BPS 065: How NOT to Get Screwed on a Screenwriting Assignment

A MESSAGE TO ALL TRIBE MEMBERS: I know everyone in the world is going through a scary and tough time right now. I decided that I will continue to create content that can help you not only escape the troubles of the world for a short time but also help you move forward on your filmmaking and screenwriting path. I find myself looking for things that make me feel normal and I know Indie Film Hustle and Bulletproof Screenwriting are an everyday part of the lives of many people around the world.

I will continue to release fresh content for the weeks and months to come. This event will pass and I want you to be ready for any opportunities that might come your way. Stay safe and keep on hustling!


Today on the show I going to be discussing how NOT to get screwed on a screenwriting assignment. According to Wikipedia is

A screenwriter can also be approached and offered an assignment. Assignment scripts are generally adaptations of an existing idea or property owned by the hiring company, but can also be original works based on a concept created by the writer or producer. 

Screenwriting assignments are the holy grail for screenwriters. The problem is that that shiny carrot sometimes blinds you to the reality of what is going on. I spoke to a very season industry screenwriter with many credits under his belt, who shall remain nameless, and was enlightened by how producers and production companies take advantage of inexperienced screenwriters.

The predators are not just in the production and distribution waters, they are also alive and well in the development oceans as well. I hope this episode shines a light into this dark corner of the industry and shows screenwriters how to protect themselves and their work. Get ready to take some notes. Enjoy!

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
Now, guys, today we're going to talk about how not to get screwed on a writing assignment. And I've had the pleasure of talking to many, many seasoned, and also world famous screenwriters over the course of this show, and of my life in the business. And I was talking to a very seasoned screenwriter the other day, and he was telling me stories of what happened to him when he first was starting out in the business. Now, I know a lot of screenwriters out there when when you're first starting out and somebody shines a golden carrot in front of you. They dangle it right in front of you. You get all excited and hot and bothered and like oh my god, they're picking me Is this the thing? Is this going to be my lottery ticket to get to the other side? If any of you guys have read my first book shooting for the mob, you'll know that that is not true.

But but when you're young or when you're inexperienced in the business, people will take advantage of you, producers will take advantage of you. Production companies and distribution companies will take advantage of you as a screenwriter. So the story goes with this screenwriter who will remain nameless. He was telling me that when he was first coming up, there was this specific production company that offered him a writing assignment. And it was very early on in his career. He might have written one or two screenplays, they read one of his screenplays and said, hey, we'd like your style. We'd like to hire you to write a script and here's the idea. And what they gave him is basically they gave them the the general notes of what they wanted. So a lot of the key story elements and points and they had a director attached, you know, very well known director as well. So it all seemed very, very legit. And they sent over the contract and he looked it over and he signed it and he would get x amount of dollars at the beginning of production and he would get so much but you know at the end and it was well below W GA because he wasn't W GA at the time. And he signed it. And off to the races he went. And he must have spent anywhere from yet or 567 months on this project, going back and forth, mind you not being paid a dime yet. And he was just very excited to be working with them. He went back and forth, spoke to the producers, all this stuff. And then all of a sudden, nothing. He was ghosted. He could not get anybody to return his calls, the company was still very much in, in business, but they just stopped returning his calls. And he had worked for months, spent countless hours writing the screenplay, and he got paid absolutely nothing. And the reason why is when he went back to his contract, he noticed a little, little sentence or section that said, he will get paid on the first day of production, which means that if this movie never went into production, he would never get paid.

