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Old 03-15-2002, 05:06 PM   #1
NewBoss
 
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Default Question For The Pros

First, some background: I optioned my first spec about two weeks ago, within three weeks of beginning to query on it. The producers have already managed to get talent and a director attached and are now going to studios for financing. The producers are very confident they'll have no difficulty securing financing or getting the film made - the budget is under $10M, the movie's not a star vehicle and they say everyone who's read it so far has loved it. Risk to a studio is pretty low; even the crappiest of crap comedies makes more than $10M at the box, and still more on video release. Office Space is currently a top-10 selling DVD according to Yahoo, and while I thought it was a funny movie it tanked at the box.

Slap me on the ass and call me Sally, this thing may very well get made. And even if it doesn't get made, the deal is structured such that I get paid as soon as firm financing is obtained. After paying the tax man, the remainder of my fee would be equivalent to a year's take-home pay at my day job. Speaking of my day job, I work at a company related to the travel business and all signs point to a company closure by the end of April. I've been looking for a new day job while working on screenplays on the side.

Here's the question: Let's assume for the moment that financing is obtained for the film. Is this the classic case where I need to strike while the iron's hot and spend as much time as that check will allow pitching, taking meetings, writing and hustling for assignments? Or is it still very premature to start thinking about launching a pro screenwriting career in earnest? Would it be more prudent to bank that money against the possibility that I haven't found another job when my company closes up shop, and wait to see what happens if/when I have a produced feature credit? Yet another wrench in the works is knowing that if I DO get a new day job, I'll have to be all new-employee, eager beaver about it and won't have the luxury of taking mornings or afternoons off as needed to go to meetings and run errands related to my writing. I just had an interview yesterday and it went pretty well; if I get an offer, right now I'm not sure if I should take it.
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Old 03-15-2002, 05:24 PM   #2
CRASH
 
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There's much to be considered first before answering your questions. Is this a free option you gave up? Free options don't give you any heat in this town. It's actually kind of looked down upon on the professional level. Who did you option to? If you optioned your script to Universal, then you're set. But if you optioned to Coccoon Films, who options everybody's script for $1, then your deal means nothing in this town.

Do you have a good LA agent? If you do, then you won't have trouble getting meetings and getting read. If you don't, things are going to be very tough. How will you get in the room to pitch if you don't have any heat or history? If you had a high-profile option, people should be knocking on your agent's door to meet with you.

Considering all of that...if you truly believe your career as a writer is going to be so hectic with high-powered meetings and pitches due to the heat of this project, then don't get a day job. Your new life as a professional writer has already started.

Here in Los Angeles, EVERY WRITER who is not working on the studio level has some sort of pending deal where they'll get paid ONLY when financing is in place. Historically in those cases, money rarely ever shows up. I'd be cautious. Either way, good luck and I hope it works out for you.
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Old 03-15-2002, 05:42 PM   #3
NewBoss
 
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Default Re: Crash's reply

Thanks for taking the time to reply. The deal isn't a $1 thing with Coccoon, it's with a small but reputable company. I'm familiar with their released films so I know they're legit, but they don't have a name that's worth dropping.

Re: financing, I get your point about all these deals that hinge on securing financing, but when I asked my question I prefaced it by saying to assume financing is secured. What I'm wondering is, does getting past that (major) hurdle count for anything, should it be weighed at all in my decision of whether or not to quit my day job?

Re: agents/managers. I live in the L.A. basin but I don't have an agent or manager - I got the option on my own and I'm now in the process of querying for representation. I don't assume this small deal will make me a hot commodity overnight, even if the movie gets made. I ask about making myself free for meetings in the context of the optioned spec---I assume some rewrites will be required, and I'd like to be available to do those rewrites myself---as well as in the context of rummaging up assignments on my own. I know another unproduced writer who kept on top of open-writer projects in development, started querying the prodco's, and managed to land a few writing assignments. He has no representation and has never sold any of his specs, but he's a working screenwriter just the same and with each new assignment he adds to his resume and makes valuable contacts. I'd like to try his approach, but haven't because I don't want to work my butt off trying to generate interest, finally succeed in generating interest and then have to say, "Sorry, I can't meet with the producers tomorrow because I have a day job."
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Old 03-15-2002, 06:40 PM   #4
CRASH
 
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Default Re: Crash's reply

How many steps (rewrite drafts) are you contracted for? And are you getting paid to do them?
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Old 03-15-2002, 06:56 PM   #5
NewBoss
 
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Default Re: Rewrites

The option contract stipulates that the production company will observe WGA guidelines and minimums (they're WGA-signatory), so I'm at least guaranteed the right to the first rewrite. The producers have said they want me to remain involved all the way through production, but there's nothing in writing beyond the original option contract at this point. While I believe the producers are acting and speaking in good faith, I know anything is possible and if a studio agrees to finance the production that studio may balk at having an unproduced writer kept on board beyond the minimum requirements, or may have their own pet writers in mind.
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Old 03-16-2002, 12:49 AM   #6
CRASH
 
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Default Re: Rewrites

Since you're not getting paid for the rewrites, then (1) You've screwed yourself (2) Should keep a day job of some sort.
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Old 03-16-2002, 01:54 AM   #7
NewBoss
 
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Default Re: Rewrites

As a first-timer, I've assumed I'm in no position to make any demands. I've been advised by other pros to accept no less than WGA minimums for my first paid gig, but not to expect any more than that, either. What I keep hearing is that once a writer gets a first feature credit, everything changes. But until then, getting that first feature credit is valuable enough that I shouldn't foolishly hold out for a bigger money deal. Evidently those six-figure spec deals offered to newbies are so rare that they're practically folklore.

What I'm really getting at with my original question is this: if opportunities arise for me as a result of this first gig, will having a fulltime day job that won't allow me much flexibility to take time off during the day be a liability? Moreover, will having that kind of job prevent me from making my own opportunities happen?

Since I'm a web application programmer by day, work will always be there for me whenever I want to go back to it. However, if having a fairly inflexible day job schedule really poses no problem to a writer who's trying to go pro, then it's smarter for me to keep doing the web programming by day, racking up the 401k and steady paychecks while I work on writing at night and over the weekends as always.
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Old 03-16-2002, 04:50 AM   #8
CRASH
 
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Default Re: Rewrites

Once again, do you truly believe in your heart that opportunities will arise from this deal? And if you do believe that your life is going to be turned upside with a whirlwind of wheeling and dealing, then you should plan accordingly.

But you're practically asking us to predict whether this is going to happen or not. If you want me to predict, I will, but only so from a realistic perspective, which is: No, most likely other opportunites will not arise, and if they do it will be minimal. So keep a day job and manage your money with that in mind. You have to plan for the worst. And the worst case scenario in your situation is that the project doesn't get financed and you don't get paid. So you have to plan right now as if your current financial situation will not change. That means keep a job.
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Old 03-16-2002, 01:23 PM   #9
iarumas
 
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Default Re: Rewrites

I agree with Crash that you shouldn't quit your job while your situation is so speculative. But since you're a web programmer, you might look into a more flexible work arrangement.

I disagree, though, that the opportunities that will become available to you will be minimal. If you DO sell your first spec to a major production company, then opportunities WILL become available. You're right--you have no leverage, and you're not in a position to make demands. At this point, you have to take your lumps, because selling a spec is a huge step. But it gets much better from there!
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Old 03-16-2002, 03:15 PM   #10
CRASH
 
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Default Re: Rewrites

Indeed things will happen if he sells a spec to a major production company. But that's not the case, or so my impression of it. I believe he's optioned his script to a small company, and from that opportunities will be minimal unless the project actually gets made and garners attention.
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