warren Richman Rush & Kaller)
In the Media:
Ann Peacock To Adapt ‘The Nightingale’ For TriStar  |  Deadline  |  June 23, 2015
EXCLUSIVE: Ann Peacock (Chronicle Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe) has just closed a deal to to adapt The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah for Elizabeth Cantillon (Concussion) to produce at TriStar, which had previously optioned the title. The Nightingale is an epic family drama about two sisters living in France during WWII and follows them as one becomes a prisoner in her own home and the other fights for the resistance. It was published in February of this year by St. Martin’s Press.

The author Hannah, who is a former lawyer, has written 21 novels. Her other novel Home Front was optioned by Chris Columbus’ 1492 Films for the filmmaker to write, produce, and direct. That novel and Night Road both have the distinction of being on the NY Times bestseller’s list at the same time. The Nightingale has spent almost 20 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and is on a number of other best-seller lists as well.

Peacock, whose other credits include The First Grader and Nights In Rodanthe, is no stranger to epic family dramas and love stories. She has also cut a swath in TV with Alice Hoffman’s Dovekeepers for Mark Burnett and CBS and Ken Follett’s Fall Of Giants for Michael Deluca and ABC.

Cantillon’s credits include the cult comedy Galaxy Quest and the Banger Sisters.

Peacock is repped by CAA, Principato-Young Entertainment and attorney Don Steele.

Erin Gibson VRP

from her website]

Erin Gibson is an expert at mixing social commentary, political satire, and frank sexual talk into nice, neat little comedy packages. Based in Los Angeles, she co-hosts the award winning political absurdist comedy podcast THROWING SHADE, which has over 6 million downloads and was named by Rolling Stone as one of the top 20 Comedy Podcasts of 2014 and as a 2015 Podcast to listen to by Entertainment Weekly. A web version of the podcast is shot and distributed by Funny or Die, who is also producing the THROWING SHADE television series. She tours internationally doing live versions of the show with her comedy partner, Bryan Safi.

Previously, Erin hosted MODERN LADY on Current TV’s Infomania, which comedically criticized the way women are treated by the media.

As a writer and director at Funny or Die, Erin regularly impersonated Michele Bachmann and Megyn Kelly, in addition to writing and directing sketches staring Juliette Lewis, Jerry O’Connell, Teri Hatcher, Mary Steenburgen, Kaley Cuoco, Natasha Lyonne, and Taryn Manning. Erin created the successful GAME OF THRONES recap show GAY OF THRONES which she writes and directs, and who stars her real life hair stylist, Jonathan Van Ness.

As an actress and comedian, she’s been seen on KEY AND PEELE, THE KROLL SHOW, PARKS AND REC, CHELSEA LATELY, COMMUNITY, and clip shows galore. Erin’s a regular blogger for Huffington Post and is better than Taylor Swift when knowing if people are trouble when they walk in.

Literary Filmography:
GAY OF THRONES — 2013 – 2019
INFOMANIA — 2010 – 2011
Various FUNNY OR DIE Sketches — 2011 – 2019
Manager: Jennie Church-Cooper (Haven Entertainment)
Literary Agent: Adriann Ranta Zurhellen (Foundry)
Additional Agents: Silvio Lund, Justin Ongert, Marissa Hurwitz, Kenny Layton, Matt Malick (WME)
Twitter (36.2K followers):
Instagram (43.3K followers):
In the Media:
Jonathan Van Ness on the End of ‘Gay of Thrones’: “I’m Not Ready to Say Goodbye”  |  The Hollywood Reporter  |  May 17, 2019
Jonathan Van Ness clutches a comb and a pair of scissors as a groomer carefully readjusts the crown perched jauntily on the side of his head. Seated in a chair in front of him, Tiffany Haddish practices her lines for an upcoming scene.

It’s a Monday morning in May and the duo are shut inside an office-turned-set at Funny or Die’s West Hollywood headquarters, putting the finishing touches on the latest episode of comedy web series Gay of Thrones, which recaps HBO’s Game of Thrones each week. Moments later, Haddish nails the take. “Everyone on fire, OK,” she says before reciting a list of names meant to represent the townspeople who burned to a crisp on the previous night’s episode. “You got Donna, Lynn, Laurie, Shelly, Aaliyah, Rose, Brian, Darren and Ulysses. Everybody holding down the fort.”

Van Ness starts shimmying behind her and accidentally whacks the camera. “Oh shit, sorry,” he says with a look of guilt. “You killed that. I hope I didn’t fuck it up.” When the episode appears online the next day, Haddish’s perfect take makes the cut. So does Van Ness’ blooper in the background.

Six years after it began, Gay of Thrones is preparing to say goodbye as Game of Thrones, the show it has been sending up since its third season, comes to an end. And while the creative team behind Gay of Thrones admits that they’ve worked out a lot of the kinks since their early days, it’s unplanned moments like the one between Van Ness and Haddish that are part of the series’ charm. After all, the show was inspired by real-life conversations between hairstylist Van Ness and client Erin Gibson when she would visit his L.A. salon.

“When Jonathan was talking about Game of Thrones while he was doing my fringe, I was like, ‘This is funny, this is fresh, this is a point of view that no one’s going to have on this show,'” says Gibson, who in 2013 pitched the show to Funny or Die, where she was working as a writer and director. Jokes Van Ness, “Well, actually, it turns out I was watching Spartacus but I thought I was watching Game of Thrones.”

Gay of Thrones debuted during the HBO drama’s third season with Van Ness starring as a chatty stylist who recaps the most recent episode of the HBO drama while cutting hair. The show quickly gained a following. “It was an organic collision of something the Internet cared about, the world cared about and Jonathan cared about,” says Funny or Die CEO Mike Farah. “Erin could channel that energy and put it into a show that is both super funny and also a pretty informative recap.”

