I’m a director who was recently asked by a screenwriter to read a short script. I’ve decided I’d like to shoot the script but with some fairly major changes. In other words, I like the ideas and some of the imagery of the story better than the actual script. In conversation with the writer, I’ve told her that I would be interested in an option for the script. I’ve told her I want to develop some of the ideas but haven’t been specific. Having only shot my own work in the past, I’m a little unsure how to proceed. I guess my questions are as follows:
a) What if any obligation do I have to the writer to let them know my intentions with the script (that I forsee making significant changes for instance). Should they have the opportunity to reject an option based on their preference to give it to another producer who will shoot it as is?
b) What happens if my changed version of the script bears little resemblance to the script submitted to me by the writer? Do they still get credit, if for no other reason but inspiration? At what point is a script no longer representative of the original writer’s vision?
c) The last questions have to do with money. What would be a fair amount to offer for this script which will be turned into a 10 minute short with a budget of less than $10K; It’s really a project with little or no prospect of making money. Is there a percentage of the budget I should shoot for? I was thinking of paying $500 if we go to production. However, I don’t want to be offensive with my offer.
I really appreciate your time and attention to this. Thanks!
Howard from Denver
Your questions send shivers down the spine of every screenwriter alive (and maybe a few dead ones). Nevertheless, here are the answers.
It is not unusual for a director to like some of the ideas of a screenwriter but want to rewrite them significantly. It happens every day in Hollywood and it goes with the territory. The difference between that and your situation is that, in Hollywood, a producer ordinarily purchases the work before the director gets to rewrite it and the screenwriter is ordinarily paid a real wage. If the writer is a WGA member or the producer is a WGA signatory, the writer gets at least the MBA minimum. In your case, you want to pay essentially nothing for the script, hide the fact that you intend to substantially rewrite it, and not even give the writer credit.
I suggest that you would ultimately be more satisfied with your experience on the short film if you work with the writer, who is almost giving her work away for free (while $500 might be fair given the small budget, in terms of a payment for screenwriting services, it is essentially nothing), see if you can enroll her in your ideas, and see if she wants to rework the script with you. If you truly believe she cannot execute the script to your satisfaction even with your guidance, then you may need to move on to other ideas. On a film with a $10,000 budget, the only real value in this for the writer is to get a short film produced that she has written.