Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Rules

The last few days have been pretty busy. In addition to preparing my book for the next 100 pages of writing (e.g. re-reading the 100 pages I have, outlining, journaling, setting up a writing schedule, repeating affirmations to myself that I don't suck and I don't need to get another development job), a producer friend called me about an indie rewrite job. Originally, this was supposed to come together at the end of August, when I had no pressure for my book pages, but, of course, being indie filmmakers they didn't have the money.

This time I held out for a couple grand because I knew it was taking me away from working on the book and finishing my tv samples (I'm waiting for feedback on the pilot and working on outlines for RESCUE ME and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA to see which one works best), so I thought I'd leave it up to the fates to determine if I should put that aside.

Aside from the validation I feel cashing a check that says "for screenwriting services" in the memo line, I have set up some criteria for how I price my services and the reasons I'll take a non-union, indie job.

The number one rule is: Who is making the film? Obviously I don't expect Stephen Spielberg to call me up and ask me to do some work on a "little experimental thing he and the Toms (Cruise and Hanks, 'natch)" are brewing up. However, I do like to feel like the folks I'm working with are actually going to make the movie. Afterall, a writer is just a dreamer until somebody actually produces the work.

Rule number 2 is: How much turnaround time do I have? I prefer to work under tight turnarounds. It sounds nutty, but in my spec work I'm taking my time, making sure that I get things right, but I'm used to the pace of major feature film production where the only obstacle to getting something done is money. I've worked on films where the pages were being printed in a trailer on set and photocopied in small batches to make sure the critical folks got it in time for shooting. There's something about sitting with professionals who are there to make it work, people, and actually making it work. Also, there are fewer politics (usually) simply because there's no time for manuvering.

Rule number 3: How much work do I have to do? Now this isn't about the number pages that need to be re-written, this is more about how clear are the filmmakers about what they want to have done. Do they have specific scenes that need to be adjusted? Do they know how those adjustments will go? Are they adding or omitting specific elements? Or, is it one of those general pleas to "make it better," and off you go. Having worked as a development exec, I don't do development work for free. There's a fine line on a rewrite job between work a writer ought to be doing, and work that ought to be done in order to hire a writer. Of course I'm capable of figuring out what's wrong with a script, writing that up, then deconstructing it into a writing plan for myself and then actually executing the work, but that's a helluva lot of work for one person. I make it clear that I will be charging more for that work because I am meticulous and detail-oriented and persistent.

Rule number 4: Will I get credit? On non-WGA films, this is entirely negotiable. I'm sure it would suck if I had a film I'd originated and someone else ended up with a writing credit, but I also know that if I put time into it, my deal would reflect that. I definitely protect my writing services much better than I do my producing ones! If it's not possible for me to get a credit, I take whatever figure I'd had in my head after sorting through the above and add about 25%.

Rule number 5: Can I actually deliver? Now, you'll notice this is the last rule here. My philosophy is that it's hard as shit to get work in this town (even indie work), so I'd rather kick the tires and start the engine before deciding to back out of a deal than pass because I couldn't handle it. I do believe that if you are a solid craftsman (nothing to do with art, at this point), you can analyze the style of a screenplay or genre and figure out the basic tick-tock that makes it work -- that doesn't mean you'll make it a work of art, but at the indie level any film looking for a new writer just needs some basic mechanical work.

In truth, each of these is a weighted rule and that weight is constantly changing (in this case, when I said I'd do the job I had more time, now that I'm pressed for time I wish I'd asked for more $$ and more specific notes). Still, a deal is a deal and the check did clear....

Anyway, I'm hoping to post more regularly now. I feel like I was supposed to post something I wrote a while ago and have forgotten about.... I'll have to look around the old hard drive and see what's gathering dust.


bianca said...

I believe posts on managers and casting were on the list!

wcdixon said...

bianca called it I think.

Hey Diva! Great post - great to have you back...