THE WRITER’S STEP DEAL

Question

Can you tell me exactly what a good development deal for a script should entail?

Cheers

Miranda From Australia

The most common script development deal in Hollywood is called the writer’s step deal. In this kind of deal, you (the writer) are promised a certain sum per step. The steps are usually (1) treatment, (2) first draft, (3) revision draft, and (4) polish. Ordinarily, the producer has the option of stopping at any step. The producer owns the material it has paid for and can continue with the project hiring other writers. The WGA has a short form agreement which sets out the terms of this kind of deal. If the writer is a guild member or the producer is a Writers Guild signatory, the writer is paid at least guild minimums. You can download the WGA 2004 schedule of minimums here.

A good deal is to have as many guaranteed steps as possible for as much above guild minimum as possible.

PAID SUBMISSION SERVICES

How do you plan to put your spec into the marketplace? I too just finished a comedy spec and am thinking of using InkTip.com. Have you used it before? If so, what were your results. Has anyone else tried it, or a concept similar to InkTip. And then there’s services like Scriptblaster. What are your thoughts about those services?
Thanks!
John (can’t get passed 4th place!) Hart

I have long been represented by a strong agency here in town (L.A.) and they handle initial marketing of my specs. I also have a great manager who does his share, too. Before I had an agent and a manager, I networked fairly aggressively and submitted scripts directly upon invitation. I have never sent a query letter to anyone and have never used a service like Inktip or Scriptblaster.

When I’ve been on the producing end of things looking for quality scripts, I did receive Inktip’s magazine which lists pitches. I don’t know how it happened to come to me since I never ordered it. I did not read it because I knew it was a pay-to-list service. Unlike agencies, which have some incentive to make sure the writing is marketable before they submit it, pay-to-list services do not. The material they list has had absolutely no professional eyes on it and no professional judgment. Ninety-nine percent of it is junk and neither I nor most producers have ever had the resources to review it to find the few diamonds.

Other services review your material for a fee, give you “coverage”, and claim that, if they like it, they will present it for you directly to industry professionals. These services claim to have sold some scripts. The services are very controversial for a number of reasons. Alex Epstein’s blog, Complications Ensue, has some material that presents both sides of the controversy – see it here.

A much sounder approach to your writing career is to share your writing through networking. As you network, you get real and continuous feedback on your scripts. It is a tough road because everyone has an opinion about your writing and most of the opinions can really shake your confidence. However, if you hang in and keep networking, you will develop a thick skin, learn how to channel input constructively, and improve your writing. The very process of working to make contacts for script submissions tends to help hone your craft.

While it is much easier to network from Los Angeles, you can do it from anywhere working through writing teachers, legitimate screenwriting contests, and other resources, honing your craft and getting your material submitted in ways that will get it noticed. It feels very hard to get noticed, but I can tell you from experience, once the writing really shines, it suddenly gets very easy to get noticed. Then begins the next level of hell – moving from getting noticed to making a first sale. But that’s a whole other topic.

Good luck with the spec.

BUT I HAVE A THEME!?

This is part two of the last post on theme.

Okay, so now I’ve convinced you that you need to consider theme. I’ve told you that a story without theme is shallow, less likely to sell, less likely to be made into a movie and much less likely to get you noticed as a writer. So you go out and pick a theme. “Make peace not war.” That sounds good, universal, who could disagree with that?

Okay, now you’re ready to write, right?

Not so fast. Theme is not something you pluck out of the air then hang a story onto. Rather, theme is the result of a search, part of which often takes place during the work of creating your story rather than all up front. In developing your theme, you should consider a number of issues: What questions interest you enough to spend nine months exploring them? What type of story are you interested in telling? What elements of the story have you already begun to be interested in? How does the theme support the kind of story you want to tell? How does the theme suggest a complete personal experience for your lead?

Sometimes you will try to answer these questions in advance of outlining. Sometimes you will just play with the story and see how the theme emerges – then solidify it in your mind and hone the story. There is no one way to arrive at theme.

To make matters more complex, theme is defined differently by – well, by everyone. If you pick up six books on writing, look at how theme is defined in each. They are all different. If they happen to analyze the same picture, they will each frame the theme very differently. Which way is right? The answer is the one that helps you the most to clarify and focus your story. The purpose of theme is to help you organize your story around a core question or set of questions about human values that is important to you and that will engage an audience, reader, studio exec or producer at a deeper level than just the immediate cleverness or artfulness of your story execution.

So, we know theme has something to do with core human values. So, what’s wrong with “make peace not war”? Maybe nothing. It certainly reflects a core human value. But, for me, I prefer to consider themes that ask questions instead of answering them. This allows me to explore and have the characters explore different aspects of the question in conflict. No easy answers and the characters can disagree. I prefer a theme like “How far should a person go to preserve peace?” over “make peace not war.” It suggests a much more complex set of emotions and one immediately envisions many possible stories or a number of characters within the same story that each have different answers, answers which might be in conflict with one another and which reflect deeply held values.

To develop your story’s theme, look inside yourself to see what is important to you and what you have to say about it. Be willing to show both sides of the value issues. Be bold. Expose yourself. Your writing will be better for it.

Judge Abuses Writer, Appellate Court Rescues Him

Judge's Gavel
flickr:Bryan Gosline
When screenwriter Amir Ahanchian sued a production company for ripping off 12 of his skits for a direct to DVD National Lampoon movie, a federal judge threw out his law suit and awarded almost $250,000 in costs against him because his attorney filed papers three days late. Fortunately, the federal appellate court gave the trial judge a dose of reality and reversed the opinion – after the poor screenwriter endured a year on appeal. Justice?