As the cultural significance of Game of Thrones has grown over the years, so too has Van Ness’ profile. In 2018, he shot to fame as one of the five stars of Netflix’s Queer Eye. While it’s hard to quantify exactly how much of an impact that has had on the show, Gibson says viewership has grown since last season, which streamed in 2017 while Van Ness was shooting Queer Eye’s first season. On YouTube, several recent episodes have notched more than 700,000 views. The series recently topped 17 million total views.

Van Ness credits Gay of Thrones for helping him forge a new career path in entertainment. “I like to say [Gibson] is like the Usher to my Justin Bieber,” he says. “I have always loved to do hair and be in the salon. Being behind the chair is the place that I felt really fulfilled and really, truly happy. That was my goal, to never need to borrow money from my parents for rent and be a self-sufficient adult person.”

During early seasons of Gay of Thrones, Van Ness, Gibson and the rest of the production team would write and shoot episodes on Sunday nights immediately after Game of Thrones concluded. Shoots would regularly run until past midnight because Van Ness often actually cut or styled his guests’ hair. Now, the writers gather Sundays to watch the episode together over bowls of Tender Greens salads and then shoot the episodes Monday morning, a schedule shift that has helped them land more high-profile guest stars including Anna Faris, Gabrielle Union and Kumail Nanjiani. Van Ness, who moved to New York between the seventh and eighth seasons of Game of Thrones, flies to L.A. each week to film the show. The goal is to get the episodes up online by midnight Tuesdays.

The show has evolved as the digital video business has shifted. At first, episodes were released on the Funny or Die website. They are now distributed across social platforms, including YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat. “Because of binge-watching at places like Netflix, we’re able to make our episodes longer,” says Gibson. “Five minutes used to be the death knell for us. Now, last week’s episode was like seven-and-a-half minutes. We would have never done that two years ago.”

With Game of Thrones set to drop its final episode Sunday, May 19, the team behind Gay of Thrones have begun to contemplate life after the show. “I’m not ready to say goodbye,” admits Van Ness. “Those Sunday and Monday nights are very exhausting but they’re so fun,” adds co-exec producer and writer Matt Mazany. “It’s like summer camp. It’s exciting, it’s high energy. Then Tuesday comes and it’s like, ‘Oh, I miss my Gay of Thrones family.'”

There have been discussions about getting the group back together to produce specials that will look back on the first two seasons of Game of Thrones or check in on prequel series currently in development. “Everyone’s got things that they’re going on to,” says Van Ness. “It is fun to know that Gay of Thrones won’t be the last time that you see me. But I feel like we have to do something else someday.”

Erin Gibson’s Feminasty Is a Blazing Collection of Feminist Essays  |  The Stranger  |  Oct 17, 2018
For many loyal listeners, the hilarious and topical Throwing Shade podcast is a safe space to learn about the news of the week (generally bad) via comic geniuses Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi. They discuss issues “affecting ladies and gays” and have been doing so since 2011. The Obama era? Did we even have problems then? (Yes.)
Throwing Shade was the first podcast I ever looked forward to and I’m continually impressed by the things I see its co-host Erin Gibson create. Gibson was a political writer for the punchy, sophomoric Funny or Die comedy site even before she and Safi began collaborating on Throwing Shade. She also created, writes, and directs Funny or Die’s Gay of Thrones, which I am obsessed with and which stars her real-life hairstylist Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness.

Now Erin Gibson has produced a hilarious fiery screed of a book, Feminasty: The Complicated Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself to Death, which functions partly as a teachable moment autobiography and partly as Gibson’s opportunity to take on some of the perennial feminist beefs of our time. (For example, Woody Allen: “Jesus take the wheel. ‘I liked her youth and energy’ is something a fantasy villain says before using an amulet to suck the life force out of a newborn.”)

Feminasty is an easy book to inhale. Gibson blazes across the page like a firework shooting over a landscape of ALL CAPS and italics for emphasis. It can be hard to keep up at times, but it works for her. It isn’t hard to backtrack as necessary. Feminasty reads like the Erin Gibson rants we’re frequently treated to on Throwing Shade, but the writing itself is much tighter. The asides and footnotes are all pertinent and charmingly snide. And there are sources. Gibson brought the realest weapon to the feminist fight: citations in the back.

Feminasty is a Best-Friend Book. Reading it feels like having a feminist hype-woman in your corner. She’s taking patriarchal bullies apart with the catty, flippant venom they deserve. She’s pouring you a glass of something bubbly. She’s making you laugh ’til it runs out your nose.

‘Throwing Shade’ Late-Night Comedy Gets Series Pickup At TV Land  |  Deadline  |  April 15, 2016
TV Land is the latest cabler to enter the late night arena. The network has ordered ten episodes of hit podcast and Funny or Die series Throwing Shade for premiere in January 2017.

The political and pop culture show, which will have a live audience, will air in the 11 PM timeslot. Erin Gibson (Parks and Recreation, Kroll Show) and Bryan Safi (Modern Family, Superstore) star as themselves, sharing their perspective on today’s hot topics.

The TV Land pickup comes amid an explosion of late night shows, including History’s upcoming Night Class comedy block, a companion to Craig Ferguson’s new late-night show, Join or Die, along with TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, TruTV’s Late Night Snack, and the list goes on.

Creators Gibson and Safi launched Throwing Shade as a podcast in 2011, a yearly, multi-city, sold-out touring stage show in 2012, and in 2013, Funny Or Die picked it up for a video series. The TV Land show will be executive produced by Gibson and Safi, as well as Funny Or Die’s Andrew Steele, Anna Wenger and Joe Farrell, and Charlie Siskel (Review, Tosh.0) will executive produce and serve as showrunner.

