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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Never Give It Away

SoFluid on her excellent screenwriting blog has a great post about “Writer Wanted” ads that offer very, very little. She cites examples from a recent Twitter conversation she had with her friends:

J - Just saw script co-writing ad, noting that "The writer would recieve [sic] a copy of the film". Christ, he'll be inundated. What an offer!

J - I love all these "Write a script for us - for free!" ads. There's no money, but you'll get a copy of the film and a full credit. Wowee.

When they asked who would agree to such terms, SoFluid replied:

Me - Some of us have to start somewhere, & if that means writing for free...

That is correct, we all have to start somewhere but a writer has to keep in mind what constitutes a “start.” There are a lot of problems with the kind of set up described above. It pays to know a little something about how the world of independent film finance actually works.

(Note- This excludes student films and shorts which almost never pay. They can be good for your resume.)

If an independent producer is looking to raise money through investors he has to present them with a business plan, including a production budget. If an investor looks over the budget and sees a “0” underneath the “Screenwriter” expense column he’s going to ask the producer a lot of uncomfortable questions.

Do you not have a screenplay? Are all rights secured? How good can it be if you got it for nothing?

If the producer puts a dollar amount in the “Screenwriter” category he’s then obligated to pay the writer that amount. Otherwise the producer could be guilty of fraud.

Another thing to remember is the Writer’s Guild. It should be every screenwriter’s goal to gain membership to the Guild and secure the necessary Guild credits. Although the Guild has made recent efforts to accommodate the independent world, they take a very dim view of writers working for no money whatsoever. They just went through a lengthy strike to secure their rights in New Media. They don’t have a sense of humor about things like this.

That doesn’t mean the writer has to get money up front every time. The “No Money” option is a common practice in the industry. Basically the producer agrees to pay the writer’s fee once certain pre-production milestones are met; usually once the project is fully funded and ready to begin shooting or as soon as the project begins shooting.

The other thing to consider is the reverse of the credit/no money deal. The money/no credit deal. Uncredited rewrites, ghostwriting, and work-for-hire jobs can found everywhere. It can be a little hard to advertise such services since confidentiality is a must. But word does spread and a writer can soon find herself with plenty of such work.

It can be tempting to at least take a chance on a write-for-free offer. It is nice for a writer to have a DVD with actors speaking the lines she wrote, but there’s no guarantee that the resulting product would be anything the writer want her name attached to. For all the bother, a writer is better off producing her own short. That way she can be sure the finished product is indeed a worthy calling card.

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