Week with director, uncompensated?

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  • Week with director, uncompensated?

    Hi there,

    Have a business question for anyone else who may have been in this situation.

    A script I optioned a while back finally has a director on board, and now the director is asking to work with me a bit on the script and he actually wants to fly to SF and spend a week with me IN PERSON -- like an ENTIRE week, 40+hours -- going over the script and really taking it to the next level. I'm working, of course, I have a full-time job, so I asked if Skype was possible or if we could just use email, but he said he wants to do it in person.

    Unfortunately -- yes, HUGE oversight on the part of myself, my manager, and my lawyer -- there's nothing in the option agreement about rewrites, which means they're not obligated to pay me anything, but I'm also not obligated to do anything. Which kind of leaves it open. My manager phoned the producer to tell him that she thinks I should be compensated for a week's worth of work and what would amount to a pretty big rewrite, and the producer said that unfortunately he can't offer any compensation.

    Not sure what to do.

    I'm not in the WGA, but under WGA rules, apparently in a situation like this a writer would get paid a minimum of around $5,000.

    I don't want to interrupt the momentum the producer has going. At the same time, not getting comped for a week's worth of work feels like a short-shrift.

    Thoughts?

  • #2
    Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

    Your instincts seem correct to me - the producer trying to take advantage of you. Since there were no steps built into your option agreement, any rewrite they engage you for is basically "off the books". In other words, since it's not in your deal, technically they would have to either renegotiate or go hire another writer to do this director's polish. It sounds like this producer is trying to get free work out of you knowing you don't want to lose credit on the project.

    It's up to you how you want to proceed. If you throw your hands up and say you won't do it, they'll probably hire somebody to rewrite you and you may quickly end up out of the loop. You could do the polish for free out of the kindness of your heart and your passion for the project - then have your rep tell them that any further rewrites need to be negotiated. Or, you could go back to them one more time with a starting point - some number that is lower than what they would pay to bring another writer on (probably WGA minimum).

    Consider it a lesson learned no matter what. Good luck!
    Write, rite, wright... until you get it RIGHT.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

      If this director has actually been hired, you need to work with him. Otherwise they will hire a writer who's available to do it for a credit or the director will rewrite it himself.

      It sucks not to be paid for the work, but since you've optioned the script they can do whatever they want with it. I'd say be a good camper and try to negotiate a 3-day writing period, or evenings and weekends. If this moves the project toward production it will be worth it.

      What does your manager say?

      Late Night Writer

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      • #4
        Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

        First of all, it doesn't "feel like" getting the short shrift, it IS getting the short-shrift. You should be paid. It sounds like you're not going to be. That sucks.

        Welcome to the wacky world of option agreements. Mentally, this is how I would wrap my head around this (sucky) situation:

        If the option gets picked up, I get paid. Therefore, I'm not writing this for free. I'm writing for a deferred salary that comes when they execute the option.

        This happens in a lot of option deals, because there's a very real hammer at work: that potential pay check. Nearly everybody I know who has signed an option deal has done more rewrite work than specified in their contract, and the hammer is why. I mean, a 10% chance of a $100k paycheck is worth $10k, right?

        This is some mental jiu-jitsu, or, as some would say, total bullshit, but look, this is the hand you've been dealt, and you were right to ask for some money, but they've said no.

        Here's how I approach this sort of thing:

        Decide in advance how much work you're willing to do for free. Stick to it. That amount of work is not "Zero".

        The director's desire to meet with you in person for a whole week is HUGE. This is a major, major plus. Pushing this to Skype or email would be a major mistake.

        ALWAYS meet in person if you can. ALWAYS. It develops the relationship about 1000x faster. It's more relaxing for everyone involved. It's more flexible. It's more productive.

        When you want to meet, and a producer is all, "Naw, we'll just do a phone call," you often hear that as, "Either you're busy, or we just became a low priority." When the director not only really wants to meet, but is flying out to you, and is going to stay in a hotel for a week, that's HUGELY positive. The director is INVESTED IN THIS HAPPENING.

        Make the time. Find a way to do it. Use vacation time if you have to. (But maybe you can, say, meet with him from Saturday-Wednesday, rather than Monday-Fri, in order to save yourself a pair of vacation days?).