Behind Elizabeth Gabler’s New Deal With Sony, HarperCollins

The former Fox 2000 exec will be bringing her entire development team to the as-yet unnamed company.
For the next phase in her career, former Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler had to choose between her onetime bosses at the Century City studio: Tom Rothman (now running Sony Pictures) and Jim Gianopulos (Paramount). The book-savvy exec opted for a multiplatform production deal with the former.

Insiders say the decision came down to the wire, given Gabler’s close relationship with both men. A deciding factor was the involvement of HarperCollins, which agreed to co-fund Sony’s partnership. Paramount couldn’t match the flush offering on its own and couldn’t partner with HarperCollins, either, given that its parent Viacom is expected to merge in the near future with CBS, which owns rival publisher Simon & Schuster.

HarperCollins, which sinks $300 million a year into new literary works, has published some of Gabler’s biggest adaptations, including The Devil Wears Prada, Life of Pi and Hidden Figures. “No one in Hollywood has done a better job of bringing books to film than Elizabeth and her team,” said president and CEO Brian Murray in a statement.

Gabler, who found herself with no role at Disney following its $71 billion acquisition of Fox assets, is expected to bring a number of Fox 2000 projects with her and also hopes to take the Reese Witherspoon-produced Where the Crawdads Sing, based on the best-selling book from another HarperCollins rival, Penguin Random House.

Gabler also will bring her entire development team to the as-yet unnamed company (insiders say she wants to keep “2000” in the new name, but is expected to receive pushback from Disney, which owns the Fox 2000 label). She will serve as a consultant on her final Fox 2000 release, Amy Adams’ recently pushed The Woman in the Window.

Sources say Gabler’s pact allows her to work on Sony’s Culver City lot two days a week and at her Santa Barbara ranch three days — mimicking her Fox setup, long the envy of Hollywood execs. And while the HarperCollins deal gives Sony key access at a time when film studios are vying with streamers for literary rights, Gabler won’t be restricted to only adapting from the publisher’s works, according to another source.


6 Queer Creators Share the Dream TV and Film Projects They Haven’t Been Able to Sell (Yet)

Last year, the screenwriter and director Nisha Ganatra (Late NightTransparent) tried to sell a show based on her life to TV network executives, about a queer, Indian-American high-school freshman obsessed with Madonna. Ganatra was nervous about how the project would be perceived — initially, she’d written the main character as a straight girl — but Amy Poehler was producing it, so she thought that Poehler’s star power might help push the series onto the air.

Ganatra had reason to be tentatively optimistic. More mainstream queer television is being made than ever before — during the 2018-2019 season, according to GLAAD, the number of queer characters on network TV was at an all time high. Pose featured the largest cast of trans characters in history, CBS’s Instinct brought us the first-ever openly gay lead in a drama, and the CW’s Supergirl debuted television’s first trans superhero. But despite these milestones, many queer creators, even those with decades of success behind them, still say they have a hard time convincing the gatekeepers at TV networks and film studios to take risks on their pitches. Ganatra, who’d won a Golden Globe award for her work as a director and producer on Transparent, says she was shocked by some of the responses she heard when she pitched her pilot to executives.

“We were told by one network that they already had a show that had a young queer character on it, but it was about a boy — an Irish-American boy,” Ganatra says, with a dry laugh. “To me, that’s a very antiquated way of thinking. I can’t imagine them saying, ‘You know what, we already have a show with a straight white character and it takes place at the same time, so there’s no space for another one.’” Ultimately, the networks passed on the project. “It still feels like tokenism — that there’s only one of everything, and that’s enough.”

In conversations with Vulture this month, several writers in TV and film reported experiencing tokenism among today’s industry executives, which might explain why, despite the proliferation of queer characters on television shows and in movies, those characters are rarely leads — Pose and Instinctbeing welcome exceptions to the rule. “I think it’s getting easier to have a gay sidekick,” Jamie Babbit (But I’m a Cheerleader, Russian Doll) says. “And I’ll take a gay sidekick because I just feel like it’s good to saturate the market with as much queer propaganda as possible. But no, I don’t think it’s easy to sell a queer project today.”

Jonathan Gabay, a senior vice-president of development at Berlanti Productions who recently left Fox, said that he thinks we’re on the “cusp” of a major shift toward more queer content in mainstream venues. When he started buying comedy series for Fox eight years ago, he says, “any time someone would pitch a show the goal was, ‘How can we reach the broadest audience?’” Executives had little faith that a queer-centric show would appeal to the masses. Now, there’s less pressure to meet that goal. “In 2019, I think that has completely changed due to the amount of cable networks and streaming channels, where you can make a more niche show,” he says. And once a niche show succeeds, Gabay points out, executives invariably try to replicate its success. “The minute something works people are like, ‘Great! Give us more of that.’”

Jamie Babbit’s Lesbian Period Film Starring Kate McKinnon

Sam Bain [the co-creator of Peep Show] and I have a project that we want to do called Lavender. It’s a period movie that takes place in the early ’50s about a young ingenue who’s in a lavender marriage“Lavender marriage” is a phrase used to describe a union between a man and a woman, one or both of whom are LGBTQ, who are seeking to conceal their sexual identity by participating in a straight relationship. with a closeted gay actor. Sam’s a child of a lavender marriage, and it would be great for both of us to explore that area. After working on Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in New York, I just love that period.

The idea for the project was partially inspired by Rock Hudson’s manager,Rock Hudson’s manager was Henry Willson.who was a famous manager to gay actors, and who found straight wives for them. But it’s also a lesbian romance between a young gay actress who marries a very well known gay actor, and in the meantime, has an affair and relationship with a very famous lesbian director. My dream cast is Kate McKinnon to play the lesbian director, and Emma Watson to play the young ingenue.

