A producer, writer, and songstress whose careers are slipping away find one another. 4,265 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Dan Schneider was feeling desperate. It was Labor Day and he had gone into the office because he didn’t know what to do with himself. Looking at the four walls of his rented executive suite, bare save for three colored Post-its on the wall listing the three movie projects he still had to his name as a producer, he wondered what he was going to do.
Last spring, he had an office on the Fox lot, an assistant, a development exec, and a parking spot. He received a salary and a contribution was paid to his health plan. He had a movie set up at Warner Bros, with not one but two major stars attached; three movies at Showtime, two financed by Fox, the third by Paramount; a project at TNT with a director attached; and two Internet series he was developing for online streaming service Cupboard.
In July, Dan’s first-look deal at Fox didn’t get renewed. The head of the studio was under a mandate to cut costs, and she decided to cut deals. She wasn’t going to cut her own salary, was she? Dan would have enjoyed hating her, but it wasn’t long before she lost her job, too. She had spent two years screaming about how everyone else was an idiot. Now no one would hire her. No one owed her and no one wanted to be in business with her. She had pissed off too many people. Her career was over. By contrast, Dan was a producer. A salesman. He would continue to do what he did, and once one of his projects went into production, he would get another deal. Or so he believed.
Then Showtime put two of his three projects into turnaround. The TNT project died. Cupboard imploded during a mini-tech bubble correction. And the news on his strongest project, the feature at Warner Bros, was not great — his executive had left her job and the studio decided to put a new writer on the project. Dan had come up with the original idea and brought it to the writer; together they’d taken it to the executive, who became a close friend. It was as if Dan had been standing in the center of the room and was now exiled to a corner down the hall. The writing was on the wall: The project would proceed, but he would have less and less to do with it.
Since leaving Fox, Dan had lined up more than $1 million in fees from his production projects, but the effect on the current balance in his checking account was negligible. In the past year Dan had given up the following: his assistant (a huge savings as he paid her salary, her parking, and her health care); his personal trainer (for the cost of one session he joined the YMCA, which had a gym where there was no chance of running into anyone he knew); his shrink; and his business manager. A guy used to come to his house once a week to wash his car. Now he went to the car wash once every two weeks, on Tuesdays, which was bargain day.