Q. A producer with a pretty decent idea wants to hire me to do a treatment/outline (based on an existing not-very-compelling 400 page handwritten script written by someone else). I'd charge $6K for the script; what should I charge for the treatment.
As much as you possibly can, of course! You don't get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate. $6K is an extremely low rate for doing a script; though Bill Cunningham knows people who work for $2,000 a script. If you can get $5K for the treatment and another $5K for the script, go for it. Or any other numbers you can live with. There is obviously no standard since you're in the land of below scale.
I once wrote a horror script for $800. I wouldn't do it again, but I'm not sure that was worse than writing another unsold spec feature.
I would say that the treatment is at least half the work.
I also don't know what on Earth a producer is going to do with a treatment. Treatments aren't good selling documents.
I would also say that any time you have a 400 page handwritten script to start with, you are going to do four times as much work as the producer claims, there will likely be lots of meddling, the producer will expect free rewrites (of the treatment), and the ultimate movie will likely go nowhere. The unprofessional script just sets off alarm bells. It suggests strongly that the producer is doing a friend a favor.
Nonetheless, your contract should give you the right of first refusal to write any script, if any is commissioned by the producer or any of his "assigns" (people he's assigned the rights to the treatment to). Since it's non-Guild, it should guarantee you a sole "story by" credit. Or at least a shared one, since they'll want to give some story credit to the producer's friend who did the 400 page script. (I'd try to hold out for sole story by, giving the original script an "idea by" or "based on a script by" credit.)
You should also have a percentage of the budget of an eventual picture. Since 2% of budget is reasonable for a sole "Written by" I'd say something like .5% of budget is reasonable for a treatment.
Take a look at the contract in the appendices of Crafty Screenwriting
for other goodies you may want to negotiate.
As an aside... the first question I'd ask the producer is "what do you see as the movie here?" And then write that movie, regardless what's in the 400 page script. It may not get the picture made, but it will save your sanity as you try to write it.
Just thinking of someone writing a 400 page script by hand boggles my mind. I think I'd prefer to work off of a 40 page script that needed to be expanded a lot rather than a 400 page script that had to be reduced.
The fact that this "producer" wants to only take it to treatment sets flags for me. I can see that as part of the step deal toward the first draft, but not an entity in and of itself. It's weird.
You're negotiating for the first draft and not just the treatment. That has to be part of the deal.
The 2% figure is always a good one to go by because it acknowledges your contribution to the project even if the budget is $100K or less.
Ask what the producer has in mind for the budget, and calculate accordingly. If the budget escalates then provide a clause that your fee does as well.
Also get your fee upon script completion, and no "deferment until the picture goes into production". If I do defer anything, it's until the picture is financed, not until production -especially on a low budget picture. Of course, in many low budget situations, if they go to the trouble to commission a script they are looking to move the picture into production asap as they already have the financing in place.
If the producer gets paid when the picture is financed, then you should too, as your script helped sell the financier on the project.
We could go on about this sort of stuff forever. Good luck.
I don't know how you can prove that a picture is "financed," if they don't want to pay. They can always say they're missing a piece. Which till closing, is technically true.
I wouldn't defer your basic fee, ever, or you're likely working for free. That's what the production bonus is for.
400 pages! Wow! I wrote my first feature on college ruled notebook paper and it was only 129 pages! 400 is just down right unrealistic!
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