There’s something really fucking hot about a very closeted environment that I think most queer people understand — the taboo of it, and the high stakes. As someone who is a dyke from the early ’90s, there’s a really hot aesthetic in the whole butch/femme underground thing that I find very remiss in current queer movies that I would like to explore. So that’s our dream. And we have a pitch document we’ve been sending around to European financiers. No luck yet.

It’s always hard, I think, to get queer projects made. You know, for me, I’m interested in period, and I’m also interested in comedy, and people always assume any queer project set in the past is a tragedy. Hopefully we’ll find a home for it. But I think people always assume it’s a niche market. You know, no matter how many movies are successful — Brokeback MountainLove, Simon — people always claim that. Making movies is a gamble in any market, so queer stories just make people nervous. Movies are expensive, and it’s straight white men who mostly control the money. When you go and speak to your financier, it’s very subtle, the way that homophobia is expressed. I’m constantly pushing queer characters into the stories. And there’s some nudging back in a very liberal way.

Silas Howard’s HBO Movie About Billy Tipton

There’s this one project I had in development with HBO back in 2006. It was a movie based on Billy Tipton,The bandleader and musician Billy Tipton never legally married, but had several relationships with women who referred to themselves as Mrs. Tipton. a jazz musician, who married all of these women, and when he died, it was discovered he was born female. I haven’t taken the project out recently, but my producer just emailed me about it, and I still think about it often. I’d still love to get it made.

I was in a band for years,In the 1990s, Silas Howard played guitar in the San Francisco band Tribe 8. a punk band, so I had this connection to Billy. Music was a passport to occupy other spaces; music allowed him to find home. A lot of the movie was about finding home, and then ultimately, it was a love story, too. My producer and I, we went and met Billy’s last wife, Kitty,Katherine “Kitty” Kelly and Billy Tipton adopted three sons together. a retired Vegas show woman. By the time we met her she was in her 80s, and she got deeply involved in the project. Her house had a mini–Grey Gardens vibe, and I remember when we first met Kitty, she was standing in front of this velvet painting with a naked woman laying out and a volcano in the background. As soon as we walked in, she was like, “See that painting? That’s me. The artist was in love with me.” And then she goes, “See that volcano? That’s me too.” All the characters around Billy were amazing.

Back in 2005, we got so close. [The movie] was in development for over a year. We did location scouting and casting. But then one of our executives who was really onboard with it left, and it got kicked up to another executive who just didn’t connect to it. I could tell he had no sense of the story, and I knew then that we were just going to die there. And then the words came out of my mouth that we’d rather take it back than try to reinvent the story.

Since then, I’ve done director’s labs with it. I just did a radio project about it, and I’ve done a monologue. It’s set in the ’40s, so it’s not super cheap. Back in 2005, a lot of Hollywood people didn’t get it — people couldn’t understand Billy as a he. In terms of representation of trans people, it was a long time ago. Since then, I think I’ve had a few people read it and had interest here and there. But yeah, it’s always been sort of picked up and looked at but never quite crossed the finish line. I do think things are changing and moving in a certain direction, but I think the power structure is still the power structure. It’s not like TV and movies are being made by a bunch of outsiders now.

Gabe Liedman’s Queer Workplace Comedy

The first show I took around to pitch, that ten networks all passed on, was a gay-led comedy based on my own experience of being a sales boy at Barneys while trying to start my writing career. It was this workplace comedy and the whole ensemble was queer. It just seemed like the most obvious TV show to me — like, I would love to watch a queer show that takes place in a crazy fancy department store.

I based the characters on people I knew and on myself. I’m a stoner; I’m not a fashion person. I got a job at Barneys through a friend and just always sold enough to not get fired, but I was not who you think of as the sales guy at Barneys. The arc of the season revolves around this unlikely sales person, and this one crazy customer who was based on a real person who came into Barneys every day but never bought anything. And they eventually become best friends, and it turns out that she’s rich enough that she can keep him afloat to have someone to visit every day. That part wasn’t based on real life. [Laughs.]

I was pitching it back in 2013, and I did hear back then, “Oh, we already have a gay show in development.” No one says it directly to your face. You go and pitch your show and everyone nods or laughs or stifles yawns, and then you go away and they tell your agent yes or no and a brief sentence. It really was pretty direct: They already have a gay show; they’re passing. They’d say, “Oh, we already have Looking, and we have other stuff in development with a gay main character, so we’re just covered.” One of the weirdest responses I got was, “We already have a show with a female boss.” Weird.

I don’t hear those words that much anymore, to be honest. Hopefully people just know not to say that. And I think that’s something. I still use [the Barneys comedy] as my writing sample to get jobs. I’d still love to sell it. I know there’s a show in there, it just seems so obvious. There’s some High Maintenance/Ugly Betty mash-up in there that has not been done.

Justin Noble’s 30-Something Gay Dating Story

I had an ABC pilot a year and a half ago that came super close to getting ordered. At front and center was a gay character, and half of the pilot was a gay dating story. It was a workplace comedy set in a luxury hotel, about what it’s like working for guests who are exorbitantly rich when you are basically living paycheck to paycheck, where you only get to see the dream, but you can’t quite touch it. It was seen through the eyes of these two concierges, as they had to deal with all the complaining guests.

One of the concierges is this gay guy who’s 31, who felt like he’d aged out of gay dating. He wasn’t in shape, and he didn’t have a six pack, and he was a hopeless romantic who didn’t have the right outlet to find a person. In the pilot, he meets this guy at trivia night, and they have a meet-cute. One of my favorite Drag Race contestants of all time was on it, and there’s a great closing moment as “Toxic” by Britney Spears blares at the bar. I was trying to go hard: The show is fucking gay.

