No, no, no. Stop that.Complications Ensue
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Q. I'm writing a script for a brother director team. They're great directors but can't write. They got me involved and now I'm writing their script. There's a producer involved who has grown a liking for the brothers and wants to see them succeed. They are meeting with him next week to discuss the project. Now, the brothers are fast-paced and want me to finish a first draft in a month. Which I'm not sure I can do but I'll try. But in order for me to work that fast I have to devote full days to this project. Which is hard because then I can't make money. And I have to live. But, these guys have tossed me $500 for this week and we'll talk turkey when they get back from the producer.

Now, because this is an independent project, is it wrong for me to ask for development money?
God no.

I've answered this before in much greater length, but to boil it down: the only time you should EVER write for free is when you OWN the project.

See the section in my book CRAFTY SCREENWRITING about writing on spec. It has a formula for the minimum amount of money you should demand up front, and what you should insist on should the movie actually go.



The only times you should write for free is when you don't have a good idea of your own and a big producer helps you develop your script and gives you the idea. The producer, at the end of the day, if they can't sell the script to their own studio, will give you the script so you can do whatever you want with it anyway.

By Blogger Screenwriting Compass, at 5:33 PM  

Not unless you've got that in your contract. Normally the producer will insist that he has contributed valuable ideas to your script and therefore owns a piece of it. And if you should get it set up somewhere, then he is entitled to an Executive Producer credit and salary.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 7:57 PM  

The only time this becomes an issue is when the producers are REALLY small and don't have a studio deal. Most big producers at a studio will not have a contract in place for a writer working on an idea with them. Once they take that script into the studio and the studio passes, there is not much else they can do, so they won't tie it up.

It's almost the same thing as the writer working with the producer on a pitch. No contract either. It's how Hollywood works.

By Blogger Screenwriting Compass, at 10:14 PM  

$500 as an advance against what?

It seems that by taking it you're entering the deal process without knowing what the deal is.

The one piece of leverage a writer has in this situation is ownership of the work until it's sold. Don't give that up for tips.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 5:39 AM  

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