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roscoegino
08-16-2009, 02:06 PM
I know enough to understand that getting a script sold is no cakewalk for anyone, especially in this climate.

At the same time I wonder if too many of us are trying to break in one traditional door using only a few traditional methods. When people say the spec market is weak, are they saying that because they've sent tons of query letters to agents/managers that went ignored? Or are they saying that because they've tried to secure financing and talent themselves and gotten nowhere.

Are we truthfully exhausting all methods to get our project sold and hopefully made?

artisone
08-16-2009, 04:15 PM
I know enough to understand that getting a script sold is no cakewalk for anyone, especially in this climate.

At the same time I wonder if too many of us are trying to break in one traditional door using only a few traditional methods. When people say the spec market is weak, are they saying that because they've sent tons of query letters to agents/managers that went ignored? Or are they saying that because they've tried to secure financing and talent themselves and gotten nowhere.

Are we truthfully exhausting all methods to get our project sold and hopefully made?

I think people are saying the spec market is weak because the specs that are being sent out into the marketplace are not selling.

TheKeenGuy
08-16-2009, 04:20 PM
Well, "networking" may sound like a traditional method, but that's sort of the catch-all for the multitude of untraditional ways of doing breaking in.

roscoegino
08-16-2009, 04:36 PM
well yes...networking is a give-in. but as far as sending queries and pitching at these conferences. It seems not the most efficient approach anymore.

Jake Schuster
08-16-2009, 04:40 PM
I think you're right. A spec I did a page-one rewrite for was passed on by an established, successful prodco, but out of the blue they asked to meet with me. They pitched me an idea to develop and write for them, and I'm in the process of doing that now.

Whether it turns into anything concrete is another matter. But I've got a couple of fans, and one is VP in charge of productions and the other a partner.

Just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and it could happen to any of us. But you've got to have a solid sample in hand.

roscoegino
08-16-2009, 04:42 PM
Well, "networking" may sound like a traditional method, but that's sort of the catch-all for the multitude of untraditional ways of doing breaking in.

Although sometimes I think "networking" has become an ill-defined industry term in recent years. It can easily be perceived as bastard opportunism. That's part of the problem. And even if its not, you can't talk for a few, leave your card and sit on your duff waiting for something to happen. Networking is for techies. Build relationships, make friends who are geniunely ambitious and share like interests.

NYNEX
08-16-2009, 07:52 PM
Although sometimes I think "networking" has become an ill-defined industry term in recent years. It can easily be perceived as bastard opportunism. That's part of the problem. And even if its not, you can't talk for a few, leave your card and sit on your duff waiting for something to happen. Networking is for techies. Build relationships, make friends who are geniunely ambitious and share like interests.

That's much easier said that done. If you're the children of producers who live in Beverly Hills, yes, networking and building relationships in the business will be easy for you, because you come from that background.

But if you aren't from that social circle, it's something that you may never be a part of, or if you do meet people from it, it's possible you won't have enough in common to be genuine friends. And if they aren't close to you, they have no concern over whether your career happens or not.

hscope
08-16-2009, 08:20 PM
Producers are still actively looking for material. In the past, when I received a negative reply to a query, I used to respond with a quick thank you email. Now I ask if they are looking for anything specific, which has led to three script requests in the last few weeks (one from a producer specializing in romcoms and now looking for horror!).

I'm kicking myself for not doing this in the past.

It helps that I have seven scripts in different genres, but it seems to me there are still a lot of opportunities for the persistant screenwriter.

NYNEX
08-16-2009, 09:00 PM
Producers are still actively looking for material. In the past, when I received a negative reply to a query, I used to respond with a quick thank you email. Now I ask if they are looking for anything specific, which has led to three script requests in the last few weeks (one from a producer specializing in romcoms and now looking for horror!).

I'm kicking myself for not doing this in the past.

It helps that I have seven scripts in different genres, but it seems to me there are still a lot of opportunities for the persistant screenwriter.

Ah, hope. Sometimes a blessing but sometimes a curse. Sometimes it just sets you up to be repeatedly disappointed...................

I'm not saying what will or what won't happen here, but a script request is nothing. When they send you a check that you then put in the bank when the check clears that's something. Then you take out the bottle of champagne.

hscope
08-16-2009, 09:24 PM
Ah, hope. Sometimes a blessing but sometimes a curse. Sometimes it just sets you up to be repeatedly disappointed...................

I'm not saying what will or what won't happen here, but a script request is nothing. When they send you a check that you then put in the bank when the check clears that's something. Then you take out the bottle of champagne.

It may only be a script request, but it's a read and it's encouraging. If disappointment fazed me, I would have given up a long time ago!

My point is not that my script will sell, it's that producers are looking for specific material and have to buy it from someone. I hope it's me, but if not, I hope it's one of you guys.

NYNEX
08-16-2009, 09:54 PM
It may only be a script request, but it's a read and it's encouraging. If disappointment fazed me, I would have given up a long time ago!

My point is not that my script will sell, it's that producers are looking for specific material and have to buy it from someone. I hope it's me, but if not, I hope it's one of you guys.

If it is you better go out and get your bottle of champagne.:)

umo
08-16-2009, 11:03 PM
I know enough to understand that getting a script sold is no cakewalk for anyone, especially in this climate.

At the same time I wonder if too many of us are trying to break in one traditional door using only a few traditional methods. When people say the spec market is weak, are they saying that because they've sent tons of query letters to agents/managers that went ignored? Or are they saying that because they've tried to secure financing and talent themselves and gotten nowhere.

Are we truthfully exhausting all methods to get our project sold and hopefully made?

IMHO...

Rosco, excellent question. And no, we are not TRUTHFULLY exhausting all methods to get our projects sold and made.

Writers are doing the same old, same old in an unwelcome business environment. Why sell something no one wants to buy? Sure, some of us are making headway. But is it a sale? Not necessarily. Even seasoned pros are experiencing rough times.

But HW is still making money. So there is money out there to pay for scripts, whether or not the suits shed tears due to dried-up financing
woes. It's bullsh1t and we know it.

HW is taking advantage of a global economic downturn to reduce overhead. So is every other industry. Not very creative. Predictable. So just like the corporations who's ingenius beancounter idea is to slash jobs, salaries and benefits, while their CEO's bask in their millions...HW slashes their payouts to writers, talent and everyone else they can screw. And no one blinks. There's a recession out there, ya' know.

Really? THEN WHY IS HW MAKING MONEY????

I'll end the rant for now...but it will continue on the Screenwriter Consortium thread.

:) :) :)

NYNEX
08-17-2009, 08:25 AM
I think this is an oversimplification of why companies slash money. While it's true companies can reduce costs in order for CEOs to have more money, they also HAVE to lay off people if the revenues needed to support these employees aren't coming in. Advertising revenues are down, and this, through television channels (studios also produce tv shows) affects large media companies. Fox Interactive, which includes Myspace, has had a loss of like 350 million (partially because Myspace has lost a lot of people to Facebook). Keep in mind too in this environment newspapers have gone out of business, music stores have all closed, among other changes in media.

So this isn't just a matter of the evil CEOs versus the poor artists, this is a challenging business environment.

umo
08-17-2009, 08:53 AM
I think this is an oversimplification of why companies slash money. While it's true companies can reduce costs in order for CEOs to have more money, they also HAVE to lay off people if the revenues needed to support these employees aren't coming in. Advertising revenues are down, and this, through television channels (studios also produce tv shows) affects large media companies. Fox Interactive, which includes Myspace, has had a loss of like 350 million (partially because Myspace has lost a lot of people to Facebook). Keep in mind too in this environment newspapers have gone out of business, music stores have all closed, among other changes in media.

So this isn't just a matter of the evil CEOs versus the poor artists, this is a challenging business environment.

We're talking about selling spec features, not MySpace losses (they would've lost money anyway, with or without a recession) or Rupert Murdock's long wait in the welfare line...poor guy. Or the antiquated newpsper business, which still operates as if it were the 50's.

Or they could be going out of business or losing money because of frivolous lawsuits also...eh, NY? :shifty:

Open your nose and smell the bullsh1t, amigo. HW is making money.

Have a beautiful day, everyone! :) :)

JeffLowell
08-17-2009, 09:31 AM
I think you're right. A spec I did a page-one rewrite for was passed on by an established, successful prodco, but out of the blue they asked to meet with me. They pitched me an idea to develop and write for them, and I'm in the process of doing that now.

Whether it turns into anything concrete is another matter. But I've got a couple of fans, and one is VP in charge of productions and the other a partner.

Just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and it could happen to any of us. But you've got to have a solid sample in hand.

Not commenting on your situation personally, Jake, but this kind of thing is one of the reasons things have tilted against the writer so much.

It's getting tougher and tougher to sell pitches - why bother when so many writers will write a script for free? It's one thing to develop a script with a producer you know and trust. It's another to write someone else's idea for them.

It really feels like we're one step away from speccing rewrites.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 09:57 AM
Not commenting on your situation personally, Jake, but this kind of thing is one of the reasons things have tilted against the writer so much.

It's getting tougher and tougher to sell pitches - why bother when so many writers will write a script for free? It's one thing to develop a script with a producer you know and trust. It's another to write someone else's idea for them.

It really feels like we're one step away from speccing rewrites.

This isn't free. Jeff. I'm simply putting together a story. When they've given me the nod an agreement will be drawn up and money will trade hands.

The producer used to work with the rep at CAA, by the way, and he and I have developed a good working relationship. It's also at a company with a spectacular track record. As I've said before, I'm perfectly happy taking assignments as a screenwriter, and saving my original material for my novels.

JeffLowell
08-17-2009, 10:36 AM
They're going to pay you out of their discretionary fund? That's a pleasant surprise. Congrats.

madyellowduck
08-17-2009, 10:40 AM
Not commenting on your situation personally, Jake, but this kind of thing is one of the reasons things have tilted against the writer so much.

It's getting tougher and tougher to sell pitches - why bother when so many writers will write a script for free? It's one thing to develop a script with a producer you know and trust. It's another to write someone else's idea for them.

It really feels like we're one step away from speccing rewrites.

There is a huge danger of this but I don't think any prodco will pick a newbie to rewrite something big like a franchise film or a hot book. These gigs will always go to the established pros and it's for the established pros to ensure that their own circle doesn't go down the path of speccing rewrites or doing free development for nothing. There are smaller scale opportunities that more established writers would probably not do because it's not worth their time, and it affords those of us lower down the food chain a chance to get our foot into the door and gain some experience.

In this climate, new writers arguably can't rely on a spec sale or a spec to generate interest and opportunity alone. So there's got to be a willingness to maybe consider options like developing a script for free (aside from all the other options like making a short film, or doing an indie film). That being said, i think this should only be done if there is a manager on board helping to keep an eye out for your interests, and who will have a vested interest in ensuring some money comes out of it at the end. And the key also is to look at who the prodco is. I like to think of it as both sides taking a chance on each other, with only upside for both parties if it works out.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 11:06 AM
They're going to pay you out of their discretionary fund? That's a pleasant surprise. Congrats.

This is moving towards a deal, Jeff. I'm not some starry-eyed newbie. I've been writing professionally for three decades. They've seen two samples of my work and felt I was a good match--they were right--for an idea they've been wanting to develop.

My rep on this would not have allowed this to go even as far as it has unless it was felt this was moving in a positive direction.

I think Mr. Duck has put it succinctly and well.

sc111
08-17-2009, 11:14 AM
Maybe I'm missing something and, granted, I'm totally out of the loop. But from a business standpoint I don't like the idea of developing a producer's idea for free.

I would suspect he/she had a few other writers developing the same idea for free. There's no way of knowing if they're serious unless they ante up some kind of money.

Laura Reyna
08-17-2009, 11:26 AM
I know enough to understand that getting a script sold is no cakewalk for anyone, especially in this climate.

At the same time I wonder if too many of us are trying to break in one traditional door using only a few traditional methods. When people say the spec market is weak, are they saying that because they've sent tons of query letters to agents/managers that went ignored? Or are they saying that because they've tried to secure financing and talent themselves and gotten nowhere.

Are we truthfully exhausting all methods to get our project sold and hopefully made?

I don't think it's about traditional or non-traditional methods...

I think all methods of getting reads, getting repped and so forth are working. Some methods work for some writers. Other methods work for other writers.

What it really comes down to is THE MATERIAL.

If you're a skillful writer who has an entertaining, commercial script, you're going to get reads, get meetings, get assignments, get a career going...

There's a tendancy to believe that if your query isn't working it's b/c of the economy, or b/c the prod co people are douchebags or whatever... but the truth is, most likely the query isn't working b/c your material isn't good enough.

Lee Patterson (XL), who is from the UK, is moving to LA to start a SWing career. How did he make this happen?

He wrote a good script that won a big contest. A very traditional way of getting attention & starting a career.

Even in this climate I'm hearing about new writers getting work... and more estab writers getting assignments or whatever. You just have to figure out a way to be one of the few who are getting the jobs.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 11:40 AM
Maybe I'm missing something and, granted, I'm totally out of the loop. But from a business standpoint I don't like the idea of developing a producer's idea for free.

I would suspect he/she had a few other writers developing the same idea for free. There's no way of knowing if they're serious unless they ante up some kind of money.

Trust me, the work on this is pretty easy for me. And this is a company that makes films and has a first-look deal with one of the majors. The rep would never have allowed this to get this far unless it was clear this was moving towards contract.

You know, writing novels is in a way very much like this. 99% of all novels written are on spec. A year, two years, four years, five working on the thing and you have no idea whether it's going to sell or not. For me, all writing is writing, it's not wasted time, and, hypothetically-speaking here, should this not pan out with this company, they like my work and will keep me in mind for other work. I also happen to know that no one else has been pitched this idea (which originated with one of the production partners).

Years ago I took a number of meetings off a spec of mine that had gone wide, and Morgan Creek, then at Warners, handed me two possible assignments: the adaptation of a novel for two A-list actors (to be directed by one), and a rewrite of a supernatural thriller. I was the only one looking at the novel; the thriller was out to other writers, as well, and that was disclosed to me at the meeting.

I spent a week on the adaptation treatment, but the actor decided not to move ahead with the project. I chalked it up to good experience, and actually had fun doing it. The book (by a name writer) was good, and I enjoyed the work. The supernatural thriller treatment--all of two pages--took me another week. But the assignment went to someone else.

Stuff happens in this business. As I've told every young writer who's come to me for advice: sometimes you have to do something for free for it to lead to the money trail; and rejection is part of the business (as are negative reviews). If either of these bothers you, you need to think of another career choice.

JeffLowell
08-17-2009, 12:04 PM
This is moving towards a deal, Jeff. I'm not some starry-eyed newbie. I've been writing professionally for three decades. They've seen two samples of my work and felt I was a good match--they were right--for an idea they've been wanting to develop.

My rep on this would not have allowed this to go even as far as it has unless it was felt this was moving in a positive direction.

I think Mr. Duck has put it succinctly and well.

