HOW TO HIRE THE RIGHT SCREENWRITER
An inside Look At Deal Making
Welcome to the world of screenplay writing and producing. I have divided my information on linked web pages so that you can focus on one aspect of hiring a writer to reach your goals and be produced, then move on to the other aspect. There is no one “right way” to hire the best screenwriter, but there are hundreds of “wrong ways” warnings. You want your investment of time, money, and trust to be honored and result in a winning script. While paranoia is not helpful, awareness and realism is most beneficial.
As far as I know, I am the only produced screenwriter on the Internet offering information like this, and in addition I offer all the services I include in my writing for you. You would be hiring a WGA writer that won multiple awards including Best Picture and Best Director for my first official production. And, I placed as a winner or top ten in writing contests with over 3,000 other writers, putting me in the top .03% of talent. But other writers are produced and place high in these. What really puts me in a league of my own for you is the information I present below. This comes from almost two decades of experience on the set, a decade as a writer, and years producing and directing Independent productions.
The following pages cover an abundance of useful and sometimes deal-making secret information. I wrote it for one reason: to give you a better chance at not only hiring the best writer you can afford, but also in selling your script. I hope you read all of the website pages eventually, whether you hire me or not. The topic headings might help you navigate to whatever you most urgently need answered. All of this reflects 20 years experience on the set, at the computer writing, and in Entertainment Industry negotiations. Please read on to level the playing field for you. Ultimately, an educated writing partner/producer proves easier to work with, avoids misunderstandings, and increases the odds that you will present to me a story or partial script showing greater potential.
Something to consider as you are reading: regardless of how much you learn on this site, it represents only a fraction of the experience and savvy I contribute to the writing and selling of your screenplay or television show.
The Entertainment Marketing Arena
It is hard enough within “Hollywood” to hire the right screenwriter when you have all the connections. For someone that does not make the Entertainment Industry the center of his or her universe, the challenge might seem at times ludicrous, other times frustrating and intimidating. And of course we all hear stories of people being flat out ripped off! While films on Hollywood and the various TMZ type news media could make you think the Industry is nothing but con men, sycophants, and egotists, there are actually fewer instances of betrayal (especially related to writing) than you think. The various Guilds, legal limits put on producers and agencies, and believe it or not “reputations” make most screenplay deals very standardized and simple to complete without being totally taken advantage of … well, in 95% of the deals. But that percentage is just when focusing on whether or not a story is stolen or a writer is truly “chumped” or “rolled” for his investment money. The WGA investigated only 10 script in one year out of 70,000. That puts the odds of your story being ripped off at .012%. Protect yourself by registering it with the WGA, of course, but also realize that there are plenty of stories out there that producers don’t need to steal. Your greater threat is really just ending up with a mediocre-to-bad script, or a script with no marketing value.
The various degrees of your potential frustration possibly comes from not knowing how to navigate the usual Hollywood system. It’s like any unfamiliar business world (like stock investment or the court system.) There are procedures, and ways to lose your investment. Better reps and worse reps. Agents and lawyers provide a valuable service to protect the clients – yet can turn that against newcomers or the “desperate” to structure deals that favor their other clients, and not the screenwriter or original team. Remember, they will make far more money off so being loyal to a studio or exec than to their writer, and so on a small percentage of deals there is a conflict of interest. But that is just competition and survival of the fittest. At its core, a producer’s job is to increase the value of his deal at the expense of others. He grinds costs down then splits the profits with the networks, studios, theaters, and distributors. That is why it is important to know someone who can guide you, co-write with this person if possible, and learn while you strive for a real deal.
The system by which screenplays are written, formatted, promoted, rewritten, repped, protected, and compensated formed into what it is today for a reason: each film launch is no different than opening up the biggest restaurant in town. The chef (director) and owner (producer) must please a fickle pubic with an opening night equal to building a theme park in 180 days. There is so much at stake that the system must respect the writer while protecting the investor and rewarding the public. It’s a tricky cocktail of goals, to say the least. For this reason, as many variables as possible need to be taken out of the formula. That is why contracts and screenplay format are standardized. It is also why contracts and script submissions favor the producer or studio, for they are risking the money.
In the last year, two factors materialized that changed script submissions dramatically: the Internet became a source of creative initiative and power, and Studios and banks lost their collective asses in the economic collapse. The Internet makes it possible to connect with audiences on a level that can make them part of the movie and marketing, and it enables a producer to hire crews for low budget films or television. Craig’s List is a hub for the Entertainment community. And searches allow producers to find locations, local actors, and also script writers that do not always go through their reps to be hired.
On a completely different level, the digital camera has made the job of filming cheaper, but also the competition ten times greater. This last year, there were almost exactly 10 times as many Indie films going after a limited number of distributors. The quality of films are down, because the audiences don’t need the beauty of Witness or Silence of the Lambs. And some micro-budget hits like Paranormal make every think they can release a super hit. These are exceptions, not the rule. You still need a script worthy of bankable actors and directors.
