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Thread: Film Fests

  1. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Oberon View Post
    Now some of it, I didn't know what she was talking about, lol. Like "work on my specs"...I don't really know what that means. Early in my career, I wrote on "spec", which meant I worked for a client in the hope he would buy what I wrote, but if he didn't like it, he didn't pay.
    Yes, John, that's what I mean. A spec script is one that you write on your own dime and own time and try to sell or more likely use it as a writing sample to get writing assignments.

    A writing assignment is when someone hires you to write a script - either their own original idea or an adaptation of a novel/play/article etc. or a rewrite of a script that they've bought or optioned, that needs work. FYI an option is like a lease on a piece of material. They'll pay anywhere from a couple of bucks to thousands of dollars (or in some cases won't pay) to have exclusive rights to a property for a specified amount of time while they develop it and/or try to raise money to produce it. If they execute the option, they buy the script - if not the rights revert back to writer and they're free to take it elsewhere. When you're hired to write a script - the producer, not the writer owns the copyright to the script.

    Script options are very common - when I worked in development almost all the projects we worked on were options or original ideas that we hired writers to write. The reason options are so prevalent is because unless you have a financing deal in place, a very large kitty or a deal with one of the studios - you need to find investors for each individual project - and you usually need a finished script to get investors onboard or attach actors and/or directors to the project (which makes it easier to secure investors.) So most production companies have very limited funds to develop a script. Option fees - even at their highest levels are a small fraction of what it costs to purchase a screenplay. And only a small percentage of projects that go into development ever get produced so it makes sense to hold off on buying a script until you know you have the funds in place to make it. This is why spec sales are rare and almost non-existent in the current market.

    I've optioned every spec I've written - some multiple times, but my sales rate isn't nearly as impressive. Over the last seven years or so I've had more than a half dozen feature assignments and a couple new media gigs. But I still love writing specs because they're the stories I want to tell most and I can tell them the exact way I want to tell them. Once something's in development though (optioned, purchased or a writer hired to work on it) all bets are off. Producers will make whatever changes they want - and some of the ones they want will break the heart of the writer. I've been hired to do rewrites on several projects and in some cases I've gone in a totally different direction than the original writer - I mean the premise is still the same but the story, characters, every line of dialogue, every scene, are all new - it's a totally new script. I feel bad for the original writers when that happens. But sometimes you come across a great premise but a script that doesn't do it justice. And the way to do it justice takes you far away from where it is. Luckily, that doesn't always happen, some of my rewrites have retained a lot of the original material and merely built upon what the first writer did. I've been lucky in that several of my optioned scripts didn't go through any revisions and I was kept on as writer for the two that did, so I never had to deal with having my work co-opted - which is not to say I haven't dealt with producers with truly horrible ideas that would have ruined the story if implemented. Fortunately, due to my years working in development, I'm a producer whisperer and am able to talk them out of those horrible ideas.

    Most screenwriters support themselves off of assignments not spec sales. But every screenwriter I know still writes specs.
    Last edited by Simon Says; 11-12-2014 at 03:38 PM.



  2. #32
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Wow...wasn't expecting that lump of education. Puts a bunch of questions in my mind...so, when a writer gets an original work optioned, and the producer has another writer make massive changes, so much so that you can't really recognize the original work, does the original writer get any credit?

    Oh, and what does a typical script go for nowadays? I mean a solid, middle-of-the-road script, not a blockbuster or a foreign language documentary.

    Is any particular kind of software popular with scriptwriters, or is it mostly Word? Is there a particular format producers like to see? I've seen a number of published scripts, and they all look a little different.
    Last edited by John Oberon; 11-13-2014 at 09:39 AM.