All right, I'll admit I'm dense. But if I don't get this, I bet there are some others who don't as well.

What does "moving towards a deal" mean?

90% of the time, producers don't pay for scripts out of their own pockets. They try to get studios to buy it for them, but studios don't always do it. It's why I wondered if they were planning on paying you out of their discretionary fund.

If you don't want to talk about this, I get it, but if you're willing to share, what's the process here? When you have a treatment they like, they're going to hire you themselves to write the script? They're going to try to get a studio to hire you?

As for reps advising writers... sadly, that's another big problem these days - agents aren't protecting against abuse like they used to.

JeffLowell
08-17-2009, 12:11 PM
Sorry, cross posted and missed this.

As I've told every young writer who's come to me for advice: sometimes you have to do something for free for it to lead to the money trail

If that "something" means coming up with verbal pitches, then yes, we all have to do it at almost every level. If it's actual writing, that's different. Every time a writer does something for free that he should be getting paid for, he's slitting his own throat, and making it harder for every other writer out there who's trying not to give it away.

I'm sorry if I seem touchy about this - this is a real problem that the WGA is facing right now.

And as for novels and spec scripts - yep, you write them for free. And you own them until someone pays you. So it's not working for free. Huge difference.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 12:11 PM
All right, I'll admit I'm dense. But if I don't get this, I bet there are some others who don't as well.

What does "moving towards a deal" mean?

90% of the time, producers don't pay for scripts out of their own pockets. They try to get studios to buy it for them, but studios don't always do it. It's why I wondered if they were planning on paying you out of their discretionary fund.

If you don't want to talk about this, I get it, but if you're willing to share, what's the process here? When you have a treatment they like, they're going to hire you themselves to write the script? They're going to try to get a studio to hire you?

As for reps advising writers... sadly, that's another big problem these days - agents aren't protecting against abuse like they used to.

With an attitude like that I would never have had a career. Fortunately, I left my cynicism back with my paranoia in the 60s.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 12:12 PM
Sorry, cross posted and missed this.



If that "something" means coming up with verbal pitches, then yes, we all have to do it at almost every level. If it's actual writing, that's different. Every time a writer does something for free that he should be getting paid for, he's slitting his own throat, and making it harder for every other writer out there who's trying not to give it away.

I'm sorry if I seem touchy about this - this is a real problem that the WGA is facing right now.

And as for novels and spec scripts - yep, you write them for free. And you own them until someone pays you. So it's not working for free. Huge difference.

But it can be. A novel can be paid for in advance (a two-book contract, for instance), and it can be rejected in the end (with a demand for the reimbursement of advance).

JeffLowell
08-17-2009, 12:16 PM
With an attitude like that I would never have had a career. Fortunately, I left my cynicism back with my paranoia in the 60s.

You've really got me at a loss - I have no idea what's cynical about what I just said. FWIW, I'm honestly curious about your situation, because I'm trying to figure out strategies that the WGA can use to prevent abuse.

grant
08-17-2009, 12:37 PM
But it can be. A novel can be paid for in advance (a two-book contract, for instance), and it can be rejected in the end (with a demand for the reimbursement of advance).

But if you reimburse the advance, I'm presuming you could take the manuscript to another publisher, right? If I was writing something I couldn't do that with, like (for example) a Star Wars Extended Universe book, I wouldn't be happy with a clause where they can cancel everything after I've done all the work, because I couldn't sell it to anyone else.

TheKeenGuy
08-17-2009, 12:38 PM
Well, the fact that non-WGA writers (and even many in the WGA) end up doing things for free that they should be paid for is more the fault of the production companies and studios that demand it.

When my co-writer and I (both non-WGA) were shopping scripts to production companies a few years back, it was a question of doing a free rewrite or walking away with every company that was interested.

In one case, doing free rewrite after free rewrite for one company, they dropped the project because they found out that we were still shopping the script. Apparently, we were incredibly unprofessional for not honoring a de facto free option.

I was furious about the process the whole time, but we had no leverage whatsoever. I think the only defense could be "well, write a script so perfect that the can't say no," but how often is that the scenario?

From my experience, most places that love a script still want to see their version of it before they decide if they're going to pay money. Period.

If someone can tell me a way to get around the free rewrites and free options they demand without burning those bridges, I'd love to know it.

sc111
08-17-2009, 12:43 PM
As I've told every young writer who's come to me for advice: sometimes you have to do something for free for it to lead to the money trail; and rejection is part of the business (as are negative reviews). If either of these bothers you, you need to think of another career choice.

Again, I was specifically addressing developing the producer's idea. But Jeff took the words out of my mouth:



Every time a writer does something for free that he should be getting paid for, he's slitting his own throat, and making it harder for every other writer out there who's trying not to give it away.


I wonder if there are any stats on how many of these "I'm writing a producer's idea for free" deals actually lead to a payday for the writer.

It's a sincere question.

roscoegino
08-17-2009, 12:55 PM
If someone can tell me a way to get around the free rewrites and free options they demand without burning those bridges, I'd love to know it.

I'm waiting for that answer too.

JeffLowell
08-17-2009, 01:01 PM
From my experience, most places that love a script still want to see their version of it before they decide if they're going to pay money. Period.

The problem is that the vast majority of the free work is done for producers, who aren't going to pay you even if they end up loving it. Once they're happy, they'll shop it to studios - and if the studios don't bite, you don't get paid.

If someone can tell me a way to get around the free rewrites and free options they demand without burning those bridges, I'd love to know it.

I don't think you burn bridges by saying "no" politely. Say you're playing out some other interest.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with working with a producer. The two sticking points, to me, are a) agreeing with the notes you're doing, so you're making your version better, not their version; and b) getting the script back 100% if it doesn't sell.

If you team up with a great producer and he actually helps you write (or rewrite) a spec in return for getting the first chance at selling it, then both sides win. But you need to be able to walk away with your script. (Unless there's option money, of course, in which case they get X number of months before you walk away.)

This is also where reps with any kind of juice come in handy. (Yeah, I know. Chicken and egg.) If you take a script out to 20 producers at the same time, they're not going to ask for notes - they understand they either have to submit it to a studio or pass on it. I'm not saying it guarantees a sale, but it's a way to bypass every person asking for a rewrite.

ETA:

I wonder if there are any stats on how many of these "I'm writing a producer's idea for free" deals actually lead to a payday for the writer.

I'm sure they do sometimes. But if you're doing it and it doesn't sell and you don't own the script... that's a big gamble, IMO.

EddieCoyle
08-17-2009, 01:12 PM
I've been involved with a number of these develop for free situations, and I've sworn I will never do it again. It has never resulted in anything going anywhere. Maybe I have a contact I can draw on, but is it worth spending 6 months to a year on a script (one that you might not be able to shop elsewhere) to win a contact? On balance, I'm not so sure it's a good trade off.

I know it's "what everyone does," but I've said no more. Think about it: what incentive does a prodcuer, who has invested no money in a project, have to stay with the script if something else comes up? In fact, the situations I've been involved with that have gone no where were not scams or someone trying to take advantage. They were all decent people, but the moment something more worthwhile came along or they got distracted with something else that had a chance of selling or making them money...then, well, why should they continue to put time and effort into the project they put no $ behind?

It's such a tough thing for writers, though, and I can see why it happens. Someone wants to give you an opportunity and they have connections, so you think why not given how tough it is to get anyone interested in any project of yours.

But here's something I don't think producers understand: not only does the writer not get paid or the best effort from a producer, but also the producer gets an inferior product. How long would you continue to put your best effort into something that does not involve an up front pay check and does not have a clearly defined outcome in terms of a sale or advancement in your career? And to boot you might not even have control of the property if things don't work out! If more producers looked at it like this they might stop asking for the freebies. You will get a better effort if you pay for it.

I'm not saying writers should not ever develop for free and obviously it's happening quite a bit (too much). If you truly love a project and believe in a producer, go for it. But I do think writers should be more circumspect about going down this road because it rarely goes anywhere in my experience.

Just my two cents on the subject...

sc111
08-17-2009, 01:18 PM
I know it's "what everyone does," but I've said no more. Think about it: what incentive does a prodcuer, who has invested no money in a project, have to stay with the script if something else comes up? In fact, the situations I've been involved with that have gone no where were not scams or someone trying to take advantage. They were all decent people, but the moment something more worthwhile came along or they got distracted with something else that had a chance of selling or making them money...then, well, why should they continue to put time and effort into the project they put no $ behind?



Thanks for sharing. The above is one of the things that concerns me.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 01:38 PM
Again, I was specifically addressing developing the producer's idea. But Jeff took the words out of my mouth:



I wonder if there are any stats on how many of these "I'm writing a producer's idea for free" deals actually lead to a payday for the writer.

It's a sincere question.

My first script job did. The film wasn't made, but it began as a freebie.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 01:41 PM
But if you're doing it and it doesn't sell and you don't own the script... that's a big gamble, IMO.

One thing I've learned in over 30 years of writing is that everything you do as a writer is a big gamble. I've spent three years on novels that never get published, and five weeks on others that got snapped up in a week. You just never know, and one thing you develop, as I'm sure you know, Jeff, is that over time you develop a nose for what has the most potential and what doesn't. I've turned down free-development jobs plenty of times. But this one "smells" a little different to me. And if nothing comes of it, I've enjoyed the journey and learned a little more something about writing.

But as a gambler I never, ever, put all my chips on one number. Which is why, while a new novel is currently making the rounds, an even newer one is sitting on my hard drive. Because you never know, especially in this market.

sc111
08-17-2009, 01:54 PM
I've turned down free-development jobs plenty of times. But this one "smells" a little different to me.

Ah ... so you have turned down many, even though your first experience with free development sold.

So what you're saying is -- use discretion. This is a bit different than how I understod your advice to young writers posted earlier.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 02:03 PM
I think, SC, that discrimination is something you learn as a writer. Some pick it up right away; for others it takes years. I would say three or four times a year someone comes along--usually a low-level development exec at some small company--and starts to sniff me out.

The difference here was the company itself, and the level of the people--not development, by the way--who pitched this two-line idea to me they'd been sitting on waiting for the right writer to come along. They'd seen two samples of my work and felt it was a good match. It was up to me to run with it, play around and see if I could find a story worth spending time with, and so on.

But the rule stands, really: you write, you send it out, you see what happens. I did this with twelve novels before I was ever published. And when I was in the UK and writing teleplays and telefilms for a fantastic market (at the time), I wasn't selling, but when the time came for me to be considered for a feature writing job, the people who'd been following me for five years came to me. My film/TV agent there told me this is how you build your career, with patience, perseverance and productivity.

EJ Pennypacker
08-17-2009, 02:10 PM
Great thread BTW.

I have a Q.

Jeff writes:

If you team up with a great producer and he actually helps you write (or rewrite) a spec in return for getting the first chance at selling it, then both sides win. But you need to be able to walk away with your script. (Unless there's option money, of course, in which case they get X number of months before you walk away.)

How is this situation any different to someone who falls into the same senario as Eddie (i.e. they lose interest/something comes along bigger and better than your sp)?

Would it be a case that if some who's had no sales, yet sides with a big company with a deal at a studio to "develop" something with them, NOT turn down this situation? The issue is ownership, right? That a writer gets screwed if they don't own the material and base all this work on a treatment??

EJ

TheKeenGuy
08-17-2009, 02:13 PM
The problem is that the vast majority of the free work is done for producers, who aren't going to pay you even if they end up loving it. Once they're happy, they'll shop it to studios - and if the studios don't bite, you don't get paid.



I don't think you burn bridges by saying "no" politely. Say you're playing out some other interest.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with working with a producer. The two sticking points, to me, are a) agreeing with the notes you're doing, so you're making your version better, not their version; and b) getting the script back 100% if it doesn't sell.

If you team up with a great producer and he actually helps you write (or rewrite) a spec in return for getting the first chance at selling it, then both sides win. But you need to be able to walk away with your script. (Unless there's option money, of course, in which case they get X number of months before you walk away.)

This is also where reps with any kind of juice come in handy. (Yeah, I know. Chicken and egg.) If you take a script out to 20 producers at the same time, they're not going to ask for notes - they understand they either have to submit it to a studio or pass on it. I'm not saying it guarantees a sale, but it's a way to bypass every person asking for a rewrite.
By "burning bridges," I didn't mean angering them, but avoiding a "no."

When you take your script out and the only places that don't say "no" want a free rewrite, then giving a polite "no" to free rewrites most likely means burying the script.

It's possible that providing an ultimatum to the production company (as politely as possible) could lead to money, but in my experience, that would definitely limit the number of chances.

I've used a scene from THE GRAPES OF WRATH as a metaphor for this situation before. A land contractor shows up at the migrant camp looking for fruit-pickers, promising to pay for a good day's work. One migrant worker accuses that the contractor of routinely abusing and cheating the desperate migrants, and points out that he doesn't have a the required credentials, and demands a contract before any migrants work for him. But, the other migrants scoff. They're desperate, they don't feel they have the luxury of asking for what they deserve. They'll work for the guy even after being warned that they'll most likely get screwed in the end. They're so thirsty, they'll drink the sand.

Similarly, the field of aspiring screenwriters is so ridiculously overcrowded that it's easy to take advantage of them... and the sad reality is that those who are willing to be taken advantage of often have better chance of profiting than those who take a principled stand.

It's definitely not fair, and it presents a situation in which there are no good answers for struggling writers.

So, I have totally sympathy for writers of any opinion on this issue. When it comes to victimization, it won't help if the victims turn on each other because they can't agree how to solve things.

Ulysses
08-17-2009, 02:13 PM
I've been involved with a number of these develop for free situations, and I've sworn I will never do it again. It has never resulted in anything going anywhere. Maybe I have a contact I can draw on, but is it worth spending 6 months to a year on a script (one that you might not be able to shop elsewhere) to win a contact? On balance, I'm not so sure it's a good trade off.


I have the impression that as soon as you work for free they lose respect. They seem to put you into the desperate category.


I know it's "what everyone does," but I've said no more. Think about it: what incentive does a prodcuer, who has invested no money in a project, have to stay with the script if something else comes up? (...)

The following is related to the topic, not to you personally, Eddie (I have made the same mistake as you, and probably everyone makes it).

There are probably many writers out there that don't trust their abilities and the uniqueness of their imagination. It's probably because so many writers try to break into this business without having anything unique to say. So there is an enormous pressure also on imaginative people to play the numbers game.

I guess the key problem for an unknown writer is to get proper respect for his work. For me this means to look for someone who doesn't just scan scripts for common patterns, but to actually read and imagine what's one the page. This is quite hard to find. But, for me, this individual approach is the one I will take when I am querying in autumn.

Why One
08-17-2009, 02:28 PM
I have to thank you guys for this thread -- it's all very interesting and informative.

So if you choose to write based on the pitch and notes of a producer -- if, in the end, the project doesn't take off, who own the script?

The writer or the producer?