        I'd be really unhappy with the manager and lawyer for not negotiating any sort of rewrite fee. But beyond that ...

        You want to develop your relationship with the director. You want to stay involved with the project. You want to push it towards getting picked up. Those are all good things. Getting paid is also a good thing, but hey, three our of four ain't bad, right?

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        • #5
          Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

          Thanks guys. You've given me a lot to consider. Yeah -- the major oversight was not including this clause in the option agreement. Unfortunately I can't afford to take a week off to work on this for free, so I really have to ask for some kind of compensation. Hopefully demanding compensation won't sink my involvement with the project...

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          • #6
            Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

            I hear you.

            That being said, if they can't pay you, find a way to do the rewrite anyway. Stay involved, develop your relationship with the director, and it's fine to draw a line in the sand about the money, but don't let that poison your collaborative relationship with the director.

            A project of mine appears to be coming back to life for no reason other than that a director I worked with in the past has some fresh heat and wants to take it to some new companies.

            Communicate to your managers that the problem is "I'm super excited to work with this guy, want to do everything I can to help, but I literally can't afford to take the time off work."

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            • #7
              Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

              And this will sound left of center, but seriously, if you are anything like the average American... you probably can afford to take a week off. I'm not saying "oh shut up I'm sure you're rich", I'm just saying, most people don't *really* know how to live cheap. Look up a book on being a cheapskate, talk to your spouse or whoever else may be in it with you financially, and really take a second look because honestly, despite the crappy part, this sounds like a FANTASTIC opportunity (I'm well jel!) Ask for less money, ask to shift the days to include sat/sun, but also figure out where you REALLY stand financially. I mean, ramen and lights out, extreme stuff, totally worth it!!!! You gotta dive in!!!! And yes I know that's like a weirdo's advice LOL :-)
              It's so nice to be insane
              No one asks you to explain
              -Helen Reddy

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              • #8
                Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

                Originally posted by Ronaldinho View Post
                I hear you.

                That being said, if they can't pay you, find a way to do the rewrite anyway. Stay involved, develop your relationship with the director, and it's fine to draw a line in the sand about the money, but don't let that poison your collaborative relationship with the director.

                A project of mine appears to be coming back to life for no reason other than that a director I worked with in the past has some fresh heat and wants to take it to some new companies.

                Communicate to your managers that the problem is "I'm super excited to work with this guy, want to do everything I can to help, but I literally can't afford to take the time off work."
                This is absolutely the approach and mindset you have to take. If you don't do this the director will rewrite it himself. And then ask for writing credit. Don't kid yourself about this at all. Also... as was said, when a director comes to you, he is reaching out. He thinks you are the guy to do this with him. He's showing you respect a lot of writers never get on their projects and would die for. Don't give him a reason to jettison you.

                All this also tells me they intend to make the film, thus exercising their option... money for you.

                Work your day job if you have to... Then write at night with him. It's only a week and the benefits will last a hell of a lot longer.

                Oh.... and tell your manager if they don't at least put one rewrite in future options they're fired. That's like option 101.

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                • #9
                  Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

                  Originally posted by Ronaldinho View Post
                  Communicate to your managers that the problem is "I'm super excited to work with this guy, want to do everything I can to help, but I literally can't afford to take the time off work."
                  I'd also get this out there loud and clear. It's not "I don't want to do free work" (which is true, but set that aside for the moment) but "If I do this, you need to work with my schedule because I need to have a paycheck to eat/pay rent/live, since you're not compensating me for this rewrite."

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                  • #10
                    Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

                    All very good points. Thank you. To add: I see what you're saying... that if the director is willing to come out to spend a week working on the script with me I should feel very happy/flattered, because it means that 1) they have pretty good faith in it selling, and 2) they think I'm the one who has to do the rewrites, that I'm the writer to take it to the finish line. That said, at the risk of sounding entitled or ungrateful, I think it also means they should be willing to compensate me for my time. Right? I mean, if I'm the one, and if they're confident, and if they're getting close, the should pay me something. At least, maybe, half of the WGA minimum for a week's worth of work (which means they'd have to pay me $2500). That's my reasoning for feeling like I deserve compensation, apart from not really being able to afford taking a week off work. Not saying my mind's made up, but this is what I'm thinking. These thoughtful responses have made me think deeper about it, but it's interesting because the arguments for being willing to accept no or minimal compensation (see #s 1 and 2 above in this post) seem be equally strong arguments FOR insisting on compensation. Ahhh... decisions...
                    Last edited by grumpywriter; 10-31-2015, 12:01 PM.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

                      Grumpy,

                      Yes, you should be paid. But if this point is not in your contract, you probably won't be. Yes, it sucks. Writers should be paid for every point. However, if you're not yet in the WGA, I would stress that you try to see the cup half full. The director is coming to you. He's making a commitment of his time to the writer.

