It’s been a while since I’ve posted to my little blog, so it’s high time to mention some of what’s been on my mind.
A fellow writer introduced me last year to some producers who have a passion project in mind to make into a movie, which will be their third outing into feature-making. There was no hurry, so I was taking my time and… uncharacteristically, did not make a backup of my files on the project, so when I lost the old hard drive, their notes, along with those of the writer who originally considered the project and the work I had done myself, were simply lost.
A number of other things occurred shortly thereafter which kept me preoccupied for months, and meantime, the producers landed a new reality TV show they are currently producing. But I seem to have finally settled into a new equilibrium and after working from memory for a while, finally, last week, reminded them that I was still alive and delivered an “act one” for their consideration. The reaction I received was strongly positive, fortunately, so we are proceeding.
I had to mull over the project for a while in the first place. The original writer offered the job, the guy who graciously passed it along to his friends to consider, had decided it was kind of out of his wheelhouse. I felt similarly when I read the concept and the notes, but I realized upon some reflection that the first script I had written, a sci-fi action-adventure script about a runaway designer clone, had essentially the same kind of emotional heart. That’s when I offered to give it a try.
Job one, when I had my first talks with the executive producer on the phone last year, was to make sense of the project. I understood the story as far as it being a chain of events, but it’s a truism that the events of a movie have to relate to a central theme, and a list of actions alone does not define that theme. The central character, in this case, is young and vibrant and wants to get away from the familiar and stifling home and family situation and adventure in the world, fine. But what creates stakes is the way that making that decision and committing to that action challenges his character. There has to be a question about that the audience, by and large, may never be fully conscious of as they watch the film. In short, whatever happens along the way has to raise that question in the back of the viewer’s mind about an open-ended moral question that was posited in the back of his skull in the early minutes. I added an element and tweaked some of those they had in mind, and I believe it’s problem solved, particularly now that they’ve seen what I chose to do and have given it their hardy approval.
If it all works out from here, I will have finally written my first script to be produced. It should actually be a positive point for my marketability profile that it will not have been a spec of my own origination, but the fulfillment of a producer’s concept that I brought to the pages.
The eventual movie, I’m sure, if it happens, will not be a big deal in the annals of cinematic history. Over time, playing the game of working, wannabe screenwriter, I have studied to the depth of gaining at least some understanding of distribution and how truly difficult it is to gain cinematic, movie-theater distribution. Even the big winners with awe-inspiring Hollywood track records don’t always get their way. (The wife and I checked out 2012’s Hitchcock last week, a drama centered around that very issue.) Yet, if these producers I’m working with film the stuff they said they intend to do, they are going to need to raise some pretty good money. I find myself wondering if they can make the movie on a sub-million dollar budget, and I kind of doubt it.
I’m wondering about this, of course, because this is supposed to be a professional deal in which I get paid for delivering a script. The usual way, officially, is to be paid something up front and something for each of up to, usually, three re-write steps, including a polish. In practice, this formula, derived roughly from the Writers Guild of America standard deal contract, is departed from routinely. I hear that’s the case not only among non-WGA signatory companies. In a land socially engineered so that all newly generated wealth lands with one out of one hundred, or fewer, of its inhabitants, in the lean years since the catastrophic credit crash of 2008, (the inevitable and wholly predictable result of deregulation of the financial industries), writers are rumored to be quite willing to perpetually bend themselves into pretzels for indefinite periods of time in hopes of getting paid at all, having a movie produced at all.
So, of course, I count myself fortunate that I have received this referral on such an informal basis that presents the opportunity to become a produced writer. I’m doubly fortunate that it’s being done on such a casual and non-deadline driven basis; that’s not something a writer can count on. But, at the same time, I’m well aware that we have spoken only glancingly of my being paid at all, let alone staked out any terms.
Since I have no true idea of the budget they’ll be able to put together, I think it makes more sense, down the road, to stake my claim on a small percentage of the budget as my payment, rather than a dollar figure. And, I realize I don’t feel comfortable now, without a contract, simply finishing and handing over a completed script. It makes more sense to me, their having now seen the quality I’ve been able to bring to a substantial and important part of their story as a script, to deliver a treatment later and begin negotiation for payment then. It’s fine with me if it’s not that much money up front, before they get their elements, including budget and financing, together. My goal is to deliver, within a few drafts if necessary, a quality, somewhat Hollywood-esque script that they can make and have, therefore, bought into. My goal is to help them become more successful in feature filmmaking. From there, perhaps we’ll develop a working relationship which might help us all to become more successful.
Regardless, if I deliver a script as good as I believe I can and they sucessfully shepherd it through to completion, the worst I should emerge from the experience is as a writer who can solicit Los Angeles talent managers as a produced screenwriter, asking their help in making it up to the ladder’s next step.