If it's the writer, then I imagine that this situation doesn't entirely put you at a disadvantage as you basically has another sample spec. Unless, of course, the script has been shopped around and rejected by every studio, by which case you're basically sitting on a dead script.

But what happens if the free writing is for an assignment of pre-existing property. I assume the prodco will own the script. In that instance, then I can imagine it being a big gamble of "all or nothing".

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 02:45 PM
All good questions, Why. My case is slightly different in ways I really can't discuss right now, anyway. But the idea was generated not by a third party (in the sense of another writer), and it's one reason why I think this is a worthwhile way to spend my time right now. It's also a fascinating subject and could make a big entertaining, commercial movie.

TheKeenGuy
08-17-2009, 02:51 PM
I have to thank you guys for this thread -- it's all very interesting and informative.

So if you choose to write based on the pitch and notes of a producer -- if, in the end, the project doesn't take off, who own the script?

The writer or the producer?

If it's the writer, then I imagine that this situation doesn't entirely put you at a disadvantage as you basically has another sample spec. Unless, of course, the script has been shopped around and rejected by every studio, by which case you're basically sitting on a dead script.

But what happens if the free writing is for an assignment of pre-existing property. I assume the prodco will own the script. In that instance, then I can imagine it being a big gamble of "all or nothing".
I have one script where I'm the sole writer but the idea was developed with some producers, and then they tried and failed to sell it. No contracts ever written up.

I've been told that if I went about selling it on my own, they would probably sue. That doesn't mean they necessarily have a legal claim, but there would certainly be a fight.

sc111
08-17-2009, 02:58 PM
I've used a scene from THE GRAPES OF WRATH as a metaphor for this situation before. A land contractor shows up at the migrant camp looking for fruit-pickers, promising to pay for a good day's work. One migrant worker accuses that the contractor of routinely abusing and cheating the desperate migrants, and points out that he doesn't have a the required credentials, and demands a contract before any migrants work for him. But, the other migrants scoff. They're desperate, they don't feel they have the luxury of asking for what they deserve. They'll work for the guy even after being warned that they'll most likely get screwed in the end. They're so thirsty, they'll drink the sand.



Nice metaphor.

I had an experience in my day job which is probably - scratch that -- entirely influencing my opinion on this topic.

I freelance in the advertising/marketing industry. And I found out that another freelancer, fresh of of college, who had never worked at an agency, used my name in her email when she sent out cold queries to clients.

She found out a number of the contacts in the area (ad agencies, design groups, marketing groups) used my services.

So she sends out a mass email to contacts which includes the line: "My rates are much cheaper than sc111." One of the graphic designers I provide web copy for forwarded it to me.

She did not offer her services for free, she was just cheaper than me. But of course with zero experience she should be cheaper than me.

However, I did lose a few clients to her. At first. But they eventually came back, the reasons are obvious. And about 3 years later I found out she went into another profession entirely.

I guess I feel that writing a free spec based on a producer's idea (essentially it's an assignment, no?) is sort of like what this woman did to me:

"Hey, don't pay ___(fill in names here of all writers who expect to be paid for writing a producer's idea) ____, I'll do it for free.

Because when we do it for free, aren't we indeed taking jobs from everyone who risks losing a gig because they want to maintain a standard of writers being paid for work?

Ulysses
08-17-2009, 02:58 PM
The problem is that the vast majority of the free work is done for producers, who aren't going to pay you even if they end up loving it. Once they're happy, they'll shop it to studios - and if the studios don't bite, you don't get paid.


I don't think you burn bridges by saying "no" politely. Say you're playing out some other interest.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with working with a producer. The two sticking points, to me, are a) agreeing with the notes you're doing, so you're making your version better, not their version; and b) getting the script back 100% if it doesn't sell.

If you team up with a great producer and he actually helps you write (or rewrite) a spec in return for getting the first chance at selling it, then both sides win. But you need to be able to walk away with your script. (Unless there's option money, of course, in which case they get X number of months before you walk away.)


Your advice is very much appreciated, Jeff.

I have the impression that you need to find the right person first and make sure that they connect to you and your script.

I guess what Jeff points out is that you shouldn't throw free work at every person that labels himself a producer.

But it's OK to invest time and work with the right producer - as long as your script stays yours.

Just because nobody knows you doesn't mean your work isn't worth anything, or that you have to - how the Keen Guy nicely put it - drink sand.

If you have no self-respect, nobody will respect you, either.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 03:08 PM
Your advice is very much appreciated, Jeff.

I have the impression that you need to find the right person first and make sure that they connect to you and your script.

I guess what Jeff points out is that you shouldn't throw free work at every person that labels himself a producer.

But it's OK to invest time and work with the right producer - as long as your script stays yours.

Just because nobody knows you doesn't mean your work isn't worth anything, or that you have to - how the Keen Guy nicely put it - drink sand.

If you have no self-respect, nobody will respect you, either.

Exactly.

Why One
08-17-2009, 03:12 PM
My case is slightly different in ways I really can't discuss right now, anyway. But the idea was generated not by a third party (in the sense of another writer), and it's one reason why I think this is a worthwhile way to spend my time right now. It's also a fascinating subject and could make a big entertaining, commercial movie.

It's cool if you can't talk about it, Jake. Good luck with it and keep us updated with what's going on. :)

I've been told that if I went about selling it on my own, they would probably sue. That doesn't mean they necessarily have a legal claim, but there would certainly be a fight.

This is the thing that troubles me. I mean, another DD member that dropped his rep/producer had legal action threatened against him because rep/producer provided notes that were incorporated into his spec.

I mean, what legal ground does the writer stand on?

The very notion of big-walleted HW producers threatening to sue would send me running 100mph the opposite direction.

Charisma
08-17-2009, 03:17 PM
All good questions, Why. My case is slightly different in ways I really can't discuss right now, anyway. But the idea was generated not by a third party (in the sense of another writer), and it's one reason why I think this is a worthwhile way to spend my time right now. It's also a fascinating subject and could make a big entertaining, commercial
movie.

Good luck.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 03:29 PM
Thanks, guys.

JeffLowell
08-17-2009, 03:52 PM
Just a general note first off... Producers are salesmen, obviously. Their job is to convince you that this time is different, and that you're the only person who can write it and this is their favorite idea and no one else has even heard it and and it's rushing into development and this is the ONE...

I know I'm in a different place than some of the people here, but I can't imagine writing a producer's spec for them for free. If they're so powerful and have such great connections and this is such a wonderful idea and you're perfect for it... at the very least, they should take you into a studio to try to sell it as a pitch.

I mean, why wouldn't they? It's an hour out of their life, and that way they're getting paid along with you. There's nothing stopping them from then asking you to spec it if it doesn't sell.

How is this situation any different to someone who falls into the same senario as Eddie (i.e. they lose interest/something comes along bigger and better than your sp)?

Would it be a case that if some who's had no sales, yet sides with a big company with a deal at a studio to "develop" something with them, NOT turn down this situation? The issue is ownership, right? That a writer gets screwed if they don't own the material and base all this work on a treatment??

Yeah, the issue is ownership. If you're writing a spec anyway and someone wants to lend you their expertise and connections in return for a first chance at selling it, great. You'll end up with a better script and someone meaningful out there trying to sell it.

It's the situations where you're writing someone else's idea for them, and taking their notes that you don't agree with (because they're going to sell it if you just take their notes!) and months turn into years... and you're left with a script that didn't sell and you hate and don't even control.

When you take your script out and the only places that don't say "no" want a free rewrite, then giving a polite "no" to free rewrites most likely means burying the script.

I've never read your script, so this isn't aimed at its quality, but: sometimes burying the script is the best thing.

You rewrote your script in ways you didn't like, were furious the whole time, and wasted how much time doing it? In retrospect, wouldn't your time have been better spent writing a new script? Some scripts aren't going to sell (or lead to opportunities for assignments) no matter how much time you invest in them.

And specs don't disappear. Maybe your next one sells and they ask "what else do you have?" Maybe you get a new agent who reads it and loves it and attaches that piece of talent that puts it over the top.

Earlier, you said

I think the only defense could be "well, write a script so perfect that they can't say no," but how often is that the scenario?

Not often, but often enough? And look, a script doesn't have to be perfect (is there such a thing?), but it has to be good enough to get two people interested in it at the same time. If multiple producers want a studio to buy your script for them, they're not going to bog you down with a year of rewrites - they're going to try to get it sold before the other guy does.

Jake Schuster
08-17-2009, 04:00 PM
Just a general note first off... Producers are salesmen, obviously. Their job is to convince you that this time is different, and that you're the only person who can write it and this is their favorite idea and no one else has even heard it and and it's rushing into development and this is the ONE...

This was never said to me. No one told me times had changed, that I'm the only person who could write this, and so on. No smoke was blown up the venerable Schuster backside.

I was told they'd read a script of mine, were willing to see another, and had an idea they'd like me to consider. (They were right; it was an excellent match of writer to idea.)

They read the second script (a Nicholl-placer from a few years ago) and got back to me through my rep. They felt I would be a good match for the concept and wanted to sound me out. I never felt hustled (and believe me, I've been around the block a few times, so I know what that's like), and since then my discussions with them have been very productive.

Sure, we all have different experiences, and our own approaches, but this--and my rep agreed--felt like it could all go well. Well, we'll see, right?

TheKeenGuy
08-17-2009, 04:03 PM
This is the thing that troubles me. I mean, another DD member that dropped his rep/producer had legal action threatened against him because rep/producer provided notes that were incorporated into his spec.

I mean, what legal ground does the writer stand on?

The very notion of big-walleted HW producers threatening to sue would send me running 100mph the opposite direction.
The legal ground you have to stand on is the fact that ideas cannot be copyrighted, only written or recorded content.

So, without a contract, if someone says "Hey, let's come up with an idea, you write it and I'll sell it," they shouldn't actually have any claim towards that script's copyright.

However, whether they are inextricably attached as a producer is something an entertainment attorney would need to answer based on the specific circumstances.

TheKeenGuy
08-17-2009, 04:22 PM
I've never read your script, so this isn't aimed at its quality, but: sometimes burying the script is the best thing.

You rewrote your script in ways you didn't like, were furious the whole time, and wasted how much time doing it? In retrospect, wouldn't your time have been better spent writing a new script? Some scripts aren't going to sell (or lead to opportunities for assignments) no matter how much time you invest in them.

And specs don't disappear. Maybe your next one sells and they ask "what else do you have?" Maybe you get a new agent who reads it and loves it and attaches that piece of talent that puts it over the top.

Earlier, you said



Not often, but often enough? And look, a script doesn't have to be perfect (is there such a thing?), but it has to be good enough to get two people interested in it at the same time. If multiple producers want a studio to buy your script for them, they're not going to bog you down with a year of rewrites - they're going to try to get it sold before the other guy does.
Yeah, regarding what I said earlier, I should have said that maybe the only answer is to write better scripts (since perfection is unattainable), and I should have written it in a way where I didn't sound like I disagree with it, but that it's a foregone conclusion.

Reminds me of Ted Rossio talking recently in an interview about how, when you write a script that works, the field of competition between your script and the millions of other scripts that don't work is negligible.

I think you've got it just right when you talk about getting two people interested in the same time, by whatever means it takes. That's the only way to create a true monetary value in a script that goes beyond the minimum amount possible.

It's a matter of making it so that the competition is between them, rather than between you and the others in your own field.

WriteHandMan
08-17-2009, 04:57 PM
Reminds me of Ted Rossio talking recently in an interview about how, when you write a script that works, the field of competition between your script and the millions of other scripts that don't work is negligible.


Another Rossio truth. Though many industry heads would take it a step further and say it has to not only work but also sizzle in order to truthfully seperate you from the pack. A script reader I know says the vast majority of specs he receives aren't as horrible as they were in past years. They have interesting concepts (or we wouldn't have requested them) and the structure is reasonably sound ... but overall its nothing that they'd be crazy about, nothing that constitutes a wild eyed buy.

The big key is to make the execution as exciting as the concept. You have a unique, exciting set up in Groundhog Day. But the execution of this concept throughout the script is just as, if not more, amusing than the idea itself.

madyellowduck
08-17-2009, 07:16 PM
This was never said to me. No one told me times had changed, that I'm the only person who could write this, and so on. No smoke was blown up the venerable Schuster backside.

I was told they'd read a script of mine, were willing to see another, and had an idea they'd like me to consider. (They were right; it was an excellent match of writer to idea.)

They read the second script (a Nicholl-placer from a few years ago) and got back to me through my rep. They felt I would be a good match for the concept and wanted to sound me out. I never felt hustled (and believe me, I've been around the block a few times, so I know what that's like), and since then my discussions with them have been very productive.

Sure, we all have different experiences, and our own approaches, but this--and my rep agreed--felt like it could all go well. Well, we'll see, right?

I am currently also working a project with a production company - my manager suggested the gig on the basis that it would be good for the resume. The idea is the prodcos, I am executing essentially.

Obviously this seems like

a) exploitation
b) free endless development
c) no intellectual property at the end.

And I completely see where Jeff is coming from in the sense that the death spiral and slippery slope of free rewrites, free everything is something the WGA should look to stop. But WGA's priority is likely their members first and the rest of us who haven't sold anything, second. And that's the whole point of being in a guild. They're there to take care of the people doing the job. Yes, they gotta look out for the aspirants looking to join the industry but I bet it's already a handful taking care of the WGA members needs as it is. Plus, the whole point of a guild and being in it is so you have certain privileges.

I think the point here is a paid, WGA, pro should never do anything for free except maybe pitch verbally. But for the rest of us, 'breaking in' really is about who is willing to take some chances. Not do whatever it takes, but taking on smart chances.

To get my career side going, I have zero reservations about doing some small free work. This is a golden opportunity to go to school, without paying tuition as we like to say here out East. It's like how sushi chefs have to spend 2 years washing fish before they even get to cut. It's like how residents observe and assist for months before they ever get to cut.

I have a manager on board who I expect will make sure something comes out of this. Don't get me wrong, I think that there's nothing like cash in order to make sure they aren't just taking you for a ride. But that being said, like Jake, I have as a corporate and ghost writer, done certain projects so called 'for free' because I believed they would lead to the money trail. And they have.

It's about a judgment call.

Discretion and a good sense of management of your time and resources is the key I believe, along with not putting all your eggs in one basket. And of course, the KYC rule; Know Your Client. If someone tells me that I am going to have to throw 6 months of my time at a project and I can't do other stuff and there's no cash on the table and no conceivable payoff and no career mileage by way of contacts or experience or even putting my work before someone significant, forgetabout it. But if it's a reasonable time period, and I'm doing other stuff at the same time, (plus other factors that one looks at like who it is that you're working with, where could this project take you etc) why not? It's all about what you do vs what you get in the end. Building fans for your work is important, in the same way, today's assistant is tomorrow's mogul.

In my personal case, the prodco is a reputable company, and I liked the idea enough to be willing to spend some time taking it for a whirl. And I trust my manager to watch my back on the dollar side. But I'm not reliant on this alone to move my career along - this is just one opportunity. And much as I am confident about myself as a writer, I am also aware that I need to get as much experience as I can get in terms of what it's like to work in a real project situation - the other skills that come into play when working with people, aside from the writing.