The producer in this case when you are hiring a writer is YOU. What follows are general factors and facts to consider when seeking a writer for hire for your screenplay or television series. While I do admit that there are exceptions to these examples, and that I do make mistakes, overall what I write will hold up as true.
To your credit, you have come to this site because you know you need the best script possible to beat your competition.
The WGA presents the numbers each year on how many screenplays were registered, and how many were sold or optioned. I have seen the number of scripts registered hover between 70-105,000 per year. And the number of scripts that signatories to the Guild spent money on might number 350-1,000 any year. It might look like you have a one-in-three-hundred chance of being paid some money for your script, but the numbers are deceiving. Most screenplay sales or options are run through the biggest agencies because they have the “attachments” of actors and directors. If you are not repped by one of the Big Five, then odds against you go up. But then, there is another statistic that ends up being in your favor.
One other way to look at the chances of your script being bought is to think that there are only 40 or so companies with enough juice to really move multiple projects to production, maybe more, but the number is lower than most people think. Each company has about 1-3 scripts a day to read. In a year they move on maybe 15. So, out of 1,000 scripts, 15 new writers might be entertained. But many of these come from writers already produced and popular. Sounds dismal, eh? That is all the more reason why you need to hire the best in the business, and someone who has access or plans on marketing your project with and for you.
The truth is that most screenplays are obviously rejects by reading only the first 15 pages, and a good percentage more are almost “unreadable.” All readers will tell you that. I have been hired by companies to read script submissions. Scripts come in with such bad spelling, sentence structure, and logic that no one could decipher them. Many script feature a story that is trite and so common that it could never hold the audience attention. Other scripts seem to be written by people with a distorted view of the world they live in. Nothing makes sense or is justified. I in fact had one script come from a lunatic in an asylum who would call me from the doctor’s office when he would sweep it at night. He claimed he was the doctor. His script? Pure paranoid delusions. But most commonly, the majority of the other scripts are too boring or unoriginal to make money back or any fame for the producer.
Then there are the formatting errors. There is a very specific format governing script writing. It exists for a reason. In the proper format, and only in the proper format, the readers know how many minutes in film time passed, others can flag all the props, Line Producers schedule dates and costs, rewrites become manageable, etc. So the need to follow the proper screenplay formatting proves essential. And one more fact you need to know: often times the first person reading your script is told, “If it deviates from the formula or format, toss it in the trash.”
The final odds against you come in the form of “formula” that must be followed through the story line of the script. Screenplays, tv pilots, and Bibles for television must all follow a formula. This formula presents the heroes or main characters in a time line and manner that pleases audiences. The formula consists of Wise Old Man meeting the hero by a certain page, and many other key timing targets. It also shows the Point of No Return, Inmost Cave, and other primary turning points in a script. This all comes from a work written long ago called The Hero With A Thousand Faces. It is based on mythology stories. I was lucky enough to have a copy of the formula used by Speilberg’s Amblin Entertainment sneaked to me long ago. I use it in structuring your story to give you a solid edge over most scripts.
Aside from that formula, there are a number of “special or secret” characteristics of a “marketable script.” I do not divulge these elements here, but will share them with you if we work together. It is not really secretive, it is marketing tactics blended with writing style.
Back to “your competition” …
The good thing about the rules and the high number of scripts competing with your script isn’t to fill you with dread, it is to enlighten and then to encourage you.
If you team up with a skilled writer, he will know about the WGA, the rules, the formatting, the formula, and also how to put 80% of all other scripts far below yours, so that you really are only competing with 10 to 1 odds, or 20 to 1 odds in getting in the door with a production company. That sure beats 1,000 to 1 odds.
In the end, you want to be confident that there is nothing wrong with your script in a “professional submission” sense. If it gets rejected it is not due to a technicality. It is due to other issues. What are these issues? Maybe the producer already has a script with a story like yours. Maybe another studio has Tom Cruise starring in a similar movie. I had one great script rejected only because the owner of the company hates any movie with a dream as a catalyst. A man going through a divorce might read a great script with a strong female lead and reject it because he is bitter. You never know. Yet you did know your script was formatted right and hit all the action points properly. So the rejection was personal, not universally damning of the work.
Now, the above are the basic things to know about the submission process, and what helps a script survive the first levels of approval. I will touch on a few elements that have become important recently due to market changes in other chapters following this one.
So I would like to end this chapter with one final point. There are two elements that raise the appeal of a script to the level where there is widespread appeal and competition for it among producers, stars, and agencies. These two element are: WRITING STYLE and HIGH CONCEPT.
