Join Date: Jul 2007
A great read for all writers about producers
I got this off of another board in response to a thread I posted there and people really liked it. I know I should have posted it on the "20 mill" thread here but it is such an excellent read that I felt it deserved it's own spot.
It's interesting to be on both sides to some small degree.
I'm a writer who started as a performer and producer in TV. Moved to directing commercials/music videos/small infomercials and trying to set up a short script. When said short script got turned down (Bravo!) instead of doing a second short wrote a small feature to set up. Got it financed, shot it and am now courting distribution. Along the way I've become a 'Producer'. We're just optioning a small script this week that we hope will be our second picture. I hope to shoot in May 2008.
It seems to me that the writer and Producer can be coming from two totally different worlds, especially when the writer is 'new'.
The writer writes, it's a solitary, highly creative, inspired process. Typically though the writer has some source of income (small or large...) that sustains him/her during the writing process. Day job, residuals off their first project, something that keeps them in bread (or Kraft dinner) while they write. For me I was a TV producer/Pastor while working to break into writing/directing.
Once the writer breaks through to getting interest in their work (it's own struggle altogether) the dance begins. And they're dancing with a 'Producer'. How does the 'Producer' get paid?
By producing. But what?
We can write a script from concept to finished draft in, what, six months? Some write much faster. A Producer's going to be attached to your film forever. At least (AT LEAST) eighteen months from option to release. How's he going to get paid during that year and a half? Naturally, if it's well and truly a 20 mil picutre he'll be taking a million and a half (if that-->check Sam Mercer's take on most of his films...tyipcally 600K-ish) or so for his expenses. But the leap from "Yeah I've got this great script we can do for 20 mil..." to actually locking the money is so huge it defies comprehension.
I found myself wondering, reading your post, if the guy's for real. 'Cause if he was a 20 mil Producer he wouldn't be lowballing you like that.
Or maybe he would be.
See, we're negotiating a deal with our writer for this second film right? So I say to my EP that I want to include some points for the writer on the back end, and I'm talking 'real' points, not 'pie-in-the-sky-we're-never-gonna'-pay-you-a-dime' points, but real consideration.
"Don't offer that to him" says my EP. "Why?" I ask. "'Cause we don't know this guy from Adam and he might ask for double what we're offering. So hold out on that and we'll see." So I hold the points back, writer takes our offer, and now we get to pleasantly surprise him by including the points in his contract.
'Cause I want to be known as a 'writer-friendly' company.
But, see, he should be getting that sense already. He was worried about protecting his work so I sent him an email yesterday listing all the ways I'd welcome his involvement in the process. He just got back to me, and all's well. In fact he was blown away by how 'open' I was. He can tell I'm 'writer-friendly'. Now, it's important to note that I'm still not paying him anywhere near to scale, becuase I can't afford to.
It's a dance right?
I want to Produce, he wants to get produced. There's a delicate balance between making sure you get the respect you crave and killing the deal. Certainly, and ultimately, they are looking out for their interests, not yours (but that doesn't mean they're 'cut throats'; that same 'self-preservation' imperative is true-on some level-for all of us) you gotta' be clear on that, but it's a 'relationship business' and they're not going to want to work with and stay in relationship with someone who comes across as a jerk, or too much of a 'grasper'. I imagine that even the most established writers on WP continue to be gracious in their dealings with the big shots. Even if you decide to walk from your 50K offer you should do so with great humility:
"I sincerely appreciate your offer, and would truly love to be in business with you unto seeing this story brought to life for the screen. I just sincerely can't do so at the financial level you've suggested."
If they came back to you, you would need to have your 'final' offer in mind. At a certain point you have to stand up for yourself, to say, "This is what I feel this story is worth..." M. Night did that with 'The Sixth Sense'. Keep in mind he was coming off two produced pictures plus good response to his 'Stuart Little' script but he still wasn't in a place to demand what he demanded. He told Jerry Zimmer (his agent) that he wouldn't accept less than a million plus attachment as director. He was that confident in his story. And the reaction he got is history. Turns out, it was a very reasonable deal.