  3. #33
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    Hi John,

    If the producer is a signatory of the Writers Guild of America - which is the screenwriter's union there's a protocol in place to determine credits - it's based on the %age of each writer's contribution to the draft that gets made and there's an arbitration process if a writer doesn't agree with the determination. If the producer is not a guild signatory than credits are either negotiated as part of the contract or at the producer's whim. But whether it's guild or not, it's not uncommon to work on a project and wind up without your name on in the credits. It's also not uncommon on non guild projects for producers or directors who didn't write a word of the script to share a writing credit with the writer - I've had that happen to me.

    The minimums rates the guild has in place are mid five figures for a film budgeted at under 5 million and low six figures for a film budgeted over 5. But that's just the minimums - many writers make mid to high six figures for a script - and some even sell for a million plus. Non guild signatories are not beholden to the guild schedules - and many, especially those making very low budget material will pay low five figures, or even less. But if the budget allows, many of them will pay in line with the guild minimums or even higher. I usually negotiate for a specific percentage of the budget with a set floor. That way if the budget balloons - my compensation also rises.

    There are several software programs out there that are specifically for screenplays. There are two in particular, Final Draft and to a lesser extent Movie Magic Screenwriter that are most commonly used in the industry, but there are more out there that do the proper formatting - some also have bells and whistles for outlining, etc. The basics formatting is standard as far as the font and font size, the margins for the different elements, which elements are all caps (scene headings and character names) and which aren't (descriptions and dialogue) But there are things that the writer's preference such as whether or not to put (more) at the bottom of the page when a dialogue block spills over to the top of the next page - I leave them out because script length is a much bigger deal than word count for a manuscript - so I don't want to add any additional lines.

    There are also some things that were common in the past that have gone out of favor, such as putting CUT TO: at the end of each scene. Since the vast majority of scenes use cuts (as opposed to say, a dissolve) and since a scene heading appears at the beginning every scene to designate a new scene, the cut to is redundant so your rarely see it anymore. Also a shooting script will have more technical info than other drafts - for example the scenes are numbered on shooting drafts, but not in development drafts. So those things can account for the formatting differences you've seen.
    Last edited by Simon Says; 11-16-2014 at 09:54 AM.

  4. #34
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    There now, Mutt. See? That's pretty representative of a Simon answer. Went right down my list of questions and answered all of them...focused, to the point, confident, solid, not a word minced. I haven't once seen her brag or name-drop or make herself out to be more than she is. I've only seen you accuse her of it. She touts her successes, and I like it when she or anyone does. Why on earth should her success, whether large or small, be such a thorn to you? Are you trying to enter the industry yourself, but being rebuffed at every turn, and so her success touches a sore spot, or what?

    Thanks for the low-down, Simon. Don't think I'd ever make a go in your field...too much pressure, and I'm about the worse salesman on the planet. I couldn't convince a starving man to eat, let alone convince a producer to buy or option my script.

  5. #35
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    Hi John,

    I'm a lousy sales person too. But I'm a great storyteller. When you pitch a spec, you're not trying to convince someone to buy or option your script - only to read it. Then the script has to speak for itself. Written queries for screenplays are more or less the same as querying an novel, except the logline - which is kinda like a query hook, but moreso, is the linchpin. Many times if the logline doesn't create interest, they won't read the rest of the query. Verbal pitches are more pressure-packed, because they not only have to like the story, they have to like you. And sometimes it can be intimidating - especially when you're pitching to producers who are very successful or high level studio execs. But I like them better because I have a few minutes, rather than a short paragraph to tell the story and I can use my voice, body language, my passion, etc. to get them interested.

    When I'm trying to land a writing gig, I'm pitching my take on their premise - i.e. the story that I'd write, which is basically just telling a story. The more passionate I am about the project, the easier it is to get the producer on-board.
    Last edited by Simon Says; 11-17-2014 at 07:35 AM.

  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Oberon View Post
    There now, Mutt. See? That's pretty representative of a Simon answer. Went right down my list of questions and answered all of them...focused, to the point, confident, solid, not a word minced.
    Crikey, get a room.

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