Striking writers turn to child's play

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - With the Hollywood writers strike putting the brakes on film and TV writing, a group of scribes has found an unusual mode of creative expression: children’s books.

Picketers from the Writers Guild Of America demonstrate in front of the studio where "The Daily Show" is filmed in New York, January 7, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Writers with credits ranging from “The Simpsons” to “Shrek 2” to “That’s So Raven” are picking up their pens to write fictional stories -- only instead of sitting in meetings coming up with punch lines, they’re at home dreaming up frogs with big appetites and boys who fight with their sisters.

“It’s kind of a nice way to do something creative at a time when we’re having a hard time doing our bread-and-butter work,” said David N. Weiss, a “Shrek 2” and “Rugrats” writer who recently turned in a first draft of “Carl the Frog,” about a cannibalistic amphibian.

Then there’s former “Raven” executive producer Dava Savel and former “Simpsons” and “Malcolm in the Middle” writer David Sacks. Savel is writing about a boy who creates his own town because his sister is hogging space. Sacks is finding time between his current executive producer duties on Comedy Central’s “The Root of All Evil” to pen “Vigfus,” a parable about Vikings who end up in modern-day New York and find the city too gentle.

“It has been a great outlet during the strike,” said Sacks, who with his writing partner Brian Ross recently turned in a second draft.

The titles are part of Worthwhile Books, a new imprint at the telco-cum-entertainment company IDT/IDW. Although the unit was conceived and a number of the deals were signed ahead of the strike, Worthwhile is benefiting from the added time writers suddenly find they have on their hands -- when they’re not picketing, of course.

“We’re a small publishing house, so we’re not a struck company, and these writers can write as much as they want,” said Robert Kurtz, vp and creative director of Worthwhile Books and a veteran of shows including “Boy Meets World.”

David Steinberg, a producer on “Meet the Robinsons,” also has been signed up by Worthwhile. Kurtz also is penning his own title for the imprint. The division plans on five to 10 books in its first year.

IDT in the summer bought IDW, publisher of the source material for Hollywood projects including “30 Days of Night.”

The writers are realistic about the financial rewards of a children’s book, which in the past decade has come into vogue for celebrities ranging from Madonna to Jay Leno.

“I don’t think anyone thinks they’re going to make a lot of money on it,” Weiss said. “But creatively and emotionally, the chance to work on something that’s personal without the presence of a massive corporation is special right now.” Worthwhile does says it hopes to develop the projects into potential film and television vehicles.

While the books -- mostly aimed at the preschool crowd -- skew younger than what most writers are used to, the scribes say the form complements film and television work.

“I’m finding that in good children’s books, the text isn’t just describing the picture but the two are working together to advance the storytelling,” Sacks said.

And, sometimes, there’s also a chance to make a political point.

“I’m writing a book with the lesson how it’s not good to eat your friends,” Weiss said. “This could be a good book for the AMPTP (the studios’ bargaining arm).”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter