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A few years ago, the rise of the Internet portended a new meritocracy in Hollywood. Agents began scouring websites like MySpace for untapped talent and studios were setting up sites aimed at cultivating creativity. This movement perhaps reached its apex when Diablo Cody, a stripper-turned-blogger-turned-screenwriter whose manager discovered her while searching online for porn, won a best screenplay Oscar for 2007’s “Juno.”
But over the past year it’s become apparent to us from speaking with agents and lawyers that economic conditions, industry consolidation, and legal concerns have caused talent representatives to be a lot less aggressive when it comes to searching for new voices.
Now the Wall Street Journal reports that studios are worried about being sued for stealing ideas and content and have decided they can no longer afford to even look at a script submission unless it comes from an agent or lawyer first. Universal won’t even allow visitors to its website to e-mail without freeing the studio from any copyright liability.
These “idea submission” suits are rarely successful. Overreacting to the threat of liability by cutting off access to potential new voices seems counter-intuitive. It would be great to see one studio break from the herd and openly encourage writers to submit their screenplays. Sure, it might prompt a few lawsuits from people who submit and later think a produced movie is too similar to their idea. But it also might lead to the next big movie franchise. Call it an informal “American Idol” for screenwriters.
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