Wanna Hear My Idea?Complications Ensue
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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Q. Would a successful writer ever consider working with someone like me, who has no experience but a lot of potential? If I had a great idea that you felt could attract attention and you could get made, would you go to bat for it?
I've occasionally optioned a script I wanted to rewrite. The second-to-last screenplay I worked on was something by a non-pro writer. I found it, then attached a producer, who got money to hire me to rewrite it.

But I don't partner with other writers unless I feel that the other writer is bringing the same amount of clout and experience and bankability. If I partner with another writer, I've just cut my payday in half -- for the run of the show. So now the show has to be twice as lucrative -- or half as much effort -- or at least twice as likely to go -- as a show I came up with myself. Otherwise I'm shortchanging myself.

While a great idea is certainly valuable, if the other writer is not a veteran, I could end up doing the heavy lifting making the idea into a TV show, and turning that into scripts and season arcs. Your idea might have taken you five minutes. The development could take a year or two. If I'm going to spend a year or two developing something, I'd rather it be something I own completely.

So I very rarely partner with other writers, and then only with other potential showrunners.

Producers do sometimes hire me as a story editor to advise a writer -- I give notes, he executes them. I'm not doing the heavy lifting, I'm just reading and critiquing.

Alternately, networks often ask senior writers to take over a show that a junior writer has created. The junior writer might stay on the show as a creative consultant and write a share of the scripts. The senior writer is doing the heavy lifting, but is compensated accordingly. (That happens surprisingly often in Canada.)

I don't know any pro monkeys who take submissions. The script I optioned came to me through a class I was teaching. When a producer sends me a script, I'll read it, because I know there's a professional producer who sees a commercial future for the concept. It's validated.

Your best bet for getting your stuff read is still to get an agent, or one of the back doors: writer's assistant, etc.

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If the junior writer's retained as a creative consultant when a senior writer takes over, what's the appropriate series credit for the senior writer?

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 12:30 PM  

Seems to me, if the senior writer is the showrunner, then Exec Producer. Arguably, the senior writer should either share Created By credit (assuming he or she rejiggered the show and has a credit on the pilot) or have a sole Developed By credit.

The junior writer should retain at least a shared Created By credit, unless the show gets completely rethought and the junior writer has no share in writing the pilot.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 3:16 PM  

But of course your shoulda coulda woulda is all negotiable. Should and will are two very different things.

By Blogger DMc, at 4:47 PM  

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