Here are a few details about working in the screenwriting world that you'll want to know about:
Agents and Managers: every new writer dreams about what his career will be like and how many more sales opportunities he'll have, if only he could find a literary agent or talent manager to work with. The good news is that it's not impossible to find a professional who will work with a beginner to sell and market new scripts. However, once you cross this threshold, you'll soon learn that your success is still not assured, even with the most dedicated agent. Your search for an agent is similar to the submission and query process for your script. You identify and gather information about various talent agencies or individual agents, query about your work, send scripts, and wait to see if they are interested in handling you as a writer.
What does an agent do? He or she can shop your scripts or try to find work for you on assignment. Your agent will know producers, companies, filmmakers and directors and will have your scripts to peddle. An agent can also help negotiate contracts. Don't sign up with an agent