So be strong and reasonable.
If this dude is seriously a 20 mil producer I wouldn't take less than 200K for the script. Nowhere near what Ron was discussing but still more than 50K. Plus, 200K's not going to break him. Sure it'd be nice to get 650K but if you get 200K (and the film actually gets produced) you're going to be fine in terms of getting more work. Plus if it's well and truly a 20 mil picture and you get an offer, I'd take that offer to an Agency can get them to rep you. They'll probably take it from 200K to 400K.
"Hi, I've got a 200K offer on the table from Producer X and I was wondering if you might be willing to represent me to help iron out the fine details..." is an intro phone call that's going to get returned, for sure!
A real, honest, Producer is not going to want to totally take advantage of you. He's going to want to get everything (from your script to the day rate for the dolly grip) for as little as possible because every friggin' cent adds up. I continue to be humbled by how difficult it is to Produce a movie.
And that's where we writers need to try and appreciate where the Producer's coming from. We'll sell him our script, for whatever we sell it for, and (unless we're attached as an associate producer, or needed on-set) move on and keep writing. Meanwhile he'll be off onto the treadmill that is film production. He's going to have to fight with everybody (every frickin' body) to get your story made into a movie. He's going to grind it out for years, making sure that film finds a life.
Seven years is how long most films circulate and generate revenue. Seven years of him fighting for your story. And yes, you should get residuals, just like every other 'key collaborator' on the project, but none of those $'s are gonna' come in unless the Producer produces. And unless you are the 'Producer' you're not doing that work. Yes (YES) you did the first (and I think vitally important, for without a script there's no movie) work, but not the only work. Would there be a movie without the actors? No. Will they make 10% of the budget? Nope. Unless they're a 'STAR' they'll make way less than you. Would there be a movie without the editor? Nope, and they won't make as much as you either. How about sound design? Nope. Foley? Nope. Catering? Nope, and the caterer'll make ten percent of what you make, if that. How about the Producer's Rep? If he's good, and gets you a good deal he could end up clearing more $'s than almost anybody on the film. Is that right? Maybe, maybe not, but there's no movie without distribution either and that's how it is.
I think the lesson for me is that EVERYBODY on the film is important. Everybody on the film deserves respect. The thing is, most writers are not as 'hardened' as the rest of the people on the film, and that's because of the nature of what a writer does. We sit in a room and write. Think about then talk about the story. Take meetings on the story. Pitch the story. Re-write the story. (and only if we don't have an Agent...) Sell the story. We (and I know this can be incorrect by times...) typically don't get beat up as much as everybody else on the picture does...
(unless we're the 'Producer')
...And that's good because we need to retain some sensitivity to be open to the muse and to story and to character and to the way in which life surprises us with story and character and love and loss and pain and hope.
And because we're 'open' in this way, we're not the best dealmakers.
Which is why we get agents.
But until you get an Agent, you need to defend the worth of your part of the process. And even with an Agent you'll need to 'know' the deal.
So, you need to 'Produce'.
Producing my first feature taught me more (with still so much more to go...) about this process that I could have imagined. My ability and 'worth' as a writer has really expanded because I'm now a Producer. I know what it's like. I know what it costs. I know how to do it, so now I can stand up for what I know a good script is worth. And I know a fair deal when I see one.
Whether it's for me, or someone else. And the Producer you're dealing with knows that. Unless you're a 'Producer' too, he's got something on you. So do what you need to do to either: 1) become a successful/experienced enough writer to know what he knows, or 2) Produce a film and keep writing. Either option will get you to the point that you know what he knows and have the strength of experience to ask for what you know your work is worth while having the options to be able to truly walk away from a lowball offer without it stalling your career or ruining a potential relationship.
And enjoy that journey, because you only get to start out once.