The pilot did really well — it got ordered, and it was shot, and it tested really well. The gay character, in particular, tested astronomically well. The audience wanted more of him, but the resounding note we got from the development process itself was to cut down on the gay dating story and focus more on other things, and that note was very hard to swallow. At the end of the day, I don’t know why they never ordered a full season. We got so close. I was getting calls from executives saying, “Here’s a writer you should have in the room when your room starts up.” And then the pilot arrived into a room where the heads of ABC/Disney make decisions, and it didn’t come out alive.

I almost always do a twofer thing, with one gay lead and one straight lead, because even though I want to have my gay character front and center, I’ve been through this enough to know that baby steps are the way to go. It’s more of an uphill battle when the entire cast is gay, though there’s another pitch I’m currently working on that I want to take out soon. I’ve always wanted to write a workplace comedy about the people who work in a drag club, and by now, I’ve met maybe 80 to 90 percent of the gay actors in Hollywood, all these fantastic performers whom I want to write this show around. So that’s a dream. But I won’t pitch this one to a network, even though I’ve only worked exclusively in the network space. If I pitched this to them, they’re just going to take it off the table, and it won’t make it onto air, so I just have to avoid taking that paycheck and hope to sell it to a place that will maybe actually put it out there. Netflix buys a lot of different things these days, and it’s willing to go niche because it can afford to. I just can’t imagine one of the big networks buying an extremely queer show.

Nisha Ganatra’s Amy Poehler–Backed Project

There was this one project I got to write for Amy Poehler — it was called Primadonna. It was about a young Indian-American girl who’s obsessed with Madonna, and it’s a coming-of-age story. In the pilot, you meet our girl and her family, and you learn that she and her brother are two of the only Indian people at their high school. She’s navigating her first year of high school, and everything that sucks about being a freshman, and over the course of the episode, she runs into the girl who will become, in future episodes, her girlfriend. And she’s navigating the world through her obsession with Madonna, and trying to follow the advice of Madonna. It’s a little bit radical because Madonna is giving her the advice of a young white woman, and she’s following Madonna’s advice to a tee, but it’s not working out for her, and without saying so, you know it’s not working out for her because she’s not a young, white, talented singer or dancer. She’s a little nerdy Indian girl. It says it without saying it.

Originally, I actually had changed the character to not be queer, basically, because of a career full of [hearing] “too Indian, too gay, no, no, no, no, no.” But then Amy Poehler was like, “It’s gotta be as close to your experience as possible — make the character queer!” So I made the character queer. I thought, Well, maybe with the strength of Amy, that no will become a yes. She’s obviously not had a career of being told “too gay, no.” She’s always pushing the boundaries. And you need a champion. But even with her, we couldn’t make it. That was shocking to me, and sad.

This was last year, when we went out with it. We were told by one network that they already had a show that had a young queer character on it, but it was about a boy, an Irish-American boy. And I was like, But ... okay. Then we were told by another network that it already had a show that took place in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Both of these were interesting to me because I can’t imagine them saying, “You know what, we already have a show with a straight white character and it takes place at the same time, so there’s no space for another one.” To me, that’s a very antiquated way of thinking — that there can’t be two Indian-American shows, or two queer shows. It still feels like tokenism — that there’s only one of everything, and that’s enough. Like, We did that; we satisfied that.

We have to push past this idea that diversity and inclusion is giving voice to one token. It’s gotta be a thing that’s seen as what it is: representative of our culture, and something that’s benefiting all of us. Until we move into that space of thinking and away from this idea that we’re gracing this one outlier — this one anointed voice — with the great gift of welcoming them into the mainstream, until we start understanding that the mainstream is not the mainstream and never was, until we turn that whole fiction on its head and expose it as the fiction it always was, things aren’t really going to change.

Rain Valdez’s ‘Insecure But With Trans Women’

I have a lot of pieces I’m juggling, but the one that I feel most needs to happen now, more than ever, is my half-hour comedy pilot. It’s called Girl Out, and it’s basically Insecure but with trans women. It’s set in L.A. and it follows Alex, who had lived a stealth life for over ten years, but is now coming out and finding herself a fish out of water in her own community. It grapples with what it means for her to be queer and trans, and what that community means to her, but it also is about the heteronormative life she’s created over the past ten years.

In the pilot, she has to upend her life — she’s a writer for an online magazine, and she gets fired from her job because she’s not queer or relevant enough, and she tries to come out, but it’s too late. Then her relationship with her longtime boyfriend ends because he’s helped keep the secret of her transness, and it was this pact that they’d made. She’s trying to deal with her best friends in her heteronormative life — her Sunday-brunch girlfriends — and her best friend who she cut ties with in order to live a stealth life. (Trace Lysette is attached to play the best friend she cut ties with.) It’s really about Alex’s two worlds coming together, and finding herself in the cross fire of wanting and needing to have deeper relationships with the people in her life, but in order to do that, she has to upend everything and start telling the truth of who she is.

There isn’t a blueprint out there for how to pitch your idea, especially if you’re an up-and-coming filmmaker such as myself. But I’ve been pitching to different production companies, and a few have expressed interest. I think the struggle is that still, in the grand scheme of things, even though trans stories and nonbinary stories are being told and are much more visible, we’re still being tokenized, and we’re still on the threshold. Like, someone told me, “Oh, we already have a trans show,” which is Pose. Or, we already have a trans character on the show. This is where I think the level of consciousness needs to be taken up into a higher frequency. I think it’s a matter of a network or a production company wanting to take further risks. That’s the threshold I feel like I’m hitting when I go into rooms: Are they willing to take a risk even though there’s another show with a trans character, or multiple trans characters, or there’s Pose, or Transparent — even though those shows have nothing to do with mine? Are they willing to tell this authentic story that doesn’t yet exist?

