Sunday, April 1, 2012

Starbucks and Big Bucks for Screenwriters

Some weeks ago, a friend with ties to the film industry wrote to me, very upset, regarding a new Starbucks policy she’d read about online. She sent me the article in question, which opened with the news that “Starbucks, the international coffee company, announced today that it is banning all screenwriters from its 19,435 locations worldwide, effective immediately. The move comes after a study commissioned by the company revealed that screenwriters not only spent the least amount of money at their coffeehouses, but they also have ‘a depressing and desperate air about them that spoils everyone else’s experience.’” Screenwriters are also prone, apparently, to stealing packets of Sweet ‘n’ Low. The piece went on to quote Chris Keyser, president of the Writers Guild of America, who vowed to fight the ban on his union’s behalf.

My friend expressed her outrage at the unfairness of it all: “I have to wonder about the study methodology. Did they do an exit poll asking for a WGA membership card from the screenwriter with bulging pockets of Sweet ‘n’ Low?” Her point, I gather, was that it’s wrong to lump together card-carrying screenwriting professionals with wannabes who hang out at Starbucks. At least where I live, it’s hard to find a Starbucks table occupied by someone who’s NOT working on a screenplay.

Then there’s me. I don’t write screenplays at Starbucks. But I read scripts, comment on student scripts, prepare for talks about screenwriting, and sometimes huddle with filmmaker-types to work on projects. Meanwhile, half the people around me seem to be wrestling with character arcs and second-act turning-points. The rest are probably eavesdropping on one another’s chatter, trying to come up with dialogue that sounds fresh and real. And in a town where so many waiters are struggling actors (you should hear them emote while reciting the nightly specials!), it’s easy to assume that a good percentage of the baristas – while whipping up your half-caf extra-hot soy latte – are simultaneously trying to compose a snappy logline.

Doubtless most of these Starbucks-based writers are not WGA members. But that doesn’t mean they have no (extra) shot at success. At New World Pictures, back when Roger Corman was a WGA signatory, we all learned how to dodge around Writers Guild regulations to save money. In my Concorde-New Horizons years, the idea was to hire only non-union writers, but many WGA members were so desperate for a paying gig that they’d happily write a Corman quickie under an assumed name. One up-and-coming writing team combined their middle names into a catchy pseudonym to affix to the thrillers they cranked out for Roger. There was a time when “Henry Dominic” earned far more money writing for Corman than the duo did on their mainstream projects, but that was long ago. Like such Corman nobodies as Robert King and Paul Haggis, they've since gone on to fame and fortune. My point? Don’t count anyone out.

My husband the engineer mentioned at a dinner party that a Hughes Aircraft colleague was an aspiring screenwriter. For years this fellow had been taking classes, reading how-to books, writing spec scripts. Eventually he quit Hughes to try to make it in Hollywood. We all smiled at such naïveté, until the would-be writer’s name was mentioned. Then a Corman friend of mine gasped, and noted that the former engineer was now getting the big bucks for writing well-engineered TV dramas.

That Starbucks ban on screenwriters? I have a strong hunch it was somebody’s early April Fools joke. Now excuse me, please -- I’ve got a date with a for-here tall non-fat extra-foamy latte.


  1. Replies
    1. Oh dear, is this a punctuation question? I'm very fond of apostrophes, but I'm not at all sure how to punctuate correctly this important American holiday. Your thoughts?