Hollywood flips over WGA contract deadline

Bond 22’ among high-profile scripts ready for action

There is no such thing as writer's block in Hollywood this week. Given the WGA contract deadline of midnight Wednesday, scripters are feverishly putting finishing touches on their projects and having them biked or messenger-pouched over to the studios.

One sigh of relief went up over at Sony late last week: Paul Haggis delivered his draft for the 22nd Bond installment to Columbia execs.

For many other projects, scripts are pouring in, getting a quick read and notes before being rushed back to the writers -- all in the hope of having the most advanced draft possible in order to beat the witching hour deadline.

"I'm getting drafts in, and I'm flipping them around like crazy," said an exec located over the Hollywood hill.

Fox's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," which is being penned by James Vanderbilt ("Zodiac"), and "The Fast and the Furious 4" by Chris Morgan are among dozens of scripts that are being flipped, a process that actually is uniting execs and scribes in one goal: to get a script that is filmable.

"Normally, you'd give notes and they go off and they write, take their time, do some things in the notes and not others," another studio exec said. "Everyone is playing for the same team now. That way, we have our best shot at making a movie."

Brian Helgeland has been putting pen to paper for the Scott brothers, submitting "Nottingham," Universal's retelling of the Robin Hood story with Russell Crowe attached, for Ridley Scott's approval Monday; Helgeland is also under the gun to deliver Tuesday "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three," with Denzel Washington and John Travolta attached, to Tony Scott and Columbia.

Some writers are turning in multiple drafts of the same script with variations in scenes and endings in order to cover a project's potential demands.

Paramount in fact has asked for three different scripts from three different writers for "G.I. Joe," and will perhaps combine the best parts from each one. Those involved in the novel tri-partite draft effort are Stuart Beattie ("30 Days of Night"), John Lee Hancock ("The Alamo") and the writing team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien ("The Winter of Frankie Machine").

Some projects may turn to their acting talent to step in and do minor touch-up jobs.

New Line's Vince Vaughn-headlined "Four Christmases," which is still being worked on, could enlist the fingers of Vaughn, who has been known to work on his scripts and is not a member of the WGA. Disney's "Bedtime Stories," which has Adam Sandler on board to star, can't rely on that actor, even though he often writes his own movies: Sandler is a member of the WGA East.

And while the writers write, many execs are hunkering down.

"I'm canceling lunches and meetings, and all I'm doing is reading scripts," said one exec. "It's kind of exciting."

As for the TV biz, the programming schedules of broadcast networks would be hugely disrupted were a strike to be called soon.

A prolonged stoppage would lead to abbreviated 10-episode seasons of scripted series, forcing the networks to fill primetime with repeats, unscripted fare and occasional acquisitions. Already, webheads are prepping their alternatives: NBC, for example, is considering running the original British production of "The Office" as strike-replacement programming.

While fall series have already started their seasons, midseason shows have the option to air a short season or not.

Indications are that both Fox and ABC are sticking to their original plan to launch "24" and "Lost" in January and February, respectively. Fox's "24," which started production late and was affected by the recent wildfires, is working on episodes seven and eight, one-third of its 24-episode season. "Lost" has almost reached the 10-episode mark, closer to the show's 16-episode season order.

A strike in November would also hurt the networks' development for fall 2008. Only 30% to 50% of all commissioned scripts -- normally due by year's end -- have been turned in to date. So in the event of a stoppage, network execs will have to make their pilot picks from a smaller pool, and hundreds of writers who couldn't finish their scripts on time won't be paid or will be paid only a fraction for their efforts.

A strike longer than six to eight weeks also would trigger the force majeure clause in TV writers' deals, giving studios free rein to drop expensive contracts.

By contrast, a writers strike called in January would have a lesser effect on the networks, triggering 18-episode seasons of the existing series instead of the usual 22 installments.

Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report.

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