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Old 07-27-2004, 04:53 AM   #1
AJ
 
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Default assignments

how many are open each year?
how many writers compete for them?
how do they make the decision?
is this the bread and butter of the writing bus?
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Old 07-27-2004, 10:33 AM   #2
creativexec
 
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Default

There are lots of assignments each year.

Some are "A" list assignments and many
are not - giving greener writers the chance
to work.

Since most screenwriters do NOT make
a living selling scripts, the majority who work,
do so through assignments.

The hiring process may vary, but I'll offer
up my recent experience on a project I'm
involved with.

We set-up the pitch at Paramount. (The
pitch was 40 minutes long - the entire
story from "fade in" to "fade out.")

Based on the story/pitch, Paramount
execs put together a list of about 40
writers that they felt would be good for
this project.

The producer and I also brought names
to the table, based on our experiences
with writers and the many scripts that
we've read.

The producer and I went over the list -
crossing out some immediate names,
highlighting others (whose work we were
already familiar with) and circling those
we were not familiar with.

The producer also called her various
contacts at agencies and management
companies, pitching the overall story and
asking agents to suggest some possible
clients.

(Let me add that these writers had varied
backgrounds. Some were very successful -
making a VERY good living. Others had sold
specs - but had no produced credits. And
a few were writers who had not made a
dime but had good reputations in the biz
based on solid writing samples.)

We then contacted the reps of the
writers whose "samples" we wanted to
read.

Samples were read and candidates were
chosen - about 15.

Meetings were set-up with all these writers
and the story was pitched to them.

They were then sent off to contemplate the
story and come back with their own "take"
on the material.

Based on those 15 (or so) "takes," the field
was narrowed down to FIVE writers - one
of whom would eventually get the assignment.

Each writer worked out her take with us, (in
treatment form) preparing to pitch it to the
Paramount exec overseeing the project (Pam
Abdy).

We gave each of these writers equal time,
helping them bang out their "take" of the
material so it would be flawless.

This was a lot of work, as we juggled five
different takes of the same story in our heads
- along with our original version. Also, we're
bonding with these various people - only one
of whom would get the gig.

But this step is important because it allowed
us to see how the writer works, and it sets the
tone for a possible relationship. (If the writer
doesn't get this assignment, the producer may
be anxious to work with the writer on another
project - which is why this process is valuable
to the writer; it creates a relationship.)

It should be noted that during this period, the
writers were not getting paid for their prep
work.

They were investing time, effort and hard work,
hoping it would pay off with the gig.

Eventually, those five writers went in and
pitched their takes to the exec, who put
them all to task and, in the end, offered up
her recommendations to the producer.

The producer considered one last factor...
"personality." Did the writer gel with the
producer? (It would be unproductive to hire
a scribe who did not get along with the
producer.)

Finally, a writer was chosen - which began
the studio-agency negotiations. This was
not an overnight process.

In the end, the writer was hired; we are
currently in the development process.

In terms of a timeline, the project was
set-up the week of Thanksgiving. The
writer was announced in May and her deal
made in June - a total of about seven
months.


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Old 07-27-2004, 12:30 PM   #3
AJ
 
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Default wow, thanks

wow ... thank you for the thorough answer ... appreciate it
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Old 07-27-2004, 12:41 PM   #4
OkeyDokey
 
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Default Re: wow, thanks

CE, this is invaluable and informative info. Thanks so much for giving us this look behind the scenes!

I've got a couple follow-up questions... (I feel like I'm in the White House press corps!)

1) Care to share what factors lead you to cross out some of those initial names?

2) How long were the treatments that the potential wrtiers submitted to you?

3) When the execs "put them to task" what kind of questions did they ask? What are the execs looking for at that stage?

Thanks again, and as always, you rock!!!
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Old 07-27-2004, 01:25 PM   #5
Otis
 
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Default

As every potential assignment varies, I'm sure CE has his own take on what he expects as far as those treatments.

My writing partner and I have done 3 page treatment/outlines and we've done more detailed 8/10 page treatment/outlines. It's always a juggling act between how much you want the assignment and how much work you're willing to do for free.

Since we just started taking assignment meetings in the last 10 months or so, we're probably willing to do more because we're unknown and we want to come off as collaborators who would be fun to work with.
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Old 07-27-2004, 02:25 PM   #6
JSomm
 
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Default

I have a friend who just got a job for a big producer. She went through the SAME thing Chris talked about. Worked her BUTT off for free -- was competing with other writers. In the end she got the job!
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Old 07-27-2004, 02:33 PM   #7
creativexec
 
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Default Re: wow, thanks

Quote:
Care to share what factors lead you to cross out some of those initial names?
We felt the writers weren't a good fit with our
project or we didn't like their work.


Quote:
How long were the treatments that the potential writers submitted to you?
Most were between 10 - 20 pages. Since we
had already worked out the entire story in
advance, the writers were simply offering their
own spin on it. So, the job wasn't as hard as
if we had only thrown out a log line.


Quote:
When the execs "put them to task" what kind of questions did they ask? What are the execs looking for at that stage?
The execs knew the original story and closely
scrutinized variations, questioning the choices
a writer may have made and expecting the
writer to explain how those choices
strengthened or enhanced the existing story.
The execs are looking for what all execs are
looking for - A MOVIE. Can they envision this
writer's take as a movie that audiences will
want to see?


***


In some cases, studios go straight to a writer
and offer them the job - which they may or
may not accept.

But most writers have to offer up their take on
the material. It's like an advertising exec who
does a lot of upfront work in order to win the
account.

With fierce competition and a six-figure paycheck
on the line, it pays to do the advance work.


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Old 07-27-2004, 02:37 PM   #8
sppeterson
 
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Default Re: wow, thanks

I just wanted to echo some of the thanks here. This is a terrific look at what's going on. Maybe after the thread runs its course it can be added into the FAQ.
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Old 07-27-2004, 03:24 PM   #9
Writer1
 
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Default A great topic...a question for CE

When you look at different writers and evaluate "their take" on the project...I would think that ten different writers are going to come up with different ideas within the basic story format.

What happens to those different ideas? Are these treatments property of the producers to use how they want? In a nutshell...if a writer isn't hired, but his treatment contains elements that you want the hired writer to use...can you use them? Do writers that don't get the assignment know that their ideas are fair game?

I don't know if I asked this question clearly enough...I just had a haircut and you know how traumatic that can be.
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Old 07-27-2004, 03:51 PM   #10
creativexec
 
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Default Re: A great topic...a question for CE

Reputable producers understand that the ideas
leave with the writer who pitched them.

In our case, because the whole story was
banged out by us, one could say that an idea
a writer has is based on our material - hence
it is a collaboration.

We did hear some great ideas from writers other
than the one who got the gig. And we let those
ideas go. We have faith that our writer will be
able to concoct some inspiring moments herself
(which she most certainly has).

I guess a producer could take another writer's
idea and dress it up differently (keeping the
gist and spirit that turned him on). He could
also ask the writer for permission to use that
idea in the script - if the producer really loved
it. Anything is possible. (Dressing up the
same idea to look different is an archetypal
storytelling technique in this biz.)

The exchanging of ideas is the lifeblood of this
industry.

Despite the fact that cops could get shot in
the line of duty or doctors could make a
mistake and get sued for malpractice... they
still go to work everyday.

Writers understand the complications involved
and hope that the people they are dealing
with are professional and honest.

But it works the other way too. A producer
shares his idea with the writer and hopes
that he won't go off and do his own thing
with it.

So the trust issue is a mutual one.

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