A high concept script with a hot new hook to it, poorly written, will usually have an easier time selling than an outstanding script (say, a drama) that has no flashy angle to it or ways to put butts in seats off of the trailer. A top actor is of course one way, but they are limited. Style of writing (being excellent) is the main element that makes this script one that can sell and be produced because with luck and connections it can get to these actors. It is a harder road to travel usually because it requires a key actor or some angel investor to make it happen. A high concept script has many ways it can get “heat” that leads to financing.
Outstanding writing style in screenplays takes a blend of true talent as a writer, and an awareness of what the Industry and audience craves to watch on screen – and all this is worthless without the element of “marketing” applied to the style and scenes. It means learning what levitates a story/script up from “very good” to “really exciting or moving or hilarious.” It’s style … a talent or gift, most of the times honed by years of experience, but not always. Some first time scripts are amazing. Not many, though.
Now about that marketing angle of film financing. “How many great trailer moments jump off the page of this script?” “What is this film “about” in a Director sense of the word?” “How easy is it to cast with bankable stars?” “What other businesses might share in the advertising costs?” All these are factored in, and a top writer like myself knows how to make sure your final script has as many of these improvement points in it as possible.
There are other people who want to write your screenplay, and others you are seeking for this service. I need to offer you a better quality writing, and a better service to get your business. The way I do this is by delivering more talent, wisdom, trust, a better writing system, more follow-through, and reassuring partnership spirit.
As much as it’s not cool to point out wrongs or the failings of my competition, I need to do that to properly warn you about many misleading practices you might face. [My writing system and partnership spirit prevent most of the unprofessional or selfish writer-for-hire practices from being possible.]
When you type in “Screenwriter for Hire” on Google, the same sites competing with me pop up. They fall into a few categories. 1) Writing hubs that list ads for writers along with ads for companies paying them for advertising space; 2) Companies that hire freelance writers from around the country and they farm out your work to people you might never meet or talk to; 3) Individual writers of various degrees of talent, who might or might not specialize in your genre of screenplay, most of whom do not live in Hollywood. There are only one or two sites that offer writing by a produced writer, and these writers charge close to WGA prices for their writing services (over $50,000.) There might be a few exceptions to these people that I have not studied, but overall you need some guidelines to separate the good from the bad.
What the competitors all have in common is that none of them state that they will stand by your/their script and help you present it to the Industry. And it is obvious that most of them see you and your script simply as “a form” or source of revenue that they discard after the job is completed.
I will go down some of the warnings and pitfalls inherent in each of the 3 categories listed above.
Here are some General Rules first.
Comparing their service with mine begins to make their shortcomings obvious. You don’t build a relationship or network with them because your advancement is not what is their objective. Simply getting money to write is their objective. Mine is to get your script finished, out there, read, reported on, have meetings, get it sold, get it made. I’m no miracle worker, I’m not famous (if I were famous you would not be able to afford me), and no one can guarantee a script will sell. But I am connected, I’ll get the script out, I’ll keep pushing it to all extremes to be made into a movie.
My Film Biography
The latest news:
October is a busy pitch season for me. I met with major companies that produced I Am Legend, The Blind Side, 30 Rock, The Office, Dark Man, Rush Hour, X-Men, and a dozen other films or tv shows. These meetings resulted in more meetings to set a game plan for two films I wrote for clients, and two television shows.
Other accomplishments for Scott Morgan include a true life story screenplay generating meetings at Oprah’s Harpo, and with 3 other production companies. His new sitcom has completed filming and a month of supporting music videos and Internet development set the stage for its premiere in November. This latest “hot streak” bears the fruits of years of working in the Industry, the history follows.
Scott Morgan began his career as an actor and model, but quickly realized his passion fell on the other side of the camera. After years of writing high-budget screenplays that were optioned for mid-level six-figure sums by studios (Warner Brothers, Tri-Star, Paramount) and placing in finalist positions in every screenwriting contest he entered, he decided he was ready to dedicate his time to directing. He directed his first short film, Boxing God in 1999. Shortly thereafter, he wrote and produced the first 3-camera sitcom pilot shot in High Definition, Sam N’ Ella’s. He wrote, produced, and directed comedy shorts using the new 24p High Definition camera in 2000-2002. His first feature directing (2002) was the highly stylized action dark comedy The Violent Kind,”which also broke new creative ground by fusing pan-and-scan animation with High Definition. The cinematographer for that film, Pattie Van Over, had just won the Res Magazine High Definition Cinematographer of the Year Award.
During Scott’s rise in the arena of writing and Directing, he was mentored by two Hollywood legends: Freddie Fields and Barry London. Freddie Fields discovered Scott’s writing talent in 2000 when he optioned Scott’s script Hard Knox that was later optioned by Paramount as a major motion picture. Freddie Fields, with his partner Jerome Hellman, produced Glory and Midnight Cowboy. Freddie Fields also was the head of I.C.M. Agency in its glory days. He represented such stars as Sophia Loren. He taught Scott how agencies really work and make their money, which is invaluable insider information when trying to set up a film. The obvious excellence and taste of their movies led to an improvement in Scott’s writing.
