As Hollywood studios and producers scramble to get their projects completed before a possible labor action next spring, few are benefiting more than local screenwriters. But you'd never know it by talking to them.

Writers and the agents who represent them are reluctant to attribute their sudden string of successes to the fact that the contract between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expires on May 1, 2001. After all, that would suggest their work might not have sold were it not for strike worries.

But privately, they're a little more forthcoming particularly in Internet chat rooms frequented by screenwriters, where they're protected by anonymous screen names.

"The impending strike is very real, and there is a mad rush to find good material," noted a chat room for writers at Scriptsales.com. "This is the best position for any writer. And the best time to be pushing your material."

In addition to providing online chat rooms, Scriptsales.com monitors recent signings for screenplays. The entry for writer Kevin Williamson's "Cursed," purchased by Dimension Films, said the project "is on the fast track, as most (producers) are trying to beat the looming writers strike."

"From what I can tell, there's a big rush to get projects in the pipeline before the strike happens," said Ed Kashiba, managing director of writer resources for the Web site iFilmPro, whose "Script Shark" service assesses screenplays for prospective writers. When it deems a screenplay to be exceptionally good, the company sets up meetings between new or unknown scribes and the industry's gatekeepers.

He said Script Shark deals primarily with writers trying to break into the Hollywood game and who are, therefore, not WGA members. "We're getting a lot more queries from our agency and production contacts than normal," he said. "They are opening their doors to good projects in general."

Kashiba observed that buyers are looking for scripts that are "go" projects requiring little or no rewriting, so they can be rushed into production. That means it is Hollywood's A-list writers who are drinking first at the trough.

So great is the demand, however, that younger or B-list writers are also able to book business.

Christopher Dickerson, a relative newcomer to the Hollywood script game, recently saw his first film produced and has sold two other works of late. "I've gotten a lot more phone calls and a lot more people are talking to me lately," he said. "But I don't know if it's the strike or because I've had a sale."

Charlie Ferraro, a literary agent at United Talent Agency, insists that a recent deal he signed on behalf of first-time writer Kimberly Simi for her spec script "Casanova" including a commitment to purchase her next work would have occurred regardless of strike worries. But he concedes they played a role during the negotiations.

"That was a question of our belief in the script," he said, "but maybe strike fever added a little money to the deal."

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