Friday, July 1, 2011

How much do writers really make on DVD sales?

Happy July! Let’s kick off the month with some Friday Questions.

Drew gets us started:

You mentioned the props for Cheers a few weeks back. I was thinking that being in charge of props and wardrobe has to be a nightmare. If there is a scene with a birthday cake, are their multiple copies in case an actor drops it? Are their multiples of the actor's shirt in case the cake is dropped on said shirt?

The answer to your question is yes. There are multiples of wardrobe and props. And that exact example happened on the first show I ever directed. In fact, it happened on the first scene. It was an episode of WINGS involving a birthday cake and Crystal Bernard drops it accidentally on camera. The good news is (a) we had another cake, and (b) that blooper appeared on Dick Clark’s blooper show for years. I made more on that clip then I ever did from all the DVD sales of CHEERS and MASH. Which neatly leads us to the next question:

Paul Nikkel asks:

I recently purchased the entire 11 season DVD collection for Cheers and am enjoying reliving old memories. I always look for episodes that you and David have written. My question is how do royalties work for the writers on DVD's? With my purchase can you now afford that new BMW you have been looking at or do I need to get 10 of my closest friends to purchase the series so you can buy a Starbucks Latte?

I’d need a hundred of your best friends to buy the full collection before my royalties could buy me a cup of coffee at 7-11’s. It’s a joke. Hopefully, in the last contract, by gaining a toehold in streaming video, writers will eventually make even a small portion of what we deserve. Or I’m just dreaming. 

Meanwhile, DVD sales have plummeted.  The major studios are crying.  Boo fucking hoo.  

From DyHardMET:

Say that you're an established writer on an established series (into at least season 2 or 3) it more difficult to have to write for a new, unestablished regular character than it is to write for the established characters?

It’s much more difficult. The more you write for a character and hear the actor perform him the more you learn his strengths and weaknesses. With a new character it’s a crapshoot.

If a character is being introduced that will appear in several episodes or become a regular (like Rebecca on CHEERS), it’s best to have either the showrunners or a trusted staff member write the first episode or two and let the other writers use that as a template.

Glen & Les Charles wrote the episode of CHEERS that introduced Rebecca Howe. David and I wrote episode three or four (“I On Sports”) but we had Glen & Les’ draft to give us a roadmap.

It also helps if you’re writing to a specific actor. In the case of Charles Winchester on MASH, David Ogden Stiers had been hired before a script was written. In that case, David and I wrote the first episode featuring Charles. It was not the episode that introduced him. Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum were assigned that one but they had our script for reference.

And Finally, RyderDA asks:

I've noticed that in a comedy or drama series, occasionally, guest actors (in large or small parts) drop in, and "click", fitting in instantly, making the series new and fresh. Then they come back, and stick around. The most obvious example of this currently is the ever-growing cast of GLEE. I'm wondering how a you as a producer/director/writer handle this without letting it get out of hand and allowing the cast to balloon (like happened on E.R., the West Wing, Ally McBeal, etc), and how the principles of the series respond to it.

If an outside character breaks out it’s a true gift from God. Christopher Lloyd as Reverend Jim on TAXI and Michael Emerson as Ben on LOST are just a couple that come quickly to mind.

But there are definite considerations – the budget being the first. Can you afford to add another actor? It’s easier to justify on established hit shows.

Then, as you brought up, you have to deal with your current cast. Chances are they don’t feel they get enough screen time as it is and now they’ll have even less. Things can get a little frosty on the set for awhile depending on the cast. I suppose it’s a little easier on hour dramas where you can just kill cast members off. This keeps the budget down and certainly curtails any grousing. I guess on GLEE they could kill off some of the kids. They could also just graduate them but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

What’s your question? Happy holiday weekend. Please drive safely. And don’t make your own fireworks.

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