The other mentor, Barry London, discovered Scott through another producer, Ryan Young. Barry London was the head of Paramount Pictures, Acquisitions and Marketing. If not for Barry, such hits as Titanic Braveheart, Forrest Gump, Saturday Night Fever, Top Gun, Ghost, and the other top grossing films that made Paramount the Box Office Champ for two decades would not have made it to the screen. Barry read several of Scott’s screenplays and took him under his wings to benefit from his talent as a writer. This talent was improved by this mentoring. But even more important was what Barry taught Scott about the movie industry overall, and what happens behind closed doors. Barry is considered a marketing genius. He was the boss of a much more illustrious studio head, Michael Eisner, before he took over Disney. Barry taught Scott all he could about writing to appeal to studios and fit the changing marketing world. Few writers (or even writer-directors) get to learn what Barry taught Scott in savvy writing, deal making, and revenue sources. Scott brings this expertise to his films, television shows, and his consulting clients.
Scott wrote and produced Playing Solitaire in January, 2004. He once again teamed up with Pattie Van Over, to guarantee the film would deliver the exceptionally rich cinematic palette this production demanded. Filming began on February 20th, and completed March 18th, 2004. This first 35mm film ended up winning the Grand Jury (Best Picture) Award and Best Actress Award in the Las Vegas Film Festival, and then, went on to win Best Director in both the Los Angeles and New York Film/Video Festival in 2004. The film was only 34 minutes long, and did not qualify for theatrical release, though offers are being considered (considering its wins) to expand it into a suspense/horror feature akin to Silence of the Lambs.
The success of Playing Solitaire led to increased attention on Scott as a Writer/Director. An Independent Producer (Paradise Productions) hired him in 2005 to write the pilot and first two episodes for a new sitcom called Club Fiji, which will be shot on location in Fiji. He made his pitch to direct the pilot and series, and was approved by the Producers. Though the production went well, the series was not picked up by a Network.
Late in 2009, Scott was hired to write the feature comedy BURNT! for the producers of Sunset Tan the television series to use to move up into feature films. It was immediately picked up amid competitive bidding because it is comedy in the same style as the super- hit The Hangover. The film will be filmed in the United States and Australia in 2011,.
Scott’s talent is launching him into a new era of success and popularity in Hollywood in 2010. Breaking through to big budget filmmaking and television series production are becoming a reality through upcoming productions. His latest production is Cupid’s Bow, a sitcom in the style of Friends that is based in the Pop Music arena. Because the series revolves around 6 singers in a “girl group” that are an actual touring group, the Industry has high expectations for success.
In addition, Scott is being courted to help the major development of a “gaming and Internet” branch for a major film company. In the meantime, he is offering his writing and consulting services independently.
What is the WGA (“And why do you care?”)
The Writers Guild (WGA) is a guild, and a guild is type of union representing creative people. The Guild has rules that help successful writers get paid a good fee, and also, what is owed to them when re-runs play or there is a spin-off. They also represent the writer in court if there is a dispute. To get into the WGA, a writer must have a script sell or have a few be optioned. So a person cannot simply decide to join the Guild, this must be earned. It is a sign of achievement to say you are a member of the WGA. However, this does not guarantee the writer is any good, or that your experience will be favorable to you. There are many under average and downright bad writers in the WGA – just look at all the lousy movies on tv or even in theaters. Still, the WGA adds credential to a writer. All the large agencies require their writers to be “produced” so that means almost all are WGA members.
The WGA sets minimum prices for Treatments, Bibles for TV, TV Pilot scripts, and Feature Film screenplays. The fees go up periodically. The tables are confusing, even to someone used to navigating them. Last time I looked, the WGA fee for a high budget screenplay sits at $106,000 approximately. Add on the 14% the WGA charges, the 10% he agency charges, and you have about $130,000. That is the least amount of money you are supposed to pay any WGA writer for an original screenplay with its treatment. Bibles for television cost a bit less than $60,000 after other fees are added on. Treatments are up to $43,000, and rewrites at $28,000. All fees approximate, and probably higher in this last year.
The reason it matters if a writer is WGA or not simply comes down to experience that usually comes with this guild. The writer did enough writing, it was good enough to earn him credit points, and he got enough points to be eligible for the WGA.
Most writers will not write outside of WGA coverage because they would rather wait for a big paycheck than work for less. In order for me to be able to write for you, I had to put myself on “Inactive” status with them. This means that I was/am a member, but now I am writing for people who are not WGA signatory. I do not get covered by their insurance, or their lawyers if there is a dispute. But I do not foresee a dispute between us. I can only be “Inactive” a short time longer. The day that one of the two deals I have going on posts a contract with the WGA, which is soon, they will call me and notify me that I cannot write for anyone unless they are WGA. They ask me to bring them all my contracts written while Inactive so they can register them, and keep me from selling my services for far less than they demand. So, this is a great opportunity for you.