Caroline Kusser Mini-VRP

Caroline Kusser is SVP US & International Distribution at Fremantle. Previous to joining FM, Kusser set up Carokusser, a TV content distribution service whose clients included ZDF Enterprises. Kusser was also part of the Red Arrow Intl. team for 10 years and in 2011 was relocated to L.A. as the senior VP of North America where she was responsible for establishing and building the group’s U.S. business. Prior to Red Arrow Intl., Kusser held roles at Bavaria Media TelevisionPeppermint and Beta Film.
In the Media:
Starz Acquires BBC Suspense Drama ‘Dublin Murders’ for US, Territories  |  Screen Daily  |  Jan 25, 2018
Premium cable network Starz has acquired upcoming BBC One drama series Dublin Murders for the US and Canada and for its streaming platforms in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

Deals for “select additional territories” on the series, handled internationally by Fremantle, are still to be announced, Starz said.

Adapted from the first two Dublin Murder Squad crime novels by American-Irish author Tana French, the series was originally commissioned by BBC One and is also set to air on Ireland’s national public service network RTÉ, with support from Northern Ireland Screen.

Sarah Phelps is creator and writer of the series, in which Killian Scott and Sarah Greene lead a predominantly Irish cast.

The series is produced by Euston Films, Veritas Entertainment Group and Element Pictures, and the executive producer roster includes Sarah Phelps and Saul Dibb, Kate Harwood and Noemi Spanos for Euston, Alan Gasmer and Peter Jaysen for Veritas, Ed Guiney for Element, and Elizabeth Kilgarriff for the BBC.

Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht commented: “This series is brilliantly adapted by Sarah Phelps, who in blending the first two novels has constructed a complex and enigmatic world for this suspense-filled drama. We look forward to bringing viewers along on this intense ride.”

Caroline Kusser, senior vice-president, distribution US, international at Fremantle, added: “Starz is the perfect home for Dublin Murders and we are thrilled to be partnering with Starz to showcase this brilliant psychological drama from Euston Films, Veritas Entertainment Group and Element Pictures.”

FremantleMedia Intl Names Caroline Kusser As U.S. SVP Sales and Distribution  |  Variety  |  Dec 10, 2015
FremantleMedia International has hired former Red Arrow International exec Caroline Kusser as SVP, Sales and Distribution of its U.S. arm. The newly created position will see the exec based in LA and reporting to New York-based SEVP of Television & Digital Distribution for North America, Lisa Honig. Kusser was formerly SVP of Red Arrow North America from 2011.

Her new post will be to build FMI’s brand in the region and to maximize opportunities for the company’s 22,000 hours of content across linear, digital and home entertainment platforms. Fremantle licenses such series as the upcoming The Young Pope (whose producer, Wildside, was recently acquired by FremantleMedia); the Got Talent and X-Factorformats; Storage Wars; and Deadliest Catch. It also recently added Luther creator Neil Cross’ next project, Hard Sun as part of an increased focus on drama.

Kusser’s other previous positions include having set up content distribution service Carokusser, whose clients included ZDF Enterprises. She was part of the Red Arrow International team for 10 years, relocating to LA in 2011 to establish the group’s U.S. business. Before that, she held roles at Bavaria Media Television, peppermint and Beta Film in Germany.

Honig said, “Caroline’s vast experience, pivotal drama distribution knowledge and exceptional relationships in the U.S. will play an important part in FMI’s U.S. expansion strategy and push into high-end drama. With teams in both New York and LA, a well-established history of sales across multiple genres and long-standing client relationships, we’re in a good position to take our business up to the next level and Caroline’s understanding of this key market will help us to achieve further success.”

Kusser added, “It’s a really exciting time for FMI. I’m looking forward to joining its U.S. team and helping to further enhance its reputation across the region.”

Oliver Jones VRP

Oliver Jones is Director of Scripted Development at Fremantle North America. Jones joined Fremantle from The Weinstein Company where he served as Manager of Development. During his tenure there, he worked on series such as GUANTANAMO, THE ROMANOFFS, WACO, SIX, YELLOWSTONE and focused on their UK slate including LES MISERABLES, THE CITY & THE CITY and FEARLESS. Prior to The Weinstein Company, Jones worked at Imagine Television, where he focused on programs such as EMPIRE, 24: LEGACY, SHOTS FIRED and GENIUS. In addition, he also worked in the UK for World Productions.
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In the Media:
FremantleMedia North America Adds Three Scripted Executives  |  Deadline  |  Jan 25, 2018
FremantleMedia North America is beefing up its scripted division under new scripted president Dante Di Loreto with three hires. Reid Shane has been named EVP of Production, Jennifer Sherwood has joined as SVP of Scripted Development, and Oliver Jones as Director of Scripted Development.

Shane will oversee all aspects of scripted production for FMNA. He reports to FMNA’s EVP of Scripted Business Operations and Production, Susan Gross.

As SVP Scripted Development, Sherwood will be responsible for developing and pitching original scripted television programming. In addition, she will source international programming to be acquired and translated into the North American marketplace.

Shane joins FMNA from Media Rights Capital where he served as SVP of Television Production, overseeing series such as Ozark and Counterpart. Prior to MRC, Shane served as EVP of Production at Paramount Network TV where he shepherded series such as Frasier, JAG, NCIS, Numbers and Star Trek. Additionally, Shane also served as the co-executive producer on Bad Robot’s Fringe and Almost Human.

Sherwood developed and supervised such HBO longform projects as Game Change, Taking Chance and Temple Grandin. Most recently, Sherwood was with Silk Road Productions where she was a Partner Producer and served as a consulting producer on the Netflix series, Anne With An E.