Either he didn't see it, or was blinded by the shiny golden carrot that was being dangled in front of him, but he signed it anyway. And he just at the end of the day, lost all of that time, mind you, he became a better writer, he got more experience. But he got paid not a dime for his work. So this is a problem that happens a lot in the screenwriting and development side of the business, you as screenwriters need to be paid for your work, or at least have an agreement and understand what you're getting into. If you are, if you are a screenwriter who is partnering with, let's say a film director, and you're getting percentage points, and in you know, you, we're all in it together, and we're all trying to raise money and blah, blah, blah, that's a different conversation, at least you know what you're getting into, and you're walking into. But when you have the illusion that you're going to get paid, when this for sure, like slam dunk, this is obviously going to happen kind of deal. And it doesn't go through you You wasted a lot of time, when you could have been working, getting paid to work somewhere else, working on your own specs, scripts that you have complete control over and ownership from, you know, this poor screenwriter has no ownership, oh, this work because it was based on an original idea that they had. So he can't even go and sell this script. There's no actual issues contractually, it is exactly legally what the contract said it was. So be very, very careful of signing development deals, especially early on, especially if you don't have an agent, manager or or lawyer to take a look at it, please, if you are going to sign something, if you can just spend the few $100 that you might have to spend to have an attorney, a good entertainment attorney who understands these kinds of deals. Look it over, please do so because it can protect you and save you months of time wasted time. I know that this screenwriter actually turned down other work, because he was so invested in this work, and lost revenue and income because of it. And trust me, I know this story, because when I was almost making a movie for the $20 million movie for the mafia, and everything looks so real. And I was being flown around Hollywood and all this stuff. I turned down commercial work as a director, because I was like, Well, I'm talking to this big movie star tomorrow. Why am I going to go waste my time? directing a commercial when I've got this sure deal in front of me. Mind you, I was younger and very inexperienced and an absolute egomaniac at the time. But these are lessons you learn. And I hope that this episode helps you not make that same mistake. You know, I know we all want that shot. We all want that opportunity to show who we are as artists, as writers, as filmmakers. We want that opportunity. And when someone promises you that opportunity, you're more likely to believe it because you want to believe it. And that is the dangerous part. A con man can only con you if you believe what story he's telling you. And if you really want to make it true in your mind and really want to believe it. That's when they've got you. So this company did that to them. And that company is still in business right now, by the way, has never called him back. It'd been years and he still every once in a while drops a phone call just to see what going on, and never return his calls. It's just the way the business is run. I hope this episode helped you out a lot. Again, I know a lot of you out there are going through a lot right now with the Coronavirus and everything else that's happening. But it will pass. Our industry is going to be shaken to the core. As many industries around the world are being shaken to the core, the weaker and the less stable companies in our industry will fall will collapse. I promise you, you'll start seeing major, major changes in the weeks and months to come in our industry, how that will affect screenwriters. how that will affect anybody is still up in the air.

There is still a lot of opportunity, a lot of production being done. I don't know what's going to happen in the future. All you can do. The only thing you can control as a screenwriter is to keep writing. When there was a great when those there was the great writers strike. A lot of great scripts were written in spec while the writer strike was going on. writers were writing. So take this opportunity if you are in self quarantine, right? If you are at home, don't just sit there and watch Netflix all day. Educate yourself. Take a course read a book, listen to a book, watch something to educate yourself to help you with the craft. There's so many courses available. So many online, so much online education. Obviously indie film, hustle TV has hundreds of hours of content and education for screenwriters. So you can definitely check that out at Indie film hustle.tv. And there's free stuff all over the place, whether it's on YouTube, whether it's articles, whether just educate yourself as much as humanly possible. And write, write, write, and write. Take advantage of this time. Because I don't know how long we'll be here. It could be a few months, it could be longer could be shorter, but take advantage of every hour every day that goes by, right. Don't let this be an excuse not to write. At the end of this when we see the light at the end of the tunnel. When we start coming out of this. There will be Rubble around us in this industry. But that's when the greatest changes and the greatest opportunities present themselves. If you're ready, with good scripts, with writing samples, with TV pilots with whatever you've been working on, you'll be ready while other people might have been not working as hard as you this is the time this is your chance. I wish you nothing but the best. I wish nothing but safety for you and your family. Safe travels my friends. As always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.


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