If our script is sold, you become a member of the WGA. Their insurance is terrific. And you will be protected by their legal system. Hope this happens for us.
Paying Your Writer
There are of course so many things to worry about when it comes to paying someone you just met, or never met over the Internet. The abundance of scammers gives us all a bad name. The fraud is rampant. I know this. That is why I try to make the first payments small, and then follow it up as I deliver the work.
Even though it seems contrary due to the Nigerian scams, one of the most protected ways for you to send money to any writer (me or someone else) is to wire it from your bank. The reason this is better is because the penalty is so much higher.
If you send a check and someone does not write properly or at all, that is “theft of services” or “attempted fraud.” But, if you wire the money, it is Wire Fraud, which is very serious and links him to a bank account, not just an address. You at least know it got there, and he has fewer lies he can tell, like, “It might have gotten lost, or, I never cashed it myself.”
If you can meet and pay in person, of course that is better. I am the only writer I know who offers that you can meet me at my house. It’s a big house, and obviously I’m not going to pack up out and split. I’ve been her for almost ten years. You can meet at my bank, anywhere that makes you feel more comfortable.
I have gone over contracts with many lawyers, and the WGA. If you have a lawyer who can draw up a contract, that is fine, BUT, you want to make sure this lawyer is an “Entertainment Lawyer.” Terms and issues in real estate contracts or other legal contracts often looks odd to Entertainment lawyers. The WGA has a standard contract they offer non-WGA writers to use with Producers. The terms are simple to read, and they hold up in court. You can add terms to it if you need them.
A few things you want to make sure of no matter who you go with or what you sign. It needs to state clearly “Writer for hire” in the contract. Usually in the first paragraph. This clause means that he will not own what he wrote after you pay him. This way you are free to sell it. Also, if he demands to share Story By credit, then that can be a sticky issue. Story By credit means that he will need to sign off on this Story rights before you have a clean “Chain of Title.” He also gets to share in any spin-off, sequel, or merchandising. I do not make you share Story By credit even if I come up with more than half the story.
Finally, make sure the contract states “Independent Contractor” so that you are not liable for his taxes, and cannot be sued if he crashes his car when working for you. People will sue for anything. This is a way to protect yourself.
How long does it take for a deal to happen?
There honestly is no answer for this question. I have had scripts sell over a weekend! I have had others take months. I will tell you that people take a longer time than you want to read a script. Waiting is hell. But, every stage of reading gets you closer to the top and the paycheck.
How advertising and digital cameras are changing script writing
The three greatest influences that changed the way films are made and sold are:
This also changed in a stylistic way how scripts should be written and pitched.
This chapter is an example of what I learned from Barry London and others who mentored me. The other mentoring for this came from a very unlikely source. For a year I was involved with a company that did the accounting for 1/3 of all films produced worldwide. As accountants, they had the inside story on financing films – what was failing, what was soaring – and why. The Industry might release numbers on the cost of a film, or actor, but they knew the truth.
The accounting company told me about how advertising costs have gone up so dramatically that it is killing release schedules. He pointed out he knew of two major films, with top top actors, completed and sitting at Paramount Pictures because they did not have the money to advertise it for a Wide Release, as stated in contracts. You see, studios spread the cost of a film production across an entire year, and might pay off the bills with money coming in from other films. This is called cross-collateralization. It should be illegal, but it isn’t. Advertising is different. Advertising must be paid out in a shorter period of time, and it is money actually leaving their studio bank accounts. Before the real estate crash, the studios had their profits invested in businesses and real estate like all big companies. But with the crash it became very hard to make $120 million free to spend (the cost of releasing 4-6 films.) So they had to hold back on the films. In addition, the studios were holding onto the star share of box office on films they already released for even longer than they did before (countless stars have had to threaten lawsuits against studios for this practice.)
This upset the agencies, because this means that their stars were not getting their share of the box office as agreed upon in contracts. So agencies were reluctant to book stars onto films unless there was a stronger release date set up and unavoidable. This put the actors out of work. So they reduced their fees. And decided to book with some of the Independent funders like Emmett/Furla Films, Relativity Media, Lions Gate, etc.
What makes a studio want to release a film? Well, stars, a great movie, and also, very strong trailers for the theaters. This puts butts in seats. And the opening week may or may not effect how much foreign box office pays for a movie. Sometimes the deal is struck before the movie is released, though. What this means is that your script needs to make sure it has a multitude of trailer moments.
The next factor is the Internet. The Internet has stolen box office through piracy and other entertainment. So it is more important to have a script that offers multiple sources of revenue: soundtrack, video game, toys, fashion, spin-offs, etc. Some new writers might luck out when it comes to this, but the system for ensuring Transmedia income is sophisticated. To just blurt out that a soundtrack will pay for a movie when you do not know how agencies book out singers, how royalties work, what singers are bankable, etc., makes this state a pie-in-the-sky sort of general claim. Same with other Transmedia. The plan has to be solid with the writer, and presented as such.