So what about the IP issue? I am all for getting people to protect their IP but coming from a country where pinched IP cases are a dime a dozen, my philosophy is somewhat different I guess. Obviously, you want to avoid having a complex situation where it's unclear who owns what (and because I have some legal knowledge, I'm in a slightly better position to protect myself from letting things stray and asking questions at the right time). If it came from your imagination, then do everything you can to own it, and own it for as long as you can. If it didn't, then don't get attached or sentimental.

But ultimately, a writer's leverage isn't the idea - it's your creativity. And that you own and no one can take away from you until you drop dead.

Ulysses
08-18-2009, 12:20 AM
Reminds me of Ted Rossio talking recently in an interview about how, when you write a script that works, the field of competition between your script and the millions of other scripts that don't work is negligible.


This has been paraphrased a few times here, and rightfully so.

It puts the lighting source into the right place so we can see the landscape a writer has to travel through.

One needs to achieve excellence. Excellence in writing, not in hustling.

Ulysses
08-18-2009, 12:33 AM
As a writer you need inner independence.

If you don't have that, you become a Zelig of screenwriting, always writing in the style of the producer that's standing next to you.

And, Madyellowduck, I see where you are coming from, too. Because I'm there, too, trying to break in. But I'd rather continue writing until I achieve something that breaks down the doors or that can help me set up the financing myself and hire a producer than doing the prod-co tug-o-war.

Everyone has to find his own way.

I'd rather say no and walk away from something I find half baked. Sure, sometimes eating half baked things can give the power to reach your goal and eat good food. But, more often than not, it'll just land you in the hospital.

I see it's key to find the right person for my project. If a person balks and wants to change a lot of things, it's not the right person.

If you stand up, and have a backbone, you'll lose quite a few half-baked opportunities, offered by lukewarm people who don't know what they want. But you'll stand a better chance to get the right person for your project, have a solid start, and have not blunted your talent by working with uninspired hustlers.

madyellowduck
08-18-2009, 03:23 AM
Ulysses - I think you've got the right point here. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Only what you are willing to do, and what you want to get out of a given situation.

I have had lots of experience pairing up with the wrong people on a project and the inevitable frustration that comes from that. I've done development hell time. But even hell comes with a few lessons. The key is to evaluate the opportunity and ask yourself what you want out of it that's tangible (cash being the most obvious) and intangible (contacts, experience, opportunity, network, skillsets).And never let yourself be entirely focused on that one project. Always have other stuff on the boil and be constantly looking for opportunities to take more control of your work.

I don't live in LA yet. So until I do, I gotta take what comes that offers some good career upside. But that being said, i don't say YES to everything that comes my way. And in that your point about a backbone is very true, but more so I think is to always be in control and know exactly why you are doing something and what you expect to get out of it.

For me, the best book I ever read on navigating this path is the 48 Laws of Power. I highly recommend it for any aspiring writers out there - hey, it worked for 50 Cent!

NYNEX
08-18-2009, 03:32 AM
Any producer who asks a writer to write a screenplay for him for free is a jerk. The writer has bills to pay, and expenses.

If a film is really going to be made out of the project, it has a budget. Writing and related expenses should be a part of that budget.

Jake Schuster
08-18-2009, 07:31 AM
Actually, the man who asked me not to write a script for him, but to see if I could take an idea and put together a story around it--i.e. a short treatment--is head of projects and not a producer per se. There is a fine distinction, I think, especially in this company.

My sense--having dealt with film (and publishing) people since 1977, and done business with all sorts--is that whether or not this turns into a paid assignment, the man is on the level, that he respects my work and whatever talent I have, and that the work I've so far done on this (which has actually been fun and not in any way a struggle) has not been in vain.

My take is that any work one does makes one a better writer. It's why musicians spend seven or eight hours a day playing scales for no money whatsoever.

madyellowduck
08-18-2009, 08:20 AM
My take is that any work one does makes one a better writer. It's why musicians spend seven or eight hours a day playing scales for no money whatsoever.

Yep. that's the way I see some of these opportunities. if anything, practice makes perfect. And who says you can't work on something else whilst 'practicing' at the same time? :)

Jake Schuster
08-18-2009, 08:24 AM
Exactly, duck. Writing 12 novels before my thirteenth was published made that first novel all the more polished.

ducky1288
08-18-2009, 06:54 PM
My secret...I'm trying to write a great screenplay :D

Ulysses
08-19-2009, 12:28 AM
My take is that any work one does makes one a better writer. It's why musicians spend seven or eight hours a day playing scales for no money whatsoever.

Actually, musicians don't spend their time playing scales. They use them to warm up. And it's not just practice, but exploring the musical piece. Practicing playing the scales would just lead to playing the scales better.

There is quite a bunch of work out there that's on the playing the scales-level.

I think, if you do that kind of work regularly, you get worse, not better. You ruin your ability.

Imagine a pianist who wants to play Rachmaninoff. Would he get any better if he earned his living as a bar pianist?

No, he won't.

Practicing bar music will make this man a good bar pianist, that is unable to play Rachmaninoff (except in bar music style). This man will ruin his abilities and his taste. His bar playing will get him closer to Johnny Walker, but move him away from Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Ulysses
08-19-2009, 12:30 AM
Writing is personal. To make it impersonal destroys the writer. This is why there are quite a few rich hacks running around in Hollywood, living the dream of Rumpelstiltskin: spinning $hit to gold (I heard there was a version with straw. Must be antique).

If you do bad work, you'll become a hack. The worst of it is, that most hacks never get rich, nor even well-off. They shot up with promises of reps and producers, and let themselves go.

Character and personality: without this a writer's work is worthless.

wcmartell
08-19-2009, 01:02 AM
Okay, I just want to make sure that none of the rest of you plan to streak all of the major studios on Wednesday afternoons after getting your loglione tattooed on your @ss just above that painful brand.

- Bill

Ulysses
08-19-2009, 02:34 AM
Why Wednesday afternoons?

Is there a special at the studio branding parlors on Wednesday afternoons?

Jake Schuster
08-19-2009, 07:17 AM
Actually, musicians don't spend their time playing scales. They use them to warm up. And it's not just practice, but exploring the musical piece. Practicing playing the scales would just lead to playing the scales better.

There is quite a bunch of work out there that's on the playing the scales-level.

I think, if you do that kind of work regularly, you get worse, not better. You ruin your ability.

Imagine a pianist who wants to play Rachmaninoff. Would he get any better if he earned his living as a bar pianist?

No, he won't.

Practicing bar music will make this man a good bar pianist, that is unable to play Rachmaninoff (except in bar music style). This man will ruin his abilities and his taste. His bar playing will get him closer to Johnny Walker, but move him away from Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Actually, musicians do spend a lot of time practicing scales, because it gives them mastery of their instrument. Ask Sonny Rollins or channel John Coltrane: scales, many hours of the day.

RichMike
08-19-2009, 09:44 AM
agreed. i know many Jazz guys who don't just "warm up" with scales, they build finger dexterity, mental strength, etc.

Jake Schuster
08-19-2009, 09:45 AM
Coltrane used to fall asleep in bed practicing scales on his tenor. He'd wake up and pick up where he left off.

WriteByNight
08-19-2009, 12:04 PM
Not surprised. After listening to his live version of Favorite Things (at the Village Vanguard, I think) one would suspect nothing less.

But yeah, constant practice in anything leads to mastery.

Farnsworth
08-19-2009, 12:39 PM
What is most interesting about this debate between Jeff and Jake is that the latter comes from the point of view of a writer who loves to write, who writes for the love of it, who is at home in a world in which writing for free or not simply just does not compute; while Jeff comes from the point of view of a professional, WGA writer, who must see a dollar sign attached to ever word he writes, or even speaks in a pitch meeting, a clear WGA minimum value on every script he writes, even it is as a JOHN TUCKER.

And both touch on something that should be at the heart of this issue: what is the true value of any given script?

That info is hard to come by.

Is that not why producers are spreading around their risks, to the chagrin of the WGA? Developing new material with non-professionals?

I don't blame Jeff for being alarmed. Be afraid. Be very afraid. But non-WGA writers write "for free" because there is no way to regulate them, and many ways to profit from them.

Like all unions, the WGA's main goal is to shrink the possible outlets for spec properties by excluding non-members. Want to find a union fix for it, Jeff? Remove the requirement that writers must make a certain amount of money on a deal before they are allowed to join. Otherwise, talented newbies will be like the rioting throngs of peasants storming the castle walls, looking for a meal.

corduroy
08-19-2009, 01:00 PM
Yeah, the main worry of a working Guild writer is the thousands of amazing specs by non-Guild writers flooding the market, totally threatening his livelihood.

Is that not why producers are spreading around their risks, to the chagrin of the WGA? Developing new material with non-professionals?

No. Are you for real?

The reason a producer takes a bunch of meetings with people who haven't sold anything and then talks one of them into writing something for free isn't that they're "spreading their risks". One is born every minute, and some producers don't like to spend money but do love to "develop" without end.

Jake Schuster
08-19-2009, 01:30 PM
Farnsworth, yes, I love writing and do it full-time, but I also do it for money (just ask my publishers and agent). But sometimes I have to take the measure of a potential assignment and play it by ear. If it doesn't come through I'd at least have honed my skills that much more and am ready to move on.

And if it does, all the better. Just remember that as a novelist (and like most novelists--though I have a French writer friend who is salaried by his publisher) everything I do in that discipline is a spec.

JeffLowell
08-19-2009, 01:34 PM
What is most interesting about this debate between Jeff and Jake is that the latter comes from the point of view of a writer who loves to write, who writes for the love of it, who is at home in a world in which writing for free or not simply just does not compute; while Jeff comes from the point of view of a professional, WGA writer, who must see a dollar sign attached to ever word he writes, or even speaks in a pitch meeting, a clear WGA minimum value on every script he writes, even it is as a JOHN TUCKER.

That's quite a sentence! However, I think instead of "even it is as a JOHN TUCKER," you meant to say "even if it is a JOHN TUCKER."

I don't blame Jeff for being alarmed. Be afraid. Be very afraid. But non-WGA writers write "for free" because there is no way to regulate them, and many ways to profit from them.

This is very unclear. Writers write for free because there are many ways to profit from them? What does the "them" refer to? The writers? The scripts they write? Who's profiting? The people asking for the free writing or the writers themselves?

Like all unions, the WGA's main goal is to shrink the possible outlets for spec properties by excluding non-members.

The goal of all unions is to shrink the possible outlets for spec properties? Really? Plumbers care about that? Pilots? Nurses? I didn't know that. Interesting.

What did you say your day job was again?

Want to find a union fix for it, Jeff? Remove the requirement that writers must make a certain amount of money on a deal before they are allowed to join.

So... you want the union to lower its minimum salary as a way to protect its members. That's novel. I'll give it all due consideration.

Otherwise, talented newbies will be like the rioting throngs of peasants storming the castle walls, looking for a meal.

Where will you be?

umo
08-19-2009, 02:07 PM
while Jeff comes from the point of view of a professional, WGA writer, who must see a dollar sign attached to ever word he writes, or even speaks in a pitch meeting, a clear WGA minimum value on every script he writes, even it is as a JOHN TUCKER.


Whoa. This statement should be posted in the DD Absurd Hall of Fame. Seriously. :shifty:

Jeff's success is an example of what we all aspire to achieve. And he is working hard to protect his interests. I would do the same if I were in his position.

There's plenty of volunteer work you can do, Farns, to help the poor and the needy rather than donate your work to HW types. No need to kiss so much a$$ to get ahead. Get some backbone; you'll feel better about yourself, IMHO.

:)

Scripted77
08-19-2009, 02:31 PM
even it is as a JOHN TUCKER.


Jerky.

kidcharlemagne
08-19-2009, 04:52 PM
If they're so powerful and have such great connections and this is such a wonderful idea and you're perfect for it... at the very least, they should take you into a studio to try to sell it as a pitch.


Isn't this very difficult in today's market and isn't this restricted to established pro writers?

From what I've heard here and elsewhere is that, these days, studios want complete scripts that are in highly polished states.

JeffLowell
08-19-2009, 05:13 PM
Isn't this very difficult in today's market and isn't this restricted to established pro writers?

It's always very difficult. And no, it's not just restricted to pro writers. It's one place where being a new writer plays in your favor - for 75k or so, the studio can lock up an idea they love. It's a relatively tiny amount of their budget.

And we're talking about a highly respected producer with an idea and a writer he loves.

And, again... what's the downside? If you're breaking the story anyway, why wouldn't a producer take a few hours to go pitch it a couple of places that he has great relationships with? Even if it doesn't sell, it's good for your career - the studio's now aware of you, they read your specs that the producer sent over in preparation for the meeting, etc.

(I know it was a different climate, but my first feature job was selling a pitch. I told a producer about it in a general; he liked it; we went in and sold it.)

From what I've heard here and elsewhere is that, these days, studios want complete scripts that are in highly polished states.

Yeah, people keep saying that. I don't see it. I still get sent scripts for rewrites. And I know of two different cases this year where there was a spec sale, and the original writer was told that it was immediately going out to other writers for a rewrite. (The original writers are guaranteed one rewrite, but I believe they were just paid off in each case without actually having to do any work.)

NYNEX
08-19-2009, 07:01 PM
Like all unions, the WGA's main goal is to shrink the possible outlets for spec properties by excluding non-members. Want to find a union fix for it, Jeff? Remove the requirement that writers must make a certain amount of money on a deal before they are allowed to join. Otherwise, talented newbies will be like the rioting throngs of peasants storming the castle walls, looking for a meal.

That would be silly. Why lower the required writing pay?

The WGA deals with studios and studio backed producers. As it is, writers are not paid anywhere near what producers, studio heads, or major actors are paid. Screenwriters often don't owe the copyrights to the movies they wrote (unless you're the writer/director). So to add insult to injury, you want to remove the minimum compensation and maybe disband the union?

Do that, and only an idiot would be a screenwriter. You'd be better off working at a high end hotel (if they had health insurance as a benefit).

The minimums not only protect writers income, but they bring money into the WGA for pensions and health benefits.

grant
08-19-2009, 07:29 PM
Isn't this very difficult in today's market and isn't this restricted to established pro writers?

From what I've heard here and elsewhere is that, these days, studios want complete scripts that are in highly polished states.

Producers and studios still buy pitches. I just skimmed through the DDP sales for August, and spotted three pitch sales. That's even worse than a naked spec, all you have is an idea. You don't even have a spec. And people were still willing to buy based on that.

I'm sure if I felt like doing the research, there'd be plenty of the people who sold pitches in 2009 don't have produced credits.

Maybe not nearly as much as they did a few years ago... Maybe for less money... Maybe after you've had to do three pitch meetings instead of one... But they'll still buy them.

corduroy
08-19-2009, 07:52 PM
Isn't this very difficult in today's market and isn't this restricted to established pro writers?