Jones moves to FMNA from The Weinstein C. where he served as Manager of Development. There he worked on series such as Guantanamo, The Romanoffs, Waco, Six, Yellowstone and focused on their UK slate including Les Miserables, The City & the City and Fearless. Previously, Jones was with Imagine Television, where he worked on series such as Empire, 24: Legacy, Shots Fired and Genius. He also worked in the UK for World Productions.

FremantleMedia North America has one homegrown scripted series currently on the air, Starz’s American Gods. The company also is behind the upcoming History six-episode limited series, The Breach: Inside the Impeachment of Bill Clinton.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to be expanding our team with these three industry veterans,” said Dante Di Loreto, President of Scripted Entertainment, FremantleMedia North America. “At FMNA we have a clear and defined vision. Building on the success of American Gods and our global series The Young Pope, Hard Sun, as well as the upcoming Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Friend, we strive to align ourselves with the very best creative talent.”

The Best Movies You Can’t See (Yet) We turned five scripts from the 2018 Black List into comics.

This week marks the release of the 14th edition of the Black List — the annual rundown of the most-liked unproduced screenplays to make the rounds in Hollywood as voted on by 300 studio and production-company executives. Over the past decade, the list has become not only an index of hot properties but a kind of super-early Oscars preview — these are the movies we’ll see getting trophies sometime between 2020 and 2030. That’s not hype: Ten of the last 20 Best Screenplay Oscar winners first showed up on the Black List, which was founded and is overseen by Franklin Leonard, a development exec who has worked with, among others, Will Smith and Leonardo DiCaprio. American HustleArgoArrivalHell or High WaterThe Imitation GameJunoManchester By the SeaMichael Clayton,Spotlight, and Whiplash were all Black List scripts; so is this week’s new arrival Bird Box.

The roster of Black List screenplays that have gone on to be produced and distributed runs to 300 — almost as impressive a number as the 700 that (so far) haven’t. That would be a great batting average in baseball and is an astonishing one for film development, especially since a significant number of Black List scripts are not really meant to be produced. They’re biopics of people who haven’t sold their life rights, or based-on-a-true-story accounts that would never clear any studio’s legal department but still serve as effective calling cards for their authors — showy work that can put them on the map, demonstrate their skill at dialogue, character, and/or structure, and improve their chances to be hired for a project a film company wants to make.

But the Black List serves another purpose: It’s a yearly glimpse of the state of the art by the art’s next great group of creators. Critics often speak approvingly of movies that feel “of the moment,” but because of the vagaries and challenges of production, that moment can be maddeningly long in coming. The Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex, which opens this week, was a Black List selection — in 2014. How It Ends, an action film that arrived earlier this year, made the list way back in 2010. And the Best Picture nominees Nebraska and The Revenant took eight years to move from script to screen. Any year’s most-acclaimed movies usually started as glimmers in a writer’s eye between two and ten years earlier. Those perfect Trump-era takes? They were probably written during the Obama era.

But the arrival of the Black List allows us to look at Hollywood in a different way: What are writers most eager to pursue right now? There are 73 class-of-2018 Black List scripts (it took at least seven votes to make the list, and this year’s winner, Elissa Karasik’s Frat Boy Genius, received 36). Together, they constitute a kind of group show of writers at or near the beginning of their careers (the typical Black List scribe can be found somewhere on IMDB, often under “miscellaneous crew”); their work collectively showcases unmistakable themes, frustrations, and obsessions that are indeed of this moment.

This year’s scripts include at least two with central roles for trans protagonists, and the roster of up-to-the-minute villains, according to the list’s loglines, includes “Gamergate trolls” and a “social-media influencer.” One theme, though, announces itself louder than any other (no, not that one). A good writer knows to avoid anything too on-the-nose, which is why there appear to be zero scripts about you know who. But one Trump-adjacent plotline — how did [asshole’s name here] ever get so much power? — is pervasive. Frat Boy Genius is about Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel. Cody Brotter’s Drudge, about Matt Drudge’s rise during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, also made this year’s top four, and other scripts on the list include takes on (if not takedowns of) Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng, former Gawker editor A. J. Daulerio, and Chris Wylie and Cambridge Analytica. (Almost a decade later, The Social Network, a 2009 Black List selection, clearly casts a long shadow.) Biopics or episode-in-the-life-of stories are pervasive: Sally Ride, Bill Gates, Vanilla Ice, and a high-school-age Samuel L. Jackson all have scripts devoted to them, as do Richard Williams (Venus and Serena’s father), Tiger Woods, and Kobe Bryant (Mike Schneider’s Mamba focuses on the sexual-assault case against him).

Given its yearlong ubiquity in headlines, #MeToo is, perhaps, the most striking omission from the current list — though an understandable one given the likelihood of almost any screenplay reaching the desk of at least one offender. Race, however, proved an irresistible subject. In Sascha Penn’s CI-34, a black agent teams with a Mafia hit man to solve the 1966 murder of a civil-rights activist in Mississippi. A 1964 murder involving white supremacists is the subject of Michele Atkins’s One Night in Mississippi; the title character of Nicholas Mariani’s The Defender is a black defense lawyer in the Jim Crow South; and in Chris Kekaniokalani Bright’s Conviction,Clarence Darrow finds himself defending the white murderers of a native Hawaiian who had been falsely accused of rape. Some scripts offer more contemporary perspectives: Meredith Dawson’s Spark is about an African-American woman encountering Silicon Valley VC bro culture, and Queen & Slim (by Master of None Emmy winner Lena Waithe, one of the list’s few recognizable names) depicts a black couple on a first date who go on the run after killing a cop in self-defense.

