Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why I Write: For the Money (2)

It’s hard to argue with the idea that screenwriters should be properly recompensed for their hard work, and that they should insist on decent writing rates and conditions.

But equally it’s hard to argue with the screenwriter that is willing to work for free in order to ‘break into the industry’ or simply get their vision up on screen.

I can see the virtue in both sides of this argument. So this is a debate where polarity management comes in useful; polarity management being the idea that apparently opposite sides of an argument can each have a good case to make, and the aim is to acknowledge and manage the debate rather than claim one side as the winner.

Helen and I were talking about this yesterday, and we came up with a principle that I feel incorporates the two sides of the argument for me. It’s this:

If someone is going to make a profit out of your work, then you as the screenwriter should be making a profit as well.

As screenwriters we don’t want to get ripped off. So it’s up to us to protect the investment that we’ve put into our work. And therefore to insist on decent writing rates and conditions.

But the ‘if’ in the principle above is a big one. A lot of films aren’t really making money, so where is this profit we’re meant to be earning as a screenwriter going to come from? So even though we should protect ourselves, we should be realistic about the expected return.

And sometimes that return won't be money - there are different kinds of 'profit'. As a screenwriter, you want to make sure that your input into the finished film is properly recognised, and therefore you're rewarded in that way.

Something that further confuses the situation in the film industry is that it can often be hard to tell who’s making money and who isn’t. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Hix has linked to a very good post about Monkey Points. The key idea: make sure you sure you’re in line for a percentage of the gross profit rather than net profit. You’ll probably never see another cent if you wait for the net profit to come through.

Oh, and here’s a link to my earlier post on writing for the money as well.


kirsten said...

Money is something I've really got to think about more and more as I start leaving the student life. I find it unrealistic to be able to come out of university and dive straight into being a professional screenwriter. Therefore my thinking is that in the beginning I would just like to be credited for my writing, just to give me a start.

Also, there's the issue of selling scripts: would you sell your script and al the rights outright? Or would you want to be able to continue to have input throughout the filmmaking process? I know I would go for the latter, because it would bug me to sell my baby to be altered and overhauled by others.

Sean_Molloy said...

Thanks Kirsten.

I think it's entirely reasonable that writers starting out in their careers waive money in favour of getting stuff made and having produced credits. Like I said, it's hard to argue with!

Hmmm, making sure you have input into the finished film... I've tended to find (in the New Zealand industry) that's more a case of who you're working with, and how linked into the production/post-production process you are, rather than having signed away your rights...

Best advice I can give: Work with people who are open to your input!

Lyse Beck said...

Ah, yes. Money. Worse yet, trying to put an appropriate value on a creative endeavor before it is even out of the starting gate is like trying to guess what would my life be like if I'd taken math in school instead of art. Impossible. There are too many factors to consider. I have come to the conclusion that I need to decide for myself what's the lest that I would accept for the hope of my story being of interest to anyone, balanced with the deal that I should make to ensure I wouldn't slit my wrists because of enthusiastically giving my work away, should the movie ever make it big (a very personal thing, I reckon everyone will have a different wrist-slitting threshold) . Many things come to mind when I start to think about this. "Long shot." "I should be so lucky." "Don't trust anyone." "Be filled with hope." "Don't be dumb." But most importantly, "Don't loose my day job."

Sean_Molloy said...

Thanks Lyse.

Points are good for avoiding wrist-slitting regrets. That way if the movie makes it big, you're in line for a return from that.

Plus if you've written a successful film, you'll be in demand for your next script! At least, that's what I tell myself...

Lyse Beck said...

"Loose" my day job? haha! Perhaps one thought should be "learn to spell". Damn!

Ya, that's what they say... one successful film opens all future doors.

Side note: I'm reading "Breakfast with Sharks" right now, and it says "Five years for an overnight success and ten years to have a career." Crickey!