I have no illusions about my ability to actually sell these projects, but I am doing this with two producers. (I am the farthest thing from an established pro writer.)

So I don't know how great the odds are of actually selling your project, but it's hardly impossible to get in rooms with people.

Farnsworth
08-19-2009, 08:01 PM
I'm with the riotiong peasants, Jeff, the one with a cross-bow spying your position up on the parapet...

You're still ducking the issue of the determination of value. All of your chest-pounding about not writing for free assumes that the writer has unique information about the value of that writing, and that he has an interest in doing so.

How does the WGA put a value on a script to the extent that it allows membership? It waits until X-amount is earned either through options or sales. In other words, the WGA determines the value of a script by how well it does in the market place. In no way does the writer determine its value.

Yet your stance against writing for free presumes that the writer knows the true value of the property, when it is the market place that discovers prices.

Face it, Jeff, your true agenda, as a WGA writer, is to close the doors to non-members and to stop non-WGA competition. That's fine. I'll join you when I become a member, but don't make it out like you're concerned for the peasants. You just want to raise our hopes that we can join your exclusive club by coaxing us closer to the wall so that you can pour hot oil upon our heads.

I'm not saying the WGA should lower it minimum monetary threshold to become a member; I'm saying, eliminate it. Then it can represent those newbies writing for free.

Or at least provide a way for a non-member to gain membership by way of an evaluated writing portfolio. That way all of the newbies writing specs can use that work to gain some kind of industry recognition.

But I bet your fellow castlekeepers will not like that idea. And the peasants are getting even more restless...

Tony R
08-19-2009, 08:05 PM
Face it, Jeff, your true agenda, as a WGA writer, is to close the doors to non-members and to stop non-WGA competition.

I stopped reading here. I should have stopped reading your posts a LONG time ago.

Jesus Christ.

sc111
08-19-2009, 08:39 PM
I'm with the riotiong peasants, Jeff, the one with a cross-bow spying your position up on the parapet...

You're still ducking the issue of the determination of value. All of your chest-pounding about not writing for free assumes that the writer has unique information about the value of that writing, and that he has an interest in doing so.

How does the WGA put a value on a script to the extent that it allows membership? It waits until X-amount is earned either through options or sales. In other words, the WGA determines the value of a script by how well it does in the market place. In no way does the writer determine its value.

Yet your stance against writing for free presumes that the writer knows the true value of the property, when it is the market place that discovers prices.

Face it, Jeff, your true agenda, as a WGA writer, is to close the doors to non-members and to stop non-WGA competition. That's fine. I'll join you when I become a member, but don't make it out like you're concerned for the peasants. You just want to raise our hopes that we can join your exclusive club by coaxing us closer to the wall so that you can pour hot oil upon our heads.

I'm not saying the WGA should lower it minimum monetary threshold to become a member; I'm saying, eliminate it. Then it can represent those newbies writing for free.
Or at least provide a way for a non-member to gain membership by way of an evaluated writing portfolio. That way all of the newbies writing specs can use that work to gain some kind of industry recognition.

But I bet your fellow castlekeepers will not like that idea. And the peasants are getting even more restless...

Why, Farns.... why?

Setting aside the obvious errors in your thinking, why accuse Jeff of this? It really svcks.

ETA:

I doubt newbies working for free would enjoy being forced to pay union dues for working on scripts that may NEVER SELL (like, maybe yours?).

Why One
08-19-2009, 08:42 PM
I stopped reading here. I should have stopped reading your posts a LONG time ago.

Jesus Christ.

Ditto for the most of us.

Farnsy, are you really saying that non-working, non-paid people should be given union rights and benefits like health insurance etc from an industry that they are not actually working within?

It's like getting having the expectation of being paid income benefits when you haven't contributed a dime in tax in your entire life.

"Hey, I've written a few scripts, give me free health insurance now. Hey, I have a finance degree and filled in an application form for Goldman Sachs, please make me a part of your union now."

ducky1288
08-19-2009, 08:53 PM
even it is as a JOHN TUCKER.



What?

I loved John Tucker Must Die...

....SLUT IN TRUCK!!!

Come on that's awesome.

roscoegino
08-19-2009, 08:56 PM
Hey, I'm with Jeff. Not just because he's right. But because he worked on my favorite sitcom of the millenium. :)

Charisma
08-19-2009, 09:03 PM
Whoa. This statement should be posted in the DD Absurd Hall of Fame. Seriously. :shifty:

Jeff's success is an example of what we all aspire to achieve. And he is working hard to protect his interests. I would do the same if I were in his position.

There's plenty of volunteer work you can do, Farns, to help the poor and the needy rather than donate your work to HW types. No need to kiss so much a$$ to get ahead. Get some backbone; you'll feel better about yourself, IMHO.

:)
Hi e.

Tell it like it is. Wet that hand and spank that wayward child.

ferNs is in full-cringe mode. His a.c.p.s.'s are off the charts.

JeffLowell
08-19-2009, 09:05 PM
Hey, I'm with Jeff. Not just because he's right. But because he worked on my favorite sitcom of the millenium. :)

"Bless This House?" Thank you!

Farnsworth
08-19-2009, 09:08 PM
Well, Jeff, you asked for WGA solutions to the problem of free writes. I just provided some possibilities.

Without the promise of membership, you can only try to convince non-WGA members to not write for free, out of the goodness of their hearts. But if the WGA could somehow get them under their wing, perhaps something more constructive can be done about it.

And if the opportunities are much greater outside of the WGA, then quit and become a non-member.

But I don't really see this as a WGA problem. The bigger problem is the evaluation of a property. I guess WGA members see it as a problem, because they believe, that by virture of being a member, that their specs, treatments, outlines, drafts, before they are even written, can be assigned a value by way of the pitch.

But if newbies had a way to become members before selling a property, then they can say that their ability to write a property on the basis of a pitch may earn similar values. I don't think WGA writers really want this to happen; they want to be known as an exclusive club. The power of all unions is to create scarcity where it does not naturally occur.

I'm not saying that I blame you for taking this position. Just don't say it is for the newbie's benefit. It's for yours. Do you really think that the teachers's unions really care about the plight of the substitute? And subs are members.

JeffLowell
08-19-2009, 09:13 PM
Well, Jeff, you asked for WGA solutions to the problem of free writes.

You're spinning out, man. You need to take a breath and read your posts before you hit "submit reply." I can't figure out what you're trying to say beyond that some vast conspiracy is keeping your genius from being discovered, and that you don't like one of my movies.

How's that script coming?

RichMike
08-19-2009, 09:25 PM
Jeff, thanks for the work you do with the WGA.

That's quite a sentence! However, I think instead of "even it is as a JOHN TUCKER," you meant to say "even if it is a JOHN TUCKER."



This is very unclear. Writers write for free because there are many ways to profit from them? What does the "them" refer to? The writers? The scripts they write? Who's profiting? The people asking for the free writing or the writers themselves?



The goal of all unions is to shrink the possible outlets for spec properties? Really? Plumbers care about that? Pilots? Nurses? I didn't know that. Interesting.

What did you say your day job was again?



So... you want the union to lower its minimum salary as a way to protect its members. That's novel. I'll give it all due consideration.



Where will you be?

maralyn
08-19-2009, 09:46 PM
But writing for free doesn't undermine pros in any way. People who write for free aren't "the competition".

Fundamentally, people who ask writers to write for free aren't in a position to make a film out of it.

It's pure exploitation. And it ends in tears for the writer.

And still, no one has been able to give me names of writers who have broken in this way.

roscoegino
08-19-2009, 10:36 PM
"Bless This House?" Thank you!


Ha. You know which one. And if Zucker did you guys wrong as it's been reported then to heck with him. :cool:

PS And I hope all the seasons come out on DVD!

maralyn
08-19-2009, 11:11 PM
But I mean, this stuff belongs on that thread about the difference between "positive" and "blind".

Farns, do you think Jeff puts time in here to discourage people from writing for free, because that will somehow make him money?

*sigh

Can someone please do everyone a favor, and send DF an email, and tell him that one of his "free" writers is spouting about him on the internet, and that now the WGA is considering investigating him?

haha, oh come on, Pleeeeeease.

nic.h
08-19-2009, 11:51 PM
Can we keep it civil here? That is, not personal.

Yes. I'm looking at you. :|

hscope
08-20-2009, 02:00 AM
This castle metaphor is becoming a moat point.

nic.h
08-20-2009, 03:01 AM
This castle metaphor is becoming a moat point.

:bounce:

-XL-
08-20-2009, 05:38 AM
This castle metaphor is becoming a moat point.

Oh god, I'm almost embarrassed by how much I laughed at that.

Tony R
08-20-2009, 11:45 AM
Same here. :rolling:

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 09:44 AM
I can't believe I'm even slightly leaping to Farnsworth's defense, but I think I understand what he is saying--leaving out the conspiratorial tone and cheap shots.

The WGA is a very strange union, perhaps one of the strangest in existence. It IS an exclusive club that is very hard to get into, which is not the case of most unions.

Let's say you're a pipefitter. You take your vocational classes and then apply to the union and, without much trouble, gain admittance. Then you start to get jobs and union rules apply to your pay, hours, benefits, and so on. This goes for most unions, no?

BUT, gaining admittance to the WGA is a weird combination of talent, timing, and luck. A fellow I know, who went to the same small college as I, wrote a script about a historic figure. This was a big, period piece. He happened to have a friend working at a studio where a certain director was also working who had always been interested in that historic figure. The script was passed to that director who pushed the studio to buy the script and wing, bang, boom, the writer was in the WGA.

Now, I think the writer deserved this success. He had not come out of left field and had worked at his craft, but please tell me under what smiliar scenario for any other union that this kind of thing would have come about. This writer is in the union because of a fortunate turn of events, and there are many of us here who are not but who perhaps deserve to be. But maybe we haven't had that bit of luck and timing the writer in my example had.

Writers who are not in the WGA have few choices about how to get there. Hard work, networking, and the like are not guarantees of getting in, even after many years. One choice available is to work for free and hope the producer takes the script to a studio and sells it, and then you get enough points to get in.

I can see where the WGA would want to tamp this kind of activity down, but because the WGA is not like any other union that I can think of --and correct me if I'm wrong about that-- is uber-exclusive this kind of thing will happen. I don't think you'll get much sympathy from non-union writers because there doesn't seem to be a certain path that leads to WGA admittance where the temptation of writing for free would be abhorrent.

I'm not saying that anyone waving scripts around who has written for years deserves admittance by dint of having waited for it, but we only go around once and waiting patiently for a thing that has no clear set of rules to follow...well that leads hungry writers to seek other avenues.

As I said a few posts back, I personally won't write for free anymore because I think it's not a recipe for success but I can see why it happens and I can see why others become frustrated with the tall battlements (there's that castle metaphor again) of the WGA and some of that frustration is being manifested here.

-EddieCoyle

grant
08-21-2009, 10:01 AM
Actually to be a pipefitter, you need to work as an Apprentice for five years. Then a journeyman for a while before you're a 'master' fitter. Then you can finally work for yourself, but... the jobs are often seniority based. So as a beginner you need to wait for everyone with more seniority to turn down a job before you even get an opportunity to take it.

Where getting into the WGA requires no training, no qualifications, no seniority, and they don't restrict any of their member companies from using non-union writers, so long as the writers join when they've done X amount of work.

How are they making things hard?

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 10:17 AM
Grant,
You've made my point. There's a clear path with pipefitters to getting in the union, and those pipefitters who are apprenticing and waiting are getting paid work while waiting. It may not be union pay but it's not free.

You make a good point that many writers clamoring to get into the WGA have not had training (maybe they went to a seminar and read a book), but I did say that not everyone who's written ten scripts -who thinks they should be in- should be in. I simply was saying I can see why some get frustrated with the abstruse path to WGA admittance and success.

It's not that the WGA is making things hard, and I did not argue for (though maybe I should) for a change in standards. I merely pointed out the strangely idiosyncratic nature of WGA admittance and how that compels writers to work for free.

EC

grant
08-21-2009, 10:44 AM
But you're operating under the assumption that you get into the union and it's easy street. Like a producer will look at the WGA roster and start calling up the people with most seniority to hire a writer. And that's not the case.

Sure being in the WGA gives you some credibility when you cold call people, it proves you've written at least one script that was WGA-quality, whatever that is. But it doesn't really guarantee you any future employment. It doesn't guarantee that you'll get a job over a non-member.

And as far as I can tell, unlike the pipefitters union, the WGA isn't going to picket and flip out if a signatory producer chooses to work with a complete non-union nobody, as long as that nobody agrees to join the union when they've done enough work. They're not nearly as anti-competitive as other unions.

What specifically does the WGA do to prevent non-union people from selling their script to a union production company or studio? What specifically are they doing that makes it harder for me to sell a script versus a union member? I can't think of anything.

dgl
08-21-2009, 10:45 AM
The WGA is a very strange union, perhaps one of the strangest in existence. It IS an exclusive club that is very hard to get into, which is not the case of most unions.

Of course it's hard to get into the union, but only as hard as getting a job on a television show or an assignment writing a feature film for a signatory company. The motion picture and television industry is the exclusive club, not the guild. If someone isn't a working writer, then they have no need to be in the union.

The WGA doesn't exclude anyone from working on union shows as do many of the other unions. All they require is that if you do work on them, you join, pay your two grand and yearly dues, and follow their simple rules.

Otis
08-21-2009, 10:50 AM
Eddie-

I would say the WGA is more like the NFL/NBA/MLB player's unions.

Just because you play football/basketball/baseball, doesn't mean you should get into their union (not saying you're suggesting that). And generally speaking, if you're good/talented/lucky enough, you will be discovered and by a scout/GM/coach and join the league.

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 11:07 AM
Maybe the question to ask is this: is there any other union one is accepted into AFTER acheiving success? This may be more on the film side of things because TV writers do work their way up moreso than a film writer. Maybe the MLB players union is analagous, but even that union doesn't hinge as much on random fortune as does the screen trade.

DGL, I don't disagree with you at all. This was a thread about writers working for free and how common it has become and how the WGA is looking askance at that.

I was merely trying to show what leads writers to work for free so much and how they might not do it if the WGA perhaps extended their shield by offering a better, less random, path to its door step.

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 11:16 AM
Wow, Otis! We must have been writing that at the exact same time. I would argue it's harder to get into the WGA than the MLB union.

Let's take two minor league players of similar skill level with different teams. One player gets lucky and called up because he's a third baseman and that team needs a third baseman. The other player in the other minor league system does not get called up because he's on the Yankees farm team and ARod will be at 3B for the next five years. But Arod may go down or the player will get traded. Odds are he will see some major league action at some point, though it's not assured. And even if not, he's still drawing a minor league salary.

Now take two writers of similar skill level. They both work hard, have many samples, good connections, are easy to work with, competent, etc. One does rom com, the other thrillers. Rom coms get hot and that writer makes a sale, joins the union, gets an agent etc. The thriller writer just does not have the timing or luck the other fellow did and does not make it.