Finally there is the Hi Def camera. While it makes shooting easier, it makes shooting lousy films amazingly easy! The market is flooded with ten times the number of films, all trying to be the next Paranormal Activity. The Hi Def camera and YouTube and other outlets has lowered the expectations of the viewers enough so that they do not demand the production values of Gone With The Wind. But that does not mean that your script and production values can be lousy and still be sold. Realize that your competition has increased 10 times as much as when The Blair Witch Project came out. All due to the ease of shooting weak scripts with sub-par production values.
All of this means that your script needs to be written by someone who knows how these factors effect your sale and producing of your script. Very few Indie writers know enough about this to help you massage your story around to satisfy the new demands and options for revenue.
Screenwriting is not just an art, it is a discipline designed to help you tell a cinematic story for the audience in a way that the cast, crew, director, producer, buyer, and seller can utilize. While it tells the story of the hero’s journey, it must also present the formula for success. The journey the writer begins in his career continues with every screenplay he or she writes, carries through marketing, and evolves with technology.
There are few things you can do to increase your chances of having a screenplay seriously considered for purchase and production. One of the best options you have is to hire a screenwriter that not only knows how to write an appealing screenplay, but that also knows what the producers face and how they market a movie.
There are other web pages on my site: Screenwriting 411, the About section, and A Talent For Directing. Check them all out eventually, if you are serious about being in the film industry.
All this information represents only part of what I have learned. Much of the information isn’t interesting to most screenwriters, and other writing was only made available to me due to being mentored by some of the legends of production.
Hire me to write, and all this knowledge and experience comes as part of the deal.
You want to hire a writer that:
1) IS TALENTED
2) “GETS” YOUR STORY
3) IS EASY AND ENJOYABLE TO CONVERSE WITH
3) SEES POTENTIAL IN YOUR IDEA, AND STATES THAT POTENTIAL
4) SHOWS THAT HIS WRITING AND YOUR VISION BLEND WELL
5) IS ACCESSIBLE WHEN YOU NEED HIM
6) SENDS YOU PAGES AS HE WRITES THEM TO AVOID COSTLY REWRITES
7) EXPLAINS THE MARKETING VALUE OF YOUR PROJECT
8) HELPS DEVISE A GAME PLAN FOR RELEASING THE SCRIPT
9) EDUCATES YOU ABOUT THE INDUSTRY
10) PRESENTS YOUR PROJECT TO ALL HIS WORTHY CONTACTS
11) IS HONEST FINANCIALLY AND CREATIVELY
12) TAKES NOTES AND CRITICISM WELL
13) LIVES IN HOLLYWOOD
14) IS RECENTLY PRODUCED AND GETTING HOT RIGHT NOW!
My clients always tell me, “Scott, you’re not just a writer for hire. You need to get the word out that writing is only part of what you bring to the deal. People need to know how much you help along your projects, and how much you bring as far as experience, wisdom, guidance, potential, and connections.”
I am the only Independent Screenwriter that will join your efforts in getting the screenplay optioned, sold, and produced.
I’ll take you from concept all the way through the deal. Most writers-for-hire disappear after their final paycheck, and offer no guidance or help in submitting your script or project. This isn’t what you want. Why did he take the job if he won’t stand by his work and you? You want that writer that believes so much in your idea that he’ll pitch it any way and any time the opportunity properly fits your project.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT MY WRITING YOUR --
FEATURE LENGTH SCREENPLAY
BIBLE FOR A TELEVISION SHOW
REWRITING YOUR EXISTING SCRIPT
The following information spells out the basic costs, timetables, definitions, and standard Hollywood terms of the different writing services. After this, read the other pages about how to pick the best screenwriter, how the Industry makes decisions, and other key factors. My position is that an educated writing partner and producer will present a more coherent story, give better notes, and approach the Industry with realistic understanding to keep the goals and dreams in balance.
FEATURE LENGTH SCREENPLAYS:
COST: $12,000 to $25,000
Ahhh now, this is the number one question, “What do I have to pay for your writing services?” Unlike other writing “companies” that offer services on the Internet, I do not treat your dream/story/goals and visions like just any other cookie cutter deal, so I cannot post a form to fill out or give a per-page (deceivingly low at first glance) cost for writing a script. Other Internet writers might be able to tell you that it costs a certain amount per page, or that all scripts are exactly one price. But I cannot until I hear your story, think about the writing style, learn about what motivates you, decide the marketing plan, and know how long it should take to write. Don’t fret, this doesn’t take long. All of this happens within a few hours of reading what you send me, or talking to you on the phone. I can tell you the exact cost after I learn specifics and decide how long it will take to write and research. Most scripts come close to $15,000 - $18,000 range, only a few are on the top cost level. And while other companies might give cut rates, most people tell me that “you get what you pay for” … meaning, cut rate service, writing, and standards of operation. You want “the best screenplay you can afford and the help to present it to the Industry.” Not “the cheapest script you can get.”
