The Squeeze: Writers on 'S*** Money' and the New Gig Economy
'I don’t know how to make a living': Even successful scribes describe struggle and 'despair' amid smaller rooms, streaming, superheroes
The Squeeze series is about the effect of entertainment’s worsening economics on workers (next up are execs and agents, actors, young Hollywood, and below the line). The impact on producers and How to (Maybe) Save Your Job During Layoffs kicked off the series, all for paid subscribers only.
Cole Haddon recalls his early days in Hollywood as a writer for TV and film. It was the late aughts and Hollywood was flush with DVD cash; Netflix was synonymous only with red envelopes; and “IP” hadn’t yet become the town’s Holy Grail. Haddon was just breaking into the business but nonetheless selling two to four projects a year. In some cases, the process was utterly effortless.
“I literally, on occasion, would have an idea in the morning and bring it up in the afternoon at a meeting and get a job off of it,” Haddon says. “My very first sale, Thieves of Baghdad, I’d rewatched the original film from the 1940s a day or two before, and I just brought it up in a general meeting with a producer — what was a very succinct and efficient one-sentence pitch. Within 24 hours I was walking into Warner Bros. and sold it in the room.”
“It certainly wasn’t that easy for everybody,” he went on. “I’m a white man and that was a very privileged position in Hollywood at the time. Competition was very different, so it’s unfair to represent that as a pure golden age. But for very specific people it was functioning (in their favor) and on top of that, the money they were throwing at people was significantly different.
"It was like suitcases of cocaine,” he jokes.
Today, Haddon says, “If I tried to pitch something, and I have, it is an utter waste of time. I don’t even need five fingers to tell you the number of writers who have sold things on a pitch. And the amount of effort that then has to go into writing a pilot or a screenplay on a speculative idea — even then, that’s not enough.”
In 2022, this sentiment is pervasive amongst the many Hollywood TV and film writers I spoke to for this story.