As ever, there’s a lot of sci-fi, with heavy emphasis on altered consciousness, timestream do-overs, and loss. Young writers have evidently been watching Groundhog Day as well as a lot of Black Mirror; they also seem to have spent a good deal of time staring at screens while thinking, “I’m losing my mind,” which feels very fin-de-2018. The overall theme is one of intense melancholy. The logline for Mattson Tomlin’s Little Fish reads, in part, “a couple fights to hold their relationship together as a memory-loss virus spreads.” In Alanna Brown’s The 29th Accident, a man loses his wife on their wedding day only to wake up next to her four years later. The consciousness of a dead man is implanted in a new body 20 years later in Matt Kic and Mike Sorce’s The Second Life of Ben Haskins. In Naked Is the Best Disguise(by The Imitation Game’s Graham Moore, the only Oscar winner on this year’s list), “a woman who deals in black-market memories is accused of murdering a man she does not remember knowing.” Meet Cute, by Noga Pnueli, is a time-travel comedy about a woman trying to repeat and thus fix a first date. And In Retrospect, by Brett Treacy and Dan Woodward, portrays a man trying to dive into his estranged wife’s subconscious to retrieve her after “an experimental procedure.”

A couple of categories are Black List perennials: The killer high-concept sell will never go out of style. Who could resist the logline for Chris Thomas Devlin’s Cobweb (“Peter has always been told the voice he hears at night is only in his head, but when he suspects his parents have been lying, he conspires to free the girl within the walls of his house”)? Sold! In this case, literally: Lionsgate is putting up the money. The Black List is not an unknown-talent contest; more than two-thirds of the films on the list already have producers attached, and more than a quarter have financing. But a great five-second pitch never hurts, and you’d have to be profoundly incurious not to want to know at least a little more about Jason Rostovsky’s Hare (“What starts as a fun day for a group of friends in the woods turns into a living nightmare for one rabbit”) or Jason Kessler’s Escher, in which the artist uses “his unique view of the world” to battle Nazis as part of the Dutch Resistance during World War II. Even screenplays the descriptions for which are so low concept they could seemingly appear on any year’s list — like Greg Kalleres’s Our Condolences, about a couple reevaluating their relationship after their friends lose a child, or Covers, by Flora Greeson, about a woman trying to become a music producer — are intriguing precisely because it’s clear that their power must be in the execution, not the concept.

Not all of these scripts will become movies, and not all that do will be any good; Dan Fogelman’s Life Itself, which finished second among all scripts on the 2016 Black List, became one of 2018’s most critically reviled movies. And inevitably, since Hollywood never met a list it didn’t try to game, some titles may have been boosted by the clubbiness or horse-trading (“I’ll vote for your guy if you vote for mine”) to which any enterprise like this is susceptible. Still, it’s hard not to feel that if this list resulted in 73 immediate green lights, the next two years at the movies — including the misfires — would be infinitely more interesting. — Mark Harris

Since we’re impatient and couldn’t wait for Hollywood’s green light, we asked comic artists to draw pivotal scenes from five of the screenplays on this year’s Black List, including Elissa Karasik’s Frat Boy Genius (which received 36 votes); Harry Tarre’s Queen (8); Michael Waldron’s The Worst Guy of All Time, and the Girl Who Came to Kill Him (26); Amanda Idoko’s Dead Dads Club (11); and Jason Kessler’s Escher (8).

Original Article:

Does It Pay to Be a Writer?

Writing has never been a lucrative career choice, but a recent study by the Authors Guild, a professional organization for book writers, shows that it may not even be a livable one anymore.

According to the survey results, the median pay for full-time writers was $20,300 in 2017, and that number decreased to $6,080 when part-time writers were considered. The latter figure reflects a 42 percent drop since 2009, when the median was $10,500. These findings are the result of an expansive 2018 study of more than 5,000 published book authors, across genres and including both traditional and self-published writers.

“In the 20th century, a good literary writer could earn a middle-class living just writing,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, citing William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and John Cheever. Now, most writers need to supplement their income with speaking engagements or teaching. Strictly book-related income — which is to say royalties and advances — are also down, almost 30 percent for full-time writers since 2009.

Writing for magazines and newspapers was once a solid source of additional income for professional writers, but the decline in freelance journalism and pay has meant less opportunity for authors to write for pay. Many print publications, which offered the highest rate, have been shuttered altogether.

The decline in earnings is also largely because of Amazon’s lion’s share of the self-publishing, e-book and resale market, Ms. Rasenberger said. The conglomerate charges commission and marketing fees to publishers that Ms. Rasenberger said essentially prevent their books from being buried on the site. Small and independent publishers, which have fewer resources and bargaining power, have been particularly hard hit. Book publishing companies are passing these losses along to writers in the form of lower royalties and advances, and authors also lose out on income from books resold on the platform.

In some ways, these changes are in line with a general shift toward a gig economy or “hustling,” in which people juggle an assortment of jobs to make up for the lack of a stable income. But the writing industry as a whole has always eluded standardization in pay. In a conversation with Manjula Martin in the book “Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living,” edited by Ms. Martin, Cheryl Strayed said, “There’s no other job in the world where you get your master’s degree in that field and you’re like, ‘Well, I might make zero or I might make $5 million!’”

In a recent call, Ms. Martin said that “the people who are able to practice the trade of authoring are people who have other sources of income,” adding that this creates barriers of entry and limits the types of stories that reach a wide audience. There is also, she added, a devaluation of writing in which it is often viewed as a hobby as opposed to a valuable vocation.

“Everyone thinks they can write, because everybody writes,” Ms. Rasenberger said, referring to the proliferation of casual texting, emailing and tweeting. But she distinguishes these from professional writers “who have been working on their craft and art of writing for years.”

“What a professional writer can convey in written word is far superior to what the rest of us can do,” Ms. Rasenberger said. “As a society we need that, because it’s a way to crystallize ideas, make us see things in a new way and create understanding of who we are as a people, where we are today and where we’re going.”

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