It goes to DGL's point that it's not the union but the industry, so the industry is driving writers to write for free not the WGA. But I think that might have been Farnsworth's point, that if the WGA helped newer writers to navigate the waters a bit better the phenomenom of writing for free might not be so common or problematic.

dgl
08-21-2009, 11:24 AM
That's not going to stop until ALL writers agree not to work for free. Many guild members do free rewrites. A contractual polish might really be a page one, but that doesn't mean they're going to pay the writer more. Many producers are greedy SOBs who undervalue writers, and if they can get away with paying nothing, they will. What's really sad is when a fellow writer turns producer and begins to act that way.

dmizzo
08-21-2009, 11:26 AM
The WGA represents working writers. Get hired by a covered company, pay your dues, and you're in. You don't need to "achieve success" first, whatever that means. You just need to get a job writing for film or tv. The pipe-fitters union doesn't cover aspiring pipe-fitters either. Mainly because that would be stupid.

JeffLowell
08-21-2009, 11:37 AM
Eddie, others have made this point, but I'll try a different way.

What competitive advantage do you think belonging to the WGA bestows on a writer? Why would you want to join the WGA before you're working?

The WGA exists to protect working writers. Not its working writers, but all working writers.

Belonging to the WGA doesn't help you get a job. No agent wonders whether or not you're in the WGA before they read your script. No exec wonders about that before they hear your pitch or read your spec. Sure, if you've had a hit movie it helps you - but that's not a function of the WGA. It's a function of having a track record.

Look at the Nicholl Fellowship. Agents and producers are fighting each other to read those scripts. Try getting that much attention by writing a query letter that says "hi, I'm in the WGA."

Once you're hired - and not belonging to the WGA isn't a barrier in any way - then you join and it protects you (or tries to!) from abuse.

Your life would not change one iota if you joined the WGA tomorrow. Even things like health care and pension aren't bestowed on members - they're tied to employment and employment only.

And, again, the WGA is not an employment agency.

In fact, joining the WGA reduces your opportunities - you can't work for a non signatory company. If someone wants to buy and produce your movie and they refuse to become a signatory, you can't sell to them if you're a member.

I don't worry about free writing and rewriting because the people who do it have a leg up on me. I worry about it because it's abusive, whether or not that writer is in the WGA yet.

I don't think a writer should spend three years writing someone else's idea for them for free, when he won't even control the script if it doesn't sell. I just think it's bad strategy, and the time would be better spent writing specs he owns.

But the WGA isn't going to - can't! - pass a rule that's going to stop that kind of behavior. Even among its members - if someone's crazy enough to work for free for years in a bad situation, then that's on them.

(And yes, someone like Farnsworth might sell his script after doing just that. Go Farnsworth! You also might win the lottery if you live in a box and use your money on lottery tickets instead of a house. I just wouldn't recommend it.)

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 11:48 AM
Jeff,
I agree with all of what you say (except maybe finding and living off work for non-sig companies). Are WGA writers dropping out of the union to take up work with non-sig companies?

I never said the WGA should help you to find work or it would change your life or put you on easy street. I know enough WGA writers who are bitching as much as those not in the union. So, as DGL said, maybe we shouldn't be talking about the WGA per se but the industry and how its current configuration is compelling many to work for free.

Farnsworth is generally out in left field --sorry Farns, it's true-- but I think I can see his point that if the WGA perhaps changed its rules for admittance or they became less based on happenstance, the free writing thing might become less of a problem.

It never would stop it all. It wouldn't stop producers from being cheap, SOBs, but it might alleviate the problem a bit. But maybe not. I really don't know, but I think it's a legitimate question to raise. And given this is such a troublesome aspect for writers both WGA and non, I think it's a great time to be asking it.

EC

grant
08-21-2009, 11:49 AM
Maybe the question to ask is this: is there any other union one is accepted into AFTER acheiving success?

Well I think with IATSE (the below-the-line crew union) you need to work thirty days on a union shoot to get in. But they can't hire you on a union shoot if you're not in the union. It's a chicken-and-egg thing.

So either someone vouches for you and hires you anyway and hopes the union doesn't decide to yell about it because a union member needs work. Or there's a crew shortage, and they get about a thousand resumes from people trying to get into the union, and the job will still probably go to someone another crew member vouches for based on a past job.

You arguably need more success and a more of a track record to get into that union.

dmizzo
08-21-2009, 12:08 PM
I think I can see his point that if the WGA perhaps changed its rules for admittance or they became less based on happenstance, the free writing thing might become less of a problem.

"Based on happenstance?" The WGA admits members based on employment. Should they only admit people who get hired but also really, really deserve it?

Farnsworth
08-21-2009, 12:44 PM
Yeah, Eddie, I often come out of left field. That's what I usually played in Little League.

But you know, my weird proposal is not far from being reality, because it only takes a minimum option sale (what is it? 5k?) to become a member. So the peasants can become pros and still remain attached to their plebian roots...

WGA membership provides cache only in the sense that it shows that the writer's work is up to minimum professional standards. I'm just saying, why not an apprenticeship for non-WGA members...

I like the way Jeff uses the idea of "abusive" for the practice of developing material from non-WGA members. Is this exploitation? I guess, if you want to bring Karl Marx into the discussion. But Jeff puts a psychological twist on it...

Jeff wants to shame all the non-WGA's into working with industry insiders to develop a project. They want it done from inside the WGA; however, the newbie does not belong to the WGA.

So, I'm just saying, have alternate ways of getting into the WGA. Like winning a contest with a monetary prize...

Of course, that's from way out in left field, where I wasn't very good anyway...:o

sc111
08-21-2009, 12:50 PM
I think the free writing thing stems from the fact that screenwriters are independent contractors working on a project basis NOT hourly paid workers working at a wage pre-determined by union agreements.

For this reason, trying to compare the WGA to the pipefitters union is simply an apples-oranges thing.

dgl
08-21-2009, 01:10 PM
... why not an apprenticeship for non-WGA members...

What exactly would an apprentice writer do?

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 01:12 PM
Well, we had Ramirez in left field for eight years so we are used to anything in that part of the park :)

JeffLowell
08-21-2009, 01:13 PM
But you know, my weird proposal is not far from being reality, because it only takes a minimum option sale (what is it? 5k?) to become a member. So the peasants can become pros and still remain attached to their plebian roots...

Actually, any paid employment with a signatory makes you eligible for Associate Membership. If a TV show hires you for a week (I think the minimum pay for that would be around 2k), then you can join.

So your complaint is that, at 2k, the bar is still too high for you?

Fair enough. What was your other idea?

So, I'm just saying, have alternate ways of getting into the WGA. Like winning a contest with a monetary prize...

Hmm. Let me introduce you to a little thing called the Independent Writers Caucus. As it says on the WGA website (it took me about ten seconds to find it): "WGAw Independent Writers Caucus writers receive Associate Membership Status."

Why did they start this program?

The WGAw Independent Writers Caucus has been established to achieve the following goals:

To increase emerging writer/filmmaker membership in the WGAw

To expand writers’ coverage through the use of WGA Agreements, particularly in the low budget/independent film market

To help writers realize their voice on screen while enhancing their standard of living through Guild benefits and protections

To raise the writers’ status and influence within the low budget/independent film community

Doesn't really sound like it's a program mean to keep people out... but maybe it's hard to join.

Caucus Eligibility and Benefits:

The writer must be a United States resident and pay an annual $75 fee. There will be no additional fee for current WGAw members.

In addition, the writer applicant must fulfill at least one of the three following criteria:

1. The writer has been accepted to and fulfilled the requirements of a highly regarded and/or accredited domestic screenwriting program and, in connection with the program, completed a feature length narrative screenplay.

OR

2. The writer’s feature length narrative film was produced and the film was exhibited at a highly regarded film festival.

OR

3. The writer was a nominee and/or winner of a highly regarded domestic or international feature length narrative screenwriting award.

So, you have to have made 2k, have gone to a good screenwriting program, had a film play at a competitive festival or win a meaningful award to join the WGA.

Really? That's the exclusionary group that's keeping you down?

Just let me know what we have to do to make it so that you're eligible to join and I'll work on it.

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 01:21 PM
"Based on happenstance?" The WGA admits members based on employment. Should they only admit people who get hired but also really, really deserve it?

I say yes to this because employment for film writers oftentimes --not all the time- is based on some weird kind of happenstance, and it's a pity that other very solid writers can get shut out because they were not in the right place at the right time.

And though I don't agree with him often, I would say what Farnsworth is arguing (without the Marxist hyperbole) does make sense. There should be some better way to shepherd along writers who do deserve it. It's too much of a feast or famine paradigm right now.

I'm not saying I have the answers, and what or who is a deserving writer is in the eye of the beholder, but again, to return to one of the original tropes: how can we reduce the phenomenom of free writing so WGA writers won't get annoyed and non-WGA writers won't get exploited? Clearly, the current system can't or won't address that and therefore needs some review and/or reform.

Farnsworth
08-21-2009, 01:23 PM
Well, we had Ramirez in left field for eight years so we are used to anything in that part of the park :)

Hear, hear, Eddie...:bounce:

What would an apprentice writer do? Write... :rolleyes:

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 01:36 PM
Actually, any paid employment with a signatory makes you eligible for Associate Membership. If a TV show hires you for a week (I think the minimum pay for that would be around 2k), then you can join.

So your complaint is that, at 2k, the bar is still too high for you?

Fair enough. What was your other idea?



Hmm. Let me introduce you to a little thing called the Independent Writers Caucus. As it says on the WGA website (it took me about ten seconds to find it): "WGAw Independent Writers Caucus writers receive Associate Membership Status."

Why did they start this program?



Doesn't really sound like it's a program mean to keep people out... but maybe it's hard to join.



So, you have to have made 2k, have gone to a good screenwriting program, had a film play at a competitive festival or win a meaningful award to join the WGA.

Really? That's the exclusionary group that's keeping you down?

Just let me know what we have to do to make it so that you're eligible to join and I'll work on it.

Jeff,
This is great info, which I did not know about, but is it helping to check the rise in the free writing phenomenom? Maybe there are many factors which explain the rise in this method of script development, but the Caucus does not seem to be alleviating or curing free development syndrome. But maybe people don't know about it enough. This is the first I've heard of it, so maybe the WGA should trumpet it more. Thanks for passing the info along.
EC

JeffLowell
08-21-2009, 01:38 PM
I say yes to this because employment for film writers oftentimes --not all the time- is based on some weird kind of happenstance, and it's a pity that other very solid writers can get shut out because they were not in the right place at the right time.

And though I don't agree with him often, I would say what Farnsworth is arguing (without the Marxist hyperbole) does make sense. There should be some better way to shepherd along writers who do deserve it. It's too much of a feast or famine paradigm right now.

You keep saying you understand that the WGA isn't an employment agency and joining won't help you get a job... Then what do the above two paragraphs mean?

I'm not saying I have the answers, and what or who is a deserving writer is in the eye of the beholder, but again, to return to one of the original tropes: how can we reduce the phenomenom of free writing so WGA writers won't get annoyed and non-WGA writers won't get exploited? Clearly, the current system can't or won't address that and therefore needs some review and/or reform.

The problem isn't that WGA writers are annoyed while non-WGA writers are getting exploited. The problem is that the climate has shifted and all writers, WGA or not, are getting exploited.

People don't put themselves in bad situations where they're getting exploited because they're not in the WGA. They do it because they're not getting paid to write by someone else, and it seems like the best path to employment.

dgl
08-21-2009, 01:39 PM
Hear, hear, Eddie...:bounce:

What would an apprentice writer do? Write... :rolleyes:

Write what? Write for whom? I assume these apprentices would be paid less than full members, no? Yet do the same job, say -- write an episode for a series?

If a producer liked the writer's work enough to let him write an episode, the only possible reason for bringing him on as an apprentice rather than a freelance or staff writer would be the lower wage. I'm sure many producers would love nothing more than to have a whole stable of apprentice writers writing for $600 a week.

dmizzo
08-21-2009, 01:51 PM
I say yes to this because employment for film writers oftentimes --not all the time- is based on some weird kind of happenstance, and it's a pity that other very solid writers can get shut out because they were not in the right place at the right time.

A guy you knew in college sold a script and you can't? Must be luck, right? Write better and you'll see all kinds of opportunities "happenstancing" around you.

How can we reduce the phenomenom of free writing so WGA writers won't get annoyed and non-WGA writers won't get exploited? Clearly, the current system can't or won't address that and therefore needs some review and/or reform.

You're missing the point. The issue Jeff raised was one of strategy. It doesn't make sense to spend months writing a script you will not own, for free, in the hope that it will lead to a sale. That time could be better spent writing a spec that you will own, regardless of whether or not this pzrticular sale materializes. But, you can listen or not. It's up to you. The issue of free writing by aspiring writers does not, by and large, affect working, WGA writers. They've got their own problems to worry about - like the free passes they're being coerced into doing by studios and producers, like one step deals, like a whole host of other issues. Hey, no one said the system was perfect. But it is not exclusionary. Sell a spec and you'll get to deal with all these other fun problems too.

dgl
08-21-2009, 01:57 PM
Actually, I think an apprentice program of a sort could work. I think the WGA could institute a writer's assistant program for television series similar to the DGA's AD trainee program.

Writer's assistant jobs are actually harder to get than staff jobs because there are so few of them, and getting them is a very inside thing, but if there were incentives to hire more of them, it could be a great way to break in.

However, the standards for becoming a full member shouldn't change.

ETA: The assistants wouldn't be writing. They'd be learning to write.

JeffLowell
08-21-2009, 02:10 PM
Several studios do have apprentice programs.

ETA: I picked a studio at random and googled. Here's what I came up with (http://www.cbscorporation.com/diversity/cbs_network/institute/writers_program.php).

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 02:24 PM
Sell a spec and you'll get to deal with all these other fun problems too.

I don't think you are listening to me. The above line indicates as much. To sell a spec is what many fight to do for many years but cannot because of timing and luck. You're saying if I write harder or better than the guy who went to my college I'll sell a spec? My point is we already write at the same level, he was just in the right place at the right time and now has an access I may never get no matter how hard I work. You're telling me to go out and sell a spec. Just do that and I'll have to worry about all those fun problems. I'd like to have that dilemna, but what I've been arguing --which we all know-- is it's very hard to sell a spec and when some do it it's not always because they were better writers or worked harder. They were simply fortunate.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that those who DO sell specs are numbskullish lottery winners. I'm sure they deserve the success they've achieved. But this business does have a random quality that is almost unparalleled, and writers will write for free because traditional methods such as hard work, bridge building, etc. still may come up short--and by short I mean they won't earn a dime after years of toil.

