PRODUCER NOTES & FREE REWRITES
I’m in an interesting situation. I recently finished a spec script and posted it on website, which got the attention of a new producer. This producer liked my material, but wanted me to write his version of the story. I should ad the spec script I wrote is an adaptation of other source material. The producer’s take on the material is weak — I know this because I’ve tried it, and used reputable consultants to get it into the shape it’s in now. This producer is going to pitch his material written by myself to some execs, but I fear it will be a horrible representation of my abilities. On the other side, this could be my only chance to show my material. This producer won’t listen to my suggestion, which are based on the advice of other consultants/writers. What do I do?
[Name withheld upon request.]
There is a lot to talk about here.
In general, when you are trying to get your first break, there is nothing wrong with doing rewrites for a producer you believe in based upon notes you believe in. I have done it more than once and, in each case, felt the script was better for it. On the other hand, doing free rewrites based on notes you do not believe in for a producer you do not believe in is a waste of time or worse. Once a producer has given you input which you have incorporated, arguably, the producer has some interest in your screenplay since he or she has contributed creative content. It can be difficult to unwind that process. Part of screenwriting is knowing when to say “no”. It will prove more powerful than “yes” in the long run. The months you will spend writing a draft you do not believe in can be better spent writing something else you do believe in.
The fact that you do not own any rights in the underlying material further mitigates against doing free rewrites based on a direction in which you do not believe. The script may end up being a writing sample only, which is still a good reason to write it, but not a good reason to turn it into something that does not fairly represent your ability or story sense.
I am not advocating cavalierly shunning producers with a real interest in your work. If the producer has a track record of getting films produced, you should carefully consider his or her notes. I do not know who your “reputable consultants” are, but typically, consultants get paid whether your script gets sold or not. Producers only get paid if the script sells. A producer with a real track record might be a producer with some story sense.
In the final analysis, you are the one who needs to make the decision based on your own story sense. A screenwriter’s unique voice is his or her best asset. If you do not believe in the direction the producer wants to go, move on. It is very unlikely that this opportunity is really your only chance to show your material.