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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Q. HI there, I was asked to write a spec pilot for a TV series. How much of a percentage should I ask if the pilot gets bought? should i ask for an upfront pay? how much would that be?
This is not a "spec pilot" situation. A "spec pilot" is a pilot for your own series that you write on your own, hoping to sell it. You own it 100%. Once someone wants to buy it, any agent in the world will be happy to negotiate your deal.

What you are being asked to do is write a pilot on spec, which is an entirely different thing, and it is forbidden under the WGA and WGC rules. There will be no upfront payment; that's what "on spec" means. A WGA or WGC signatory producer is not allowed to ask for you to do any writing on spec, so I assume you are not dealing with a signatory producer.

Let's suppose you're a newbie writer and this is a big break for you; otherwise, don't do it.

The odds are the pilot will not get bought. But if it does, then you would normally be entitled to a great deal: "Created By" credit and a per-episode royalty; a guaranteed staff position with a guaranteed number of scripts per season; a big hunk of cash for purchase of rights; and, of course, the Guild minimum for a pilot (150% of payment for a regularly episode). Also, the right to write any MOW or feature based on the series, and passive payments if you don't write same. (Agents know all this stuff.)

What the producer will try to do is get you to do the heavy lifting, in exchange for a small payoff if he sells the series. Don't do it. The odds are terrible of anything happening, especially on a project that a producer is unwilling to pay money for. If something does happen, you need to make out like a bandit in order to make up for the long odds. That's why you don't want to negotiate your terms now. You're not getting paid anything, so there's no reason for you to negotiate your back end now. Negotiate your back end when you're in a strong negotiating position, when there's a network that wants to buy and you're the only one they can buy it from.

Mmy point of view is that you are contributing a few months of your time and the producer is contributing a "napkin idea" and some notes. So you should own the results, not him. The producer must assign his idea to you, in return for a limited-period option during which only he can set up your project. Should the producer set up the project, your agent will negotiate your compensation then, when it's actually worth something; not now. If the producer hasn't come to you with a bona fide offer within 18 months, say, then the project reverts entirely to you and you own it outright. Only fair.

I don't think you should negotiate terms up front. But if your producer insists and you still want to work with him, then I would insist on the following:

a. Upon producer assigning his rights to the project to any third party, your pilot script has to be bought under a WGA deal. I.e. your deal becomes WGA upon the producer setting up the project with a studio or network.
b. You have the right of first refusal to write at least the first two scripts ordered after the pilot, up to first draft.
c. Should the series be produced, you get a CREATED BY credit, which can be shared with any other writers getting credit on the pilot according to WGA arbitration.
d. Should the series be produced, you get a per episode royalty of, let's say, $5,000 per episode, for the life of the series.
e. Should the series be produced, you must be hired as a story editor for at least the duration of the first season, at WGA scale for a story editor. (I think it's about $6,000 per week.) You are guaranteed at least 2 scripts per season, above and beyond any scripts written during the development period.
f. Should the series be produced, you receive $25,000 in cash on the first day of principal photography, in exchange for the series rights.
g. Whether the series is produced or not, you have the right of first refusal to write the first feature or MOW based substantially on the pilot, at WGA scale.

Note that these terms are (a) unrealistically low for a professional writer writing a pilot for money, and (b) much more than your producer probably dreams of paying. But screw him. He's not paying you anything to write it, so he shouldn't complain that you'll get paid fairly -- by the studio, not even by him -- if by some miracle the pilot gets picked up.

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thanks man, appreciate your input.

By Blogger JL, at 5:47 PM  

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