I Have a Great Idea, But I'm Not a WriterComplications Ensue
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Game, TV, and Screenwriting Blog


April 2004

May 2004

June 2004

July 2004

August 2004

September 2004

October 2004

November 2004

December 2004

January 2005

February 2005

March 2005

April 2005

May 2005

June 2005

July 2005

August 2005

September 2005

October 2005

November 2005

December 2005

January 2006

February 2006

March 2006

April 2006

May 2006

June 2006

July 2006

August 2006

September 2006

October 2006

November 2006

December 2006

January 2007

February 2007

March 2007

April 2007

May 2007

June 2007

July 2007

August 2007

September 2007

October 2007

November 2007

December 2007

January 2008

February 2008

March 2008

April 2008

May 2008

June 2008

July 2008

August 2008

September 2008

October 2008

November 2008

December 2008

January 2009

February 2009

March 2009

April 2009

May 2009

June 2009

July 2009

August 2009

September 2009

October 2009

November 2009

December 2009

January 2010

February 2010

March 2010

April 2010

May 2010

June 2010

July 2010

August 2010

September 2010

October 2010

November 2010

December 2010

January 2011

February 2011

March 2011

April 2011

May 2011

June 2011

July 2011

August 2011

September 2011

October 2011

November 2011

December 2011

January 2012

February 2012

March 2012

April 2012

May 2012

June 2012

July 2012

August 2012

September 2012

October 2012

November 2012

December 2012

January 2013

February 2013

March 2013

April 2013

May 2013

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

January 2014

February 2014

March 2014

April 2014

May 2014

June 2014

July 2014

August 2014

September 2014

October 2014

November 2014

December 2014

January 2015

February 2015

March 2015

April 2015

May 2015

June 2015

August 2015

September 2015

October 2015

November 2015

December 2015

January 2016

February 2016

March 2016

April 2016

May 2016

June 2016

July 2016

August 2016

September 2016

October 2016

November 2016

December 2016

January 2017

February 2017

March 2017

May 2017

June 2017

July 2017

August 2017

September 2017

October 2017

November 2017

December 2017

January 2018

March 2018

April 2018

June 2018

July 2018

October 2018

November 2018

December 2018

January 2019

February 2019

November 2019

February 2020

March 2020

April 2020

May 2020

August 2020

September 2020

October 2020

December 2020

January 2021

February 2021

March 2021

May 2021

June 2021


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Periodically I get an email more or less like this:
Q. I have a surefire idea for a [movie / TV show], but I'm not a writer. Can I sell my idea? Or hire a writer to write it?
I don't know any writers who buy ideas. Producers don't, either, except from writers.

You could theoretically hire a writer to execute it. That's what producers do with their own ideas.

The problem is that hiring good writers is really expensive. WGC scale for a feature film is around $50,000. WGA scale is quite a bit higher, even with the weak dollar.

You can hire non-Guild writers and pay them less. The problem is there are very few experienced, talented non-Guild writers. Bill Cunningham and... I don't know anybody else.

So that leaves you with hiring an inexperienced writer who's hopefully talented. How do you discover one?

As one of the commenters below pointed out, you can try film schools. Call a film school professor and ask him to recommend some good students.

What you might also do is check out the various script competitions. See who's done well in one with a script that is similar to yours in tone. I.e. if you want to commission a horror film, hire someone who won a prize with her horror script.

With a less experienced writer you'll need to agree that there will be lots of drafts, since it will take a while to get to a draft that you're happy with even if you've hit gold (meaning found a great screenwriter). Of course, you're dealing with an uncrafted screenwriter, so you may never get to a draft you're happy with.

That's why you pay a pro so much. Not for the time he spends writing -- that may not be very long. But for all those years it took for him to get to the point in his craft where he could bat a professional quality feature out in six weeks. You could spend a year with a film student or talented amateur and not get a professional quality draft. But hey, you're the one who didn't want to pay fifty thousand bucks for a pro.

I took a few paid jobs when I was in film school. In one case my professor Lew Hunter was kind enough to send someone my way. I think the low budget horror movie I wrote for $800 was probably worth what I was paid for it, but I tend to doubt the historical miniseries bible I wrote for $2500 was.

Practically speaking, I think most ideas that civilians have aren't nearly as fresh or brilliant as they think they are. Some of the comments below say ideas are cheap, but it's not true. Great ideas are rare and quite valuable. But civilians almost never have them. Because a great idea isn't just a one line pitch, it's the setting, the characters, the theme... everything that you might put in a 6 page pitch document. What makes BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, say, great isn't the one line pitch --"all the surviving humans in the world are being chased through space by evil robots they invented!" -- it's something else that I'm not enough of a BG fan to crystallize for you here. What makes THE SOPRANOS great isn't in the hook -- "a mob boss tries to balance his family life with his Family life" -- but something deeper.

Only in the rarest situations would a civilian have a great idea as I'm defining it here -- because anyone that good has probably been thinking about TV seriously for ten years, and is, in fact, an aspiring TV writer.

Also, let's be frank. The people who ask me the question don't really want to pay even $5,000 for a script. What they really want is for someone to write it for free, and do all the work, and they'll split the profits -- which is not something I'd recommend to any writer.



There is one other place to look for talented, non-union people: film school. If you're in NY or LA, look at UCLA or USC or NYU or SVA or Columbia's screenwriting departments. These kids (I'm one of them) will mostly be guild members in a few years and are looking for a way to get there. They'll be better equipped than most non-union writers, although not quite union-level yet. Plus, they'll work for food. All of them are looking for a way in, and if juniors already know enough to tell you if your idea is good or not.

By Blogger Unknown, at 12:01 PM  

i don't know, man. Alex, I think by even encouraging this kind of thing you're exacerbating a big problem.

One of the reasons why people have such a problem with the whole film and TV writing strike is that they lack a fundamental understanding of just what it is writers do. And part of that is because EVERYBODY thinks they've had a great idea for a film or a TV show.


And the thing that 90 percent of people will never understand is that ideas are cheap. Finishing, developing, and executing them is not.

That means getting into a discussion of ideas, and how they're not copyrightable, because it's the expression of them that is the true valuable piece of property.

But yeah, you should probably just scare'em off with the quote.

Film school dude, 999 times out of 1000 you're better going with your own idea.

By Blogger DMc, at 12:42 PM  

Thanks for the "plussing", Alex.

And yes, I agree with Denis that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of what a screenwriter does and what it takes to craft a good, marketable script. However when I start to go through the stages of a "step deal," the fog lifts and the harsh light of reality sets in:

"A treatment? What's that? I just want you to write the script...

"Yeah, but its a GREAT IDEA. What do you mean we have to craft characters? Don't the actors do that?

"I just want to have a script so I can sell the idea and cash out... What do you mean it's not that simple?


By Blogger Cunningham, at 1:34 PM  

I think there's one important positive point to take away from this. You're getting emails from people who are actually bright enough to know they can't write. If more people realized that, they'd perhaps have a modicum more respect for writers.

By Blogger R.A. Porter, at 3:17 PM  

"The problem is there are very few experienced, talented non-Guild writers." Well, I think there are more of us than you think. It's hard as hell for us to sell a script, even when we're good. And know people. But that's beside the point. I'm with dmc: don't encourage these people. ;-)

By Blogger Michael Strickland, at 10:52 AM  

Post a Comment

Back to Complications Ensue main blog page.

This page is powered by Blogger.