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Sunday, June 12, 2011

One of us said no to a potential writing gig the other day. It was not an actual job offer. (Writers almost never turn down actual job offers.) A producer offered us a chance to do a "take," with the possibility that if they liked it, they'd hire us over the other people doing "takes."

A "take" is how you would approach some creative material. It could be how you'd rewrite a script, or how you'd adapt a novel, or what you'd do with a one-liner TV pitch. You're hoping to get the rewrite or the adaptation job. A "take" means that the producer hasn't chosen you, you're just on the shortlist.

The reason you might do a take is that there is a producer who is interested in your creative involvement. That's flattering. If you're pounding out spec scripts, you have to work just to get someone to read your spec. Here there's already a producer.

The downside is that there is only one customer for the take. You don't own the underlying material. If the producer decides to "go a different way," all your effort is down the drain.

When I do a take, I'm rethinking the whole movie or TV show, whether it's an adaptation or a rewrite or whatever. It often ends up being 6-8 pages. That can easily take me a week. I can't really do less work than that, because I know someone else is going to be turning in a week's work, so if I'm going to do anything, it better be as good as I can make it. I suppose there are people who can get a job with a page or two, but I find I need 6-8 pages to be sure I know what the movie is.

How do you know when to turn down an opportunity to show what you can do?

The key factors are the value of the job, how much the producers like you, and above all, how many other writers the producer is talking to. Last year we did a "take" for a producer who promised our agent they were only going to a few other writers. If I wind up doing, say, four takes for four different producers, and get one job, it probably is worth my time. If I was up against a dozen writers every time, then I could spend, on average, a quarter of the year doing takes. I won't do a take if I'm up against a dozen writers.

Writers, of course, don't like it when producers go to too many writers at once. They are taking advantage. They are using up the writers' time and creative juices for nothing.

There's also a drawback for producers, believe it or not. When you ask for a "take," busy writers will not bother. Busy writers tend to be the good ones. The person who has the most time generally is the least experienced.

Smart producers just ask two or three writers they know they like for their take, instead of going to a dozen people. Or better, just ask a writer they like, whose writing style is somewhere in the ball park. Rejecting a writer because they didn't come up with the exact story you want them to write is like auditioning actors without directing them. A good actor isn't good because they can direct themselves, but because they take direction. A great writer can come in with something completely off base, and yet be the person who could give you exactly what you want, if you would only tell him or her what that is.

The other key factor, of course, is where your career is. If you're not busy, you can learn something from the experience of writing a take, even though you will almost certainly not get any honest feedback. The busier you are, the more confidence with which you can say, "Thanks for the thinking of me."

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