NUMBER OF PAGES
Screenplays should be between 95-125 pages, with only a few exceptions. Most scripts come in about 105 pages. Each page is approximately one minute of movie time if the script is formatted properly and the writer has the correct blend of visuals and dialog. Action scripts and children’s movies tend to be shorter, on the lower end of this cost estimate, but still fit this range.
A Screenplay usually takes me 6-8 weeks. How much research I need to do on a story that happens in another era, in a far away location, or requires special reading like biographies or science research takes longer. True life stories also take longer because facts must be correct. Any changes in the chronology through devices like flashbacks needs your approval. This writing period is considered a fairly smooth and time-efficient turn-around. The WGA writing period is usually 12 weeks, and writers often don’t deliver even by that time. Because I give you pages as we progress, you know I am on schedule.
I take notes on correcting what I wrote very well. The job of correcting my writing is simpler than the other writers you hire because you get to break up the work into 1-15 page units as I send them to you. You are constantly reading new pages and giving me your input. This is incredibly rare. In fact the WGA prohibits requesting this because it reduces the number of costly rewrites that a writer can squeeze out of you. And, they know most writers don’t stay on schedule. I personally have friends who write that admit that most you could hire find any excuse not to write, then end up having to cram all the writing into one week, claiming they write better under pressure. No wonder so many clients come to me with complaints on agency writing deals. I learned from the best in Hollywood how Notes are not my dreaded enemy, but my friend, helping improve a story and dialog. By receiving pages every other day or so, you know I am not cramming your assignment into a few days of work.
I break up the payments into three or four payments. The WGA and agents don’t like this -- they would rather have you pay half the money up front. But, considering that we all know how risky it is to hire someone you might just have met, or could not meet because you are not in the same area, I make the first payment as low as possible. Once I prove I deliver what I claim, and send you the first pages and perform rewrites, then you relax more, and see your trust was returned with pages you love to read. Most scripts have payments scheduled a pages 1 – 40 – 80 – and upon completion.
Rewrites are ongoing as the script is written. There is no charge for these rewrites. Rewrites are a number one way that you can go over your budget or be surprised in a bad way. The WGA rules followed by most writers demand that you pay for every single writing change, from major rewrites to minor dialog changes and polishes. Rewrite fees from agents honoring the WGA are from $24,000 for lower budget to $48,000; however after fees and increases are added in, you usually pay far more. My last studio rewrite is listed at $75,000. But when I work independently, the first round of rewrites is free of charge as I write. There usually is a polish at the end of the script, also free of charge. The only time that there is a charge for rewrites is if the script that you and I approve goes out to a third party to read, and he advises you of rewrites, those must be paid rewrites. Otherwise I would be writing for free for a studio or funder, and that is not fair to me as a writer. Once you ask me for story changes after the agreed-upon story is written, there is a charge. I will give you an example of this. A client once hired me to write a screenplay. I wrote it, and he corrected it as we went along. He was fully pleased, but then thought about it a week and said, “Hey, I came up with a totally different idea. What if there is a love story, and it’s the girl who makes things screw up, and they’re fighting all through the movie?” That makes it a different story you want me to write, and we need to negotiate a low cost rewrite.
Pilot scripts follow most of the guidelines of the Feature Film Screenplays. Because Pilot Scripts are shorter, they cost less. That is the only real difference other than the structure. So, read the above paragraphs, and any differences will be discussed on the phone when we get to know each other.
The usual cost for a Pilot Script is $7,500 - $10,000. If I write a Bible for your television show with this, you get a $1,000 discount on this price.
A Treatment is “your story told in paragraph form with only a few dialog zingers.”
The cost depends on how much research is needed, and how long the Treatment needs to be to tell the story. Half the money is required at the start, half upon delivery of the final Treatment. Rewrites and touch ups come up usually and are added free of charge. As with the scripts, you will receive the Treatment pages as I write them to make sure I am telling the story you want or envision.
NUMBER OF PAGES
The number one purpose of a Treatment is to tell all the key points of the story needed to get to the conclusion and flesh out characters enough to care about them. The number two purpose is to save time for the executives. Therefore, a Treatment should not be too long or too short. A short Treatment is called a Synopsis, usually 2-3 pages max. A long Treatment is called a waste of time. I know it sounds like a joke, but it almost rings true. I have had people hand me 50 pages Treatments. They take twice as long to write and read as a script. They should have taken that time to write a full script, unless they are incapable of writing dialog. I also have read Treatments with a lot of dialog in them. That is frowned upon now. The old Treatments had some dialog. In fact I read the Treatment for Duck Soup by The Marx Brothers. It has some of their best zinger laughs in it. I also read the Treatment for Alien, co-written by the Director. It has an incredible amount of specific description of the craft and alien. Because it was written by the Director, that is all right, but otherwise, keep the story moving along. Build up enough emotion for the characters, but realize you simply won’t be making people cry or laugh like they will in the theaters. I like to keep Treatments to 8-14 pages, and have found most good movie stories can be told well in that length.
