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  • 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?

  • #2
    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

    (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

    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

    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

    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

    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


    • #3
      wow, thanks

      wow ... thank you for the thorough answer ... appreciate it


      • #4
        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!!!


        • #5
          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.


          • #6
            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!


            • #7
              Re: wow, thanks

              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.

              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.

              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

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


              • #8
                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.


                • #9
                  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.


                  • #10
                    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

                    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.


                    • #11
                      Re: A great topic...a question for CE

                      That's interesting. From the description of how this works, it seems to me more likely a writer "steal" an idea from a producer than the other way around. Since the screenwriter has already put time and effort into it, they may feel justified in writing the script and selling it elsewhere. Seems if a studio has a project with a really original concept, they'd have to be really careful who the writers are they bring in for meetings.


                      • #12
                        Re: A great topic...a question for CE

                        Thanks for sharing! :smokin


                        • #13
                          Re: A great topic...a question for CE

                          The "stealing" possibility is nothing to worry about.

                          As writers you want to get those meetings and
                          win over the execs and producers. Those with
                          less (or little) experience in the biz will have to
                          work much harder up front. Those with an
                          impressive resume can rely more on their body
                          of work.

                          Another factor to getting jobs is is being "good
                          in a room" - meaning the ability to "talk," and
                          respond, think quickly, excite and entertain.
                          "Being good in a room" (the "personality"
                          factor) is very important all the way around.

                          It's something that agents look for in new
                          clients - because being good in a room will
                          enable a writer to win more assignments.

                          Being comfortable and loose with execs and
                          producers shows confidence in craft and

                          Many writers juggle three, four or five
                          assignments at a time.


                          • #14
                            Re: A great topic...a question for CE

                            I'd also like to add that ideas are important, but more important is the execution of that idea. Don't worry so much about the negative aspects of this industry. Trust and take chances. All worrying does is stifle you. Punto y se acabo.


                            • #15
                              Very informative!

                              A very good inside look here. Thank you, CE, for taking the time to share this with us!