                      Try to see how it looks to the producer or director if the writer is whining about having to spend a week with the director working on the script. They might start to wonder about your commitment to the project.

                      Take Ronaldhino's advice -- let them know it's a sacrifice, but that you'll try to make it work.

                      Just my $.02

                      Late Night Writer
                      Last edited by LateNightWriter; 10-31-2015, 08:06 PM.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

                        Is there any wiggle room or is the five days fixed? What if you took three days off of work and worked through the weekend?

                        Above all, get in writing that this is above-and-beyond, that you won't do this a second or third time for no-fee. They obviously have little respect for your time and may make even more demands. (If I were them and on a shoestring budget, I'd consume as much of your free time as possible, till you screamed.)

                        In the end, it's really up to you. Is this the path your want for your life, where employers pay you lump sum then make (un)reasonable demands on your time? Or do you enjoy the lower risk of hourly wage? No one but you can answer that.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

                          I would do what someone here already suggested, and that is to explain your situation and set a price. They already said is unpaid, but they may have been expecting you to charge WGA minimum and perhaps would be open to a smaller number offer.

                          I would word it literally like this, if you speak to the director personally and not via just your manager:

                          Hello X, hope all is well,

                          I am really excited that you would take the time out of your schedule to continue working on my script, as I would love nothing more than for the project to be the best it can be and want to help as much as I can.

                          Unfortunately, outside of writing, my main source of income is my 9-5 job. Meeting up for a week for re-writes and maintain my normal work/life schedule is a bit out of reach.

                          I'd be willing to take off of work for the week in order to better be able to help out in this situation, but unfortunately I would also need to be compensated for that time to make up the loss of wages. Would you consider paying me X amount of dollars for this period of time or re-writes?

                          Again, I really appreciate the interest and vote of confidence in bringing this project to the next level, and hope we can work it out. At worst I would be more than happy to meet up for one or two nights during the weekend to help out as much as I can within my normal schedule.

                          Best,

                          X


                          That for me says what you need to say but also leaves it open to at least still meet up a couple of times and stay in the loop.
                          "We're going to be rich!" - 1/2 hr COMEDY written/directed/edited by me, I also act in it.
                          SUBTITLED
                          Episode 1 (Beef pills)
                          Episode 2 (African commercial)
                          Episode 3 (Brenda's rescue)

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                          • #14
                            Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

                            First of all, congratulations on your project. It sounds really positive.
                            Ultimately, if I were in your position, I would welcome spending time with this director for the following reasons.

                            1. You will learn so much more about where the project is headed, what the director's intentions are, and what will happen with it.

                            2. You will build a relationship with this person. It's amazing how close you can get to someone in a few days and this may benefit you for years to come if you can get on well together.

                            3. You may see the script from a director's perspective which might give you another angle during a re-write. Being someone who writes from home and has little interaction with directors and producers, I personally would be really keen to get a new perspective on my work.

                            4. Regret the things you do, not the things you don't. You don't wanna be kicking yourself a year from now wondering what may have potentially happened if you hadn't turned it down.

                            I know there's no money, but this guy is staying in San Fran for a week, which ain't cheap! He clearly is willing to take a punt on you and maybe you should be gracious and just say screw it, lets make the most of this.

                            Whatever you choose, I wish you all the best.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Week with director, uncompensated?

                              Something that just occurred to me: just because they're flying the director out, doesn't mean the director is getting paid, either. It would be an interesting conversation to have with him/her when (if) you are working together.

                              If you do the rewrite for free, can you insist on owning the rights to the rewrite, free and clear? I have no clue about legalities, so it's a talk with your rep. If you can at least own the rewrite, without any worries about ownership, then if the deal falls apart your (presumably) new and improved draft isn't dead to you.

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