The usual writing period for a Treatment is two weeks. Some complicated Treatments or true life story Treatments take 3 weeks.
Usually people pay half upon commencement, half upon completion. But I have worked out weekly payments for those on a budget.
BIBLES FOR TELEVISION SERIES
What is a “Bible for Television?” It is a 14-25 page presentation that tells the Network or Cable Channel everything it needs to know about your show. I will get into details later, but right off the top, the other factor you must learn now is that the Bible also increases your chances of retaining more Credits and compensation for your show should it be produced.
If you have thought up a reality show, drama, or sitcom, you need more than a pilot script, you need a Bible for television. Not many people know what a top level Bible should include, and even fewer writers can deliver one. Most quality Bibles are written by Show Runners that charge over $100,000. Outstanding Bibles are like secret recipes that draws people to one chef, so Show Runners and others who write them well don’t like sharing them unless hired. The WGA minimum for a Bible is higher than what they demand for a Pilot Script (that shows how important and hard to write a Bible proves to be.)
The great thing about a Bible is that as you read what I write, you get even more excited about your project. You see the potential grow as I add what I know about television revenue and marketing to your idea. So does the Network or Cable Channel.
In the Bible are Chapters such as: CONCEPT, DETAILS, TRANSMEDIA, SAMPLE EPISODES, CAST, TARGET AUDIENCE, and a half dozen or more other Chapters, depending on the idea.
People have come to me with television ideas. When I tell them that they need a Bible, most don’t know what I am talking about, and that is okay. It is an insider sort of knowledge. I don’t expect you to know. Other clients say, “Oh, I wrote a Bible.” And then they send me a few pages describing their show. This is not a Bible. In most cases, these barely answer any of the key questions that only someone who has produced and directed television (as I have) would know how to draft and present. It took me years of writing Bibles and getting feedback on what was left out or what might improve it’s magic touch to evolve my Bibles to where they are now.
I will give you an example of the difference a Bible will make. A friend introduced a woman to me that had been approached for a reality show. The ideas given to her were basically, “We’ll follow you around like Dr. 90210 and film you with new clients.” But this was “nothing exceptional” and she herself was “very exceptional.” They were going to sell her short by a mile! She is a gorgeous plastic surgeon, with an incredible past and future. She got a perfect score on her SAT’s! She had the formula for a new skin care line. She graduated from Medical School at UCLA as the youngest female surgeon in neuro-surgery. Then she want back to UCLA to be one of the youngest graduates in their prestigious plastic surgery program. I ended up writing a Bible that was 18 pages long, that turned her and her show into an incredible Brand! With books, skin care products, a daily Diary, videos of her uploaded daily, and a half dozen other ideas that generate revenue for the Network and her. It changed her potential series from a “yeah this might work” into a “wow, look at all the money we would make producing and airing her tv show for her!” This is why a Bible is so important. I turned a show that would maybe pay her $10,000 per week tops into a show that could make her millions a year.
If you go to a Network with a great idea, one of the first questions they will ask is, “Do you have a Bible written up for this idea/” When you say, “No,” they say, “Don’t worry about it, we will develop one with you.” Right then, you lost some of your Created by Credit negotiating strength. You also lost some share of money ,and possibly some Producer compensation. You also lost some creative control, and surely some revenue from any Brand sources you did not put down on paper.
So what do we learn from this? A Bible is more essential than your Pilot script.
The Cost for a Bible ranges from $4,000 to $7,500, depending on how much work you already have written that is part of the Bible.
Two to three weeks.
Usually 50 percent to start, 50 percent on delivery.
Rewrites on work you already started on scripts or Treatments is the hardest for me to give you hard facts or numbers on because until I read what you wrote, I do not know how much time and creativity it will take to bring it up to top levels.
It can say that Rewrites cost less than full original scripts or Treatments.
Screenplay Rewrites can be as little as $4,000 and as much as $10,000, depending on how much it needs changed.
I suggest that you talk to me about the project and we learn as we go.
When I do Rewrites, I make sure that you retain all and sole “Story By” credit. This is very important. Most writers won’t allow this, and agents push you to share Story By credit with their new writer if a lot if rewritten. The reason that Credit is so important is because any merchandise, spin-offs, or sequels pay the Story By person, not always the Screenplay by person. I’ll explain more about this important factor if we work together.
I do usually share credit for “Screenplay Written By” with you.