Look at all the people on this board who were Nicholl QFs or top 30 or whatever who continue to enter the contest year after year. Not only have they not made $5,000 in one year, but they have not made $5,000 in their careers on screenwriting. And I'm willing to wager they are as competent (and their scripts are just as good) as people who win the contest. But for whatever reason their script didn't make it through and they won't have a chance at a career that a winner will get. That's happenstance!!!

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 02:37 PM
p.s. I'm going to Yoga now to clear my head. Maybe I'll find some enlightment and report back after the class.

My new war cry shall be... End Free Development Syndrome (FDS)

dmizzo
08-21-2009, 02:39 PM
I don't think you are listening to me. The above line indicates as much. To sell a spec is what many fight to do for many years but cannot because of timing and luck. You're saying if I write harder or better than the guy who went to my college I'll sell a spec? My point is we already write at the same level, he was just in the right place at the right time and now has an access I may never get no matter how hard I work.

So, you wrote identical scripts about identical subjects and he just got to the phone faster when Hollywood called? No? But you assure me "we already write at the same level." Based on whose unbiased opinion? Clearly not the people who, you know, paid for his script.

Look, I'm not saying it's easy. It's hard. Competition is fierce and yes, timing does play a part. But so does talent. So does picking the right stories to tell. So do a host of other things too numerous to mention.

This business is no more random than any other. Why do some restaurants fail and some succeed? Why do some products take off and some drive their companies out of business? Hell, why do some movies make a bazillion dollars at the box office and some make seventeen cents?

Sure, lots of people place in the QFs of contests and never make a dime as screenwriters. Now, is that because the industry failed to recognize their talent, or because A LOT OF PEOPLE place in the QFs of contests? There isn't room for everyone. It helps to be lucky, but it helps a hell of a lot more to be good. And being an associate, apprentice, junior member of the WGA probably isn't going to change that fact much.

JeffLowell
08-21-2009, 02:40 PM
Eddie:

I'm obviously prejudiced because I'm working, so this has to be taken with a grain of salt.

But while any one event has the random element you talk about, we don't just get one shot. It's like a tennis match - any one point can be won or lost with a lucky shot. A ball hits the tape and falls over... or doesn't.

But talent outs in tennis because you hit a thousand shots, and the importance of any one shot diminishes.

Maybe one great script disappears. Maybe one movie comes together or doesn't. But if a writer keeps cranking out great script after great script, keeps entering every meaningful contest, keeps querying every agent and manager and producer in town, the element of luck lessens.

It's why you hear a lot of people stress persistence. Because it's the antidote to bad luck.

Why One
08-21-2009, 03:56 PM
I'm confused -- as I always am with some of these sorts of threads.

Am I correct to believe that Farnsworth is under the impression that the reason why he's been doing free writing for a producer is because of the WGA? Because they haven't given him membership and thus aren't protecting him?

My next question would be:
Does being a WGA writer somehow exempt you from doing free work for a producer?

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 04:54 PM
Jeff and dmizzo,
I think we are actually closer to agreeing than it would seem. I still think there's more randomness and timing in screenwriting than in other professions. There's luck in everything that's true and the restaurant analogy is a good one, but maybe that restaurant was around for a year and made a little money before going under. And maybe that restauranteur can use his/her skills to manage another restaurant.

However, I'm not saying it's all luck because I am a believer in luck being the residue of design, but the problem is even if you have a great game plan and work hard you can still get shut out completely in screenwriting. There seems to be much less room for small and incremental success in the screen trade than in other businesses. You either make the big spec sale or get stuck on the outside.

And just for the record, the fellow who went to my college was not working on a script about a figure that I also was. It's not a case of he picked up the phone faster. It was an illustration of a random event that propelled him to a level of access that happens far more in this business than others. I don't even know if the script was that good, but the director liked the historic figure and convinced the studio to buy it. Those kind of random success stories happen a lot more in this biz than others.

This is not a shot at pro writers, but I think there are a lot of great writers, who write just as well (if not better) than pros, who will never get a paycheck --not a single dime-- because of the way the system is. Thus they do free work because traditional avenues, even if followed dilligently and painstakingly, can still leave one short of entree.

Now, after you gain entree, what you do with that is a different story...

JeffLowell
08-21-2009, 05:09 PM
It was an illustration of a random event that propelled him to a level of access that happens far more in this business than others. I don't even know if the script was that good, but the director liked the historic figure and convinced the studio to buy it. Those kind of random success stories happen a lot more in this biz than others.

But that's not random - or luck - at all.

Being able to identify a good idea for a movie is one of the core skills of a writer. And it seems like he executed it at least well enough that other people could see its potential.

And it wasn't just like one person liked it - a director liked it, and enough people at the studio also liked it that they bought it. Directors, producers and actors bring projects in all the time that don't get bought.

Why One
08-21-2009, 05:14 PM
In my opinion, if you are a good writer, then the road to success is inevitable. The better your scripts are, the quicker it comes.

Reason being is that my definition of a great script is one that attracts interest -- that if someone in the industry read it, they would like it enough to pass it on, who will then pass it on etc. Soon enough, it will reach someone that will be willing to pay you for your talent.

Good scripts are hard to ignore because there are so few of them.

Eddie, you're saying that your college fellow achieved success because connected people liked the script enough to buy it. Surely that is a testament to the script's quality rather than random events? I'm not saying that luck and timing doesn't play a part -- it does -- but I believe it to play to small part -- and are events that you cannot control anyway.

The way I see it, if you are writing just as well or better than the professionals, then you could easily take their jobs away from them. I don't believe the system for discovering new talent to be as broken as you say it is. If it was, then no reputable management company would even consider new talent. But they do. Even the ones that have a roster full of established peeps.

dmizzo
08-21-2009, 05:18 PM
This is not a shot at pro writers, but I think there are a lot of great writers, who write just as well (if not better) than pros, who will never get a paycheck --not a single dime-- because of the way the system is. Thus they do free work because traditional avenues, even if followed dilligently and painstakingly, can still leave one short of entree.

And here's where we do disagree. "A lot?" No. I'm guessing you've never worked at an agency or read for a contest or gone to film school. The scripts that actually come through these places don't support your statement. There's no huge pool of untapped talent getting screwed by "the system." There just isn't. Now, are there some great writers who slip through the cracks? A few? Sure. But most writers who can actually write as well as the pros, assuming they keep writing and pushing and hustling, find some measure of success and validation. Not all do, but hey, that's life. Hollywood isn't some private club with a secret handshake. It's about whether or not your writing can make somebody a buck. That's what keeps most aspiring writers out in the cold, not the system.

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 05:33 PM
"I'm guessing you've never worked at an agency or read for a contest or gone to film school."

Wrong on all counts, except the agency part. I have a master's degree in screenwriting and have taught the subject, both full and part time, for about ten years at the university level. There is a lot of terrible stuff that I read of course because most students are beginners. But I read a lot of wonderful stuff from the graduate and undergraduate levels, and there is a lot of talent there that may never be realized because of the difficulty of access. I've read plenty of pro writers material, sent to me by LA producers, agents, and managers (so maybe the agency part is true) and there is a lot of stuff I've read by writers who have never been paid which would stack up against that professionally written material. All that said...

I do believe the cream rises to the top, yes, and your average pro writer who has "made it" is better than your average non-pro writer. It would be silly to think otherwise. But I think there are a great deal of writers out there, who could write professionally and write very well professionally, if the barriers to entree were not so steep.

So again, this leads me back to the original point of this thread: why is there so much writing for free? Because the barriers are steep and writers will take the tradeoff of working with a producer for free in the hope that they will gain one little notch while trying to mount said steep barrier.

dmizzo
08-21-2009, 05:38 PM
But I think there are a great deal of writers out there, who could write professionally and write very well professionally, if the barriers to entree were not so steep.

See, but here's the thing. There is no "barrier to entree." The only barrier is somebody in a position to buy your work thinking they can make money (or art, sure) by buying your work. That's it. I'm not sure how you'd like the WGA or anybody else to fix that.

EddieCoyle
08-21-2009, 05:51 PM
"Eddie, you're saying that your college fellow achieved success because connected people liked the script enough to buy it. Surely that is a testament to the script's quality rather than random events? I'm not saying that luck and timing doesn't play a part -- it does -- but I believe it to play to small part -- and are events that you cannot control anyway."

Yes, of course the script had to be good. He wasn't lucky in the sense that he submitted a script that said "there once as a man named George Washington" and nothing else and it sold (it was not George Washington by the way). He is a good writer and he executed well, well enough that the studio bought it. There always has to be a certain level of quality for something to get bought (though that's debatable). What I'm saying is because of that fortunate set of circumstances, the writer made the sale and someone just as good, laboring for many years, might not catch a similar break and never gain entree and earn one dime.

I agree, hard work, talent, and stick-to-it-iveness will most likely pay off. But I think it pays off less in screenwriting because of the more random nature of the business and because there isn't as much of a middle ground or traditional path to that middle ground. You hear it many times on these boards: there is no one formula to success. In fact, they are all wildly different. The one commonality in the success stories -mainly- is the perserverance, with which I agree, but I still think more good writers can get left out in the cold than do others in other businesses even when they are doing all the right things and have talent.

Maybe I'm wrong. There's nothing empirical I can point to, just a feeling really but a feeling born out by experience.

And I don't want to fight with anyone here, so I think I'll beg off on this topic for now and chime in on others when appropriate...

Laura Reyna
08-21-2009, 06:01 PM
So again, this leads me back to the original point of this thread: why is there so much writing for free? Because the barriers are steep and writers will take the tradeoff of working with a producer for free in the hope that they will gain one little notch while trying to mount said steep barrier.



Writng for free and what to do about it was not the original topic of this thread. This thread got sidetracked when Lowell asked Schuster why he was working on a producer's idea for free.

The OP was an invitation to discuss what writers could do beyond using the query letter & other traditional methods in order to "break in".

Roscoegino:
"I know enough to understand that getting a script sold is no cakewalk for anyone, especially in this climate.

At the same time I wonder if too many of us are trying to break in one traditional door using only a few traditional methods. When people say the spec market is weak, are they saying that because they've sent tons of query letters to agents/managers that went ignored? Or are they saying that because they've tried to secure financing and talent themselves and gotten nowhere.

Are we truthfully exhausting all methods to get our project sold and hopefully made?"

peasblossom
08-21-2009, 06:21 PM
I know why my scripts haven't sold yet. I'm writing about subjects that Hollywood has yet to gamble money on. But, I can't seem to stop myself from writing what I want v.s what has more of a possibility of selling. The whole "Write what you know", and "Write what you're passionate about". So, I just hope that I'm at the beginning of a wave, and the buyers will catch up to me.

I still think its best to just write what you want, AND write it really well (I'm still working on that part). And since I can't seem to get interested enough in any other subjects to actually sit down and write about them, I seem to have already made an unconscious (and definite) choice.

JeffLowell
08-21-2009, 06:44 PM
I was opining that writing for someone for free isn't necessarily an opportunity. Apologies for derail.

Farnsworth
08-22-2009, 09:46 AM
I was opining that writing for someone for free isn't necessarily an opportunity. Apologies for derail.

Come on, Jeff, ole buddy, don't go so far out on a limb there...

You forget that peasants find opportunity in being covered in boiling oil...:bounce:

To the original post: Are you crazy man? You want to buck tradition? Muck bucking tradition. Embrace tradition. Go with the flow. Don't buck the trend. Write commercial scripts, and go the traditional route, or join the gypsies -- I mean, indies.

roscoegino
08-22-2009, 12:09 PM
To the original post: Are you crazy man? You want to buck tradition? Muck bucking tradition. Embrace tradition. Go with the flow. Don't buck the trend. Write commercial scripts, and go the traditional route, or join the gypsies -- I mean, indies.


Never said anything about bucking.

The Road Warrior
08-22-2009, 03:01 PM
Very funny ! :)

A thread that's running as an extended metaphor !!!

We've had burning oil, archers lining the castles walls, a peasants' rising, is anyone going to roll out a cart with trees lining the top, ala the sacking of York in Braveheart ?

What will the other side have ready, more oil perhaps ? Crossbowmen.

Don't forget to hold a fresh force back, it decided the battle of Bannockburn, if I recall.




(no catapulting the dead over castle walls now, that's for the history books, or Monty Python, well, at least if it's a cow).

cyberian exile
08-23-2009, 01:46 AM
If that "something" means coming up with verbal pitches, then yes, we all have to do it at almost every level. If it's actual writing, that's different. Every time a writer does something for free that he should be getting paid for, he's slitting his own throat, and making it harder for every other writer out there who's trying not to give it away.

I'm sorry if I seem touchy about this - this is a real problem that the WGA is facing right now.



It really, really irritates me when other writers agree to write "for hire on spec," and I feel like the end result is very akin to that of being a scab. I've had quite a few producers try to milk "spec for hire" scripts out of me (after they've invited me to meet with them, and gushed about what big 'fans' they were of my writing, blah blah blah). Not only does it demean you as a writer if you write for free, but it demeans screenwriters as a group. All writing for free does is teach producers that actually paying writers, particularly in the early stages of a project, is an optional and avoidable inconvenience. When a producer tells you, "If you don't do this for free there's plenty of other writers who will," you should have the dignity to pass on the project, rather than fall to the floor in obsequious gratitude.

Some people are going to get pissed when I say this, but I seriously wish the WGA would take a much stricter punative approach to this issue. It might initially make the WGA seem like the "bad guy," but writers are doing far more damage to themselves by participating in a race to the bottom. I would take it a step further and say that the union should tell non-guild writers that they will be barred from joining the union in the future if, as a non-guild writer, they do free "work-for-hire" for signatory producers.

(I am, incidently, not in the WGA, and had to go outside Hollywood to find a successful producer who would actually pay me according to guild guidelines.)

Peter Clines
08-23-2009, 03:12 PM
The sheer volume of free writing-- good or bad-- devalues all the worthwhile material that's out there. Diamonds are worth more than dirt because they're rare. But if there were hundreds of diamonds per square foot in the earth's crust, common sense says they'd be just using them to pave roads and mix into concrete. If all I have to do is post on Craigslist to get a hundred screenwriters working for me, screenwriters can't be worth much, can they?

So when Yakko, Wakko, and Dot give away their work for free, they're not just lessening their chances at success-- they're lessening everyone's chances at doing this for a living.

It always amazes me when people can't see the connection between the increasing number of people willing to write for free and how much harder it is to get a producer to pay someone.

Farnsworth
08-24-2009, 06:11 AM
Why do producers get non-WGA or pre-WGA writers to develop properties without paying up front?

Is it because they want to exploit you, as Jeff "Karl Marx" Lowell suggests?

Perhaps...

Or maybe it is because as a non-pro, the writer has no cache, no track record. The producer has no way to know for sure if the writer can nail the script. There is a threshold for writers: they must write the script in a particular way so that it will attain value in the marketplace. That is not an easy task. Being a pro Jeff more than likely knows--I mean, really knows--that threashold. But until you have developed that talent, there is no smart reason why a producer should pay you anything. As a newbie you must prove yourself first, and I suspect that Jeff had to accomplish that in is own way, too.

Don't act like producers are not contributing anything to the process, because they are: time and labor. What labor? Reading a newbie's drafts, especially the drafts that are not up to par.

A newbie rarely knows how to nail the script at first. It takes time to develop that talent. Time and the mental and emotional attitude to receive and implement guidance.

Not even Jeff broke in by bragging about how he was much smarter as a writer than those who gave him notes. He followed most of those notes, or he would not be in the position he's in today.

JeffLowell
08-24-2009, 08:43 AM
It took you longer than I thought to turn the conversation back to your boondoggle. Congrats on holding out.

Or maybe it is because as a non-pro, the writer has no cache, no track record. The producer has no way to know for sure if the writer can nail the script. There is a threshold for writers: they must write the script in a particular way so that it will attain value in the marketplace. That is not an easy task. Being a pro Jeff more than likely knows--I mean, really knows--that threashold. But until you have developed that talent, there is no smart reason why a producer should pay you anything. As a newbie you must prove yourself first, and I suspect that Jeff had to accomplish that in is own way, too.

Shockingly, you are wrong. The way a writer proves that he can write at that level is by writing his own script at that level. Then the producer or exec, confident with the writer's ability to execute, trusts them to execute another script for pay.

You have heard about these spec script things, right? I think there have been other threads about them on DD. Look around.

Don't act like producers are not contributing anything to the process, because they are: time and labor. What labor? Reading a newbie's drafts, especially the drafts that are not up to par.

Why say "time and labor?" Isn't that redundant?

Minor grammar quibble aside, I never said a producer can't bring anything to the table. He (or an agent or a manager) can be a great thing - they can help you develop your spec that you own.

It's when you're writing for someone else for free and you won't even own the script... plus that person isn't helping you get other jobs, so you're stuck with only the free work...

That's what I think is a problem. Clearly, YMMV.

A newbie rarely knows how to nail the script at first. It takes time to develop that talent. Time and the mental and emotional attitude to receive and implement guidance.

Not even Jeff broke in by bragging about how he was much smarter as a writer than those who gave him notes. He followed most of those notes, or he would not be in the position he's in today.

Yeah, I wrote a lot of TV and feature specs. And got notes along the way - I critiqued other writers and they critiqued me back. By the time I broke in, I was at a level where people read my specs and gave me a chance to compete for jobs. I broke in twice - TV and features - and both times it was pitching a new script. One for an episode of a TV show, one an original movie.

That's how it works, Farnsworth. You write a spec that shows you can write (whether or not it sells), and then you come up with an idea that someone pays you to write.

You're the extreme example of how I think writers can go so wrong - how many years are you in on your script now? Going on three, isn't it? And you've got nothing else to show for it. How much better a writer would you be if you'd written six new scripts in that time? And you'd own six new scripts!

Instead, you're feeling like you've invested three years... it would be foolish to throw it away... maybe this next draft is the one that your manager/producer will finally show to someone... whoops, not there yet, but closer... just another few months... besides, he told me he greenlights every script he develops... weird because he's gotten one original movie greenlit in the three years I've been writing... but no matter! this is the draft that'll go out... repeat repeat repeat.

Ulysses
08-24-2009, 05:11 PM
But that's not random - or luck - at all.

Being able to identify a good idea for a movie is one of the core skills of a writer. And it seems like he executed it at least well enough that other people could see its potential.

And it wasn't just like one person liked it - a director liked it, and enough people at the studio also liked it that they bought it. Directors, producers and actors bring projects in all the time that don't get bought.

That's a very good observation.

That it is the idea part, that spark of originality that is the key moment.

Here it pops up again: the contrast between the ingenious person and the craftsman.

The craftsman almost always has the smoother style and the perfected form, but little intellectual and imaginative idea going. The ingenious person follows his imagination and ideas, and can be quite disconnected from formal rules, which makes it so hard for many people to spot him).


(PS: this refers only to Jeff's observation quoted above, and is completely disconnected from Eddie Coyle and his buddy)

mrjonesprods
08-24-2009, 10:31 PM
So timely...

http://hollywoodroaster.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/wga%E2%80%99s-sole-function-is-to-keep-new-writers-out-decides-shitty-writer/

Ulysses
08-24-2009, 11:09 PM
So timely...

http://hollywoodroaster.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/wga%E2%80%99s-sole-function-is-to-keep-new-writers-out-decides-shitty-writer/

This is a wild site:

http://hollywoodroaster.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/screenwriter-replaced-by-that-chick-the-studio-exec-bangs-on-tuesdays/

Gillyflower Cooms
08-25-2009, 12:39 AM
Hilarious that the Roaster gets his inspiration from this site...He must thank the lord everynight for the saps that visit DDP.

It's pretty funny and very typical around here that one of the few people in this thread who has any first hand experience about breaking in gets all sorts of crap from those who haven't broken in but think they know what they're talking about. :rolleyes:

EJ Pennypacker
08-25-2009, 08:35 AM
Hilarious that the Roaster gets his inspiration from this site...He must thank the lord everynight for the saps that visit DDP.

It's pretty funny and very typical around here that one of the few people in this thread who has any first hand experience about breaking in gets all sorts of crap from those who haven't broken in but think they know what they're talking about. :rolleyes:

A-****ing-men.

EJ

madyellowduck
08-25-2009, 09:43 AM
It's when you're writing for someone else for free and you won't even own the script... plus that person isn't helping you get other jobs, so you're stuck with only the free work...



Jeff, this debate has been seriously derailed but I was wondering about the point you addressed above, which was something Jake and I were ping-ponging about until Mr Castlemoats came in and started getting all Arthurian on us. Apologies for sticking this on a public forum but you have (wisely?) disabled your private messaging option.

I just noticed on Deadlinehollywooddaily that you are running for a position on the WGA's incoming BOD. Good luck with that.

I'm interested to know: what do you think the WGA's position ought to be on situations where a non-pro non WGA writer works for free, but in the circumstances you have indicated above ie: it has a chance to lead to a real job (thus joining the guild) or being paid for your work or it involves doing some limited development or developing an idea of a prodco on a spec basis? (this is on the assumption a manager is on board and it is not a Farnsworth situation).

Or do you take the view that any free work is unacceptable and that the guild should enforce this view?

Thank you for your thoughts.

JeffLowell
08-25-2009, 12:48 PM
I'm interested to know: what do you think the WGA's position ought to be on situations where a non-pro non WGA writer works for free, but in the circumstances you have indicated above ie: it has a chance to lead to a real job (thus joining the guild) or being paid for your work or it involves doing some limited development or developing an idea of a prodco on a spec basis? (this is on the assumption a manager is on board and it is not a Farnsworth situation).

Or do you take the view that any free work is unacceptable and that the guild should enforce this view?

The guild can't get into this, for one simple reason: producers aren't guild signatories. It doesn't matter if the writer is WGA or not, the guild has no say in that relationship.

It's why the free rewrite situation is so tricky - the WGA lost a big arbitration, and the bottom line was basically: producers can ask, writers can say no.

To me, this is all an education issue. We need to know who can ask for free work and who can't, and why it may or may not be good for the writer.

ETA: One last thought - not all free work is bad. If a producer has ideas on a script that you love and make it better, should you be able to put them in before it goes to the studio? Of course. If you're writing a spec and a smart, meaningful producer offers to help you develop it in return for being able to take it out, should you turn them down? Depends on where your career is, but it's probably a good idea. It's why this is tricky.

mrjonesprods
08-25-2009, 01:11 PM
If you're writing a spec and a smart, meaningful producer offers to help you develop it in return for being able to take it out, should you turn them down? Depends on where your career is, but it's probably a good idea.

This is exactly how I landed my first job.

(Sorry to post this story for those who have heard it before.)

I was getting ready to start a new spec from an idea I had. In a general meeting, I pitched the idea to a big time production company and they asked if they could help develop it with me. The key, like Jeff says, is the script and idea were mine. Clear and free, no matter what happens. The only thing they got out of it was the chance to take it to every studio and try to set it up. Because of the production company's track record, I gladly accepted. They were a company I wanted to be in business with.

When the script was finished, they took it out, but it didn't sell. However, the company enjoyed working with me and when they had an assignment - I was their first choice to write it. They hired me using their discretionary funds. That job is how I ended up in the WGA and why I can now vote for Jeff in the upcoming election! :)

kidcharlemagne
08-25-2009, 03:39 PM
There is a paradox to this writing for free thing namely:

Those producers that you would be interested in writing for free for because they have a track record in getting movies made are (or should be) in a position to pay you anyway.

Those producers who can't afford to pay you can't because they don't have a successful track record in getting movies made, otherwise they would have money.

So, if you write on spec for the producer who can't afford to pay you any money then not only do you not get any money but there is a very large chance that the movie won't get made.

Okay, I know this is an oversimplification since successful producers ask writers to work for free as well but if I was going to work for free then it would only be for a producer who I felt could get the movie made but, still, even then, I would be asking myself, 'How much does this producer really believe in this project if he is not willing to lay out any cash for it. If he doesn't lay out any cash, he himself has so little at stake, so how hard is he really going to work to get the project made'.

Also if we are talking these days not just about walking into the studio with a script but attaching a top director plus talent first, that can be a long process, and if he (or she) has nothing invested, how soon will the enthusiasm dwindle when the passes start rolling in, as they will, or the script is simply ignored by the agencies because there is no cash offer etc etc etc

This then leads back to the track record of the producer since it will affect his or her access to agents and thus directors and stars.

Bottom line: you really have to look very carefully at who you are writing for free for.

mrjonesprods
08-25-2009, 04:15 PM
There is a paradox to this writing for free thing namely:

Those producers that you would be interested in writing for free for because they have a track record in getting movies made are (or should be) in a position to pay you anyway.

Those producers who can't afford to pay you can't because they don't have a successful track record in getting movies made, otherwise they would have money.

So, if you write on spec for the producer who can't afford to pay you any money then not only do you not get any money but there is a very large chance that the movie won't get made.


Bottom line: you really have to look very carefully at who you are writing for free for.

Very few production companies have discretionary funds. Very few. Discretionary funds are fading away at many studios.

There are lots of production companies out there with successful track records who do not have discretionary funds. Without that, they are unable to buy a spec themselves - they need the studios money. However, those production companies can still help you land a job. They may be looking to hire a writer to rewrite a project they have set up at a studio. They can persuade the studio to hire you.

Again, I'm not a fan of writing someone else's idea for free. If it's yours and you own it, that's different. When it's your idea and you haven't broke in yet, developing your spec with a successful production company is a great way to create a relationship that may pay dividends down the road.

maralyn
08-25-2009, 04:42 PM
But also Farnsworth, this fantasy you have that your fellow writers are trying to disuade you from staying in the situation you're in, because we'll somehow gain financially is a spin off fantasy.

It serves to protect the original fantasy.

So please stop insulting and attacking anyone who see the situation for what it is.

maralyn
08-25-2009, 04:56 PM
And how many prod cos want to get involved with developing a spec with a new writer? Very few. Usually they're new themselves.

New writers are too hung up about breaking in. Makes everything too intense and neurotic. Oooooh, maybe this is my big break, Ooooohh.

Don't worry about it so much, you break in when you least expect to. I think the trick is to spread yourself a bit thin, so you don't really care too much about one project or another. So you're not so hung up about it.

You get to where you're going when you're ready to get there. Focussing on it so intensely may be the main obstacle standing in your way.

umo
08-25-2009, 05:20 PM
You get to where you're going when you're ready to get there. Focussing on it so intensely may be the main obstacle standing in your way.


Ummm, I know this statement was directed at a specific individual; however, this method doesn't work for me--at all.

Focus is everything. :)

cyberian exile
08-25-2009, 10:28 PM
This is exactly how I landed my first job.

(Sorry to post this story for those who have heard it before.)

I was getting ready to start a new spec from an idea I had. In a general meeting, I pitched the idea to a big time production company and they asked if they could help develop it with me. The key, like Jeff says, is the script and idea were mine. Clear and free, no matter what happens. The only thing they got out of it was the chance to take it to every studio and try to set it up. Because of the production company's track record, I gladly accepted. They were a company I wanted to be in business with.

When the script was finished, they took it out, but it didn't sell. However, the company enjoyed working with me and when they had an assignment - I was their first choice to write it. They hired me using their discretionary funds. That job is how I ended up in the WGA and why I can now vote for Jeff in the upcoming election! :)

This is not at all the situation I'm talking about, though. Of course if a producer offers to give you their thoughts on your own spec, it makes sense to listen to their perspective.

What I'm talking about is getting a call that a producer loved a spec of yours, and they have a property they've optioned the rights to (like a non-fiction book) that they think you'd be perfect to adapt. So, you meet with them and they tell you they'd like you to write the script for free, but, hey, IF your script then attracts an actor and director who agree to attach themselves to the project, then the producer will bring the whole package to the studio and you might finally get paid. To which I say, um...no. That's just not cool.

mrjonesprods
08-25-2009, 11:53 PM
This is not at all the situation I'm talking about, though. Of course if a producer offers to give you their thoughts on your own spec, it makes sense to listen to their perspective.

What I'm talking about is getting a call that a producer loved a spec of yours, and they have a property they've optioned the rights to (like a non-fiction book) that they think you'd be perfect to adapt. So, you meet with them and they tell you they'd like you to write the script for free, but, hey, IF your script then attracts an actor and director who agree to attach themselves to the project, then the producer will bring the whole package to the studio and you might finally get paid. To which I say, um...no. That's just not cool.

There have been 17 pages in this thread and I was following up to what Jeff said, not responding to one of your posts. ;)

In the situation you laid out, I agree with you. If a producer has a book, there is no need to write the script on spec. Studios should be able to hear the pitch, read the book and decide if they want to buy it. Writing it on spec is serious overkill - especially in situations with source material. The book by itself should be able to attract an actor as well.

And in most other situations, with a great sample, you shouldn't have to write the producer's idea on spec either. If the producer has some juice and they approach you about their great idea, you should be able to go to the studio with the producer and pitch the project. Most times, before they will even go that route with you, the producer will have the studio exec read your sample to see if it's even a viable option or a waste of time. The studio approving you first is usually the protocol.

If you are being asked to write on spec by producers, it might be because the producer doesn't have enough juice to walk into a studio and sell a pitch. If a producer does have juice and they are asking you to write on spec, it could be because your sample (not yours Cyberian - just speaking in general terms) isn't good enough that a studio would consider hiring you yet. So in my opinion, instead of working on a producer's idea for free, go off and write a great spec that will give a studio confidence to hire you.

cyberian exile
08-26-2009, 10:56 AM
I realized you weren't talking about me, but your post was useful to quote to differentiate between someone offering notes on your own idea (your situation) and "hey, we'd like to 'hire' you to write this thing of ours but not pay you." You related a specific anecdote, and I wanted to relate a contrasting one. Sorry if I made you feel singled out...that wasn't my intention. ;)

invaderujin
08-26-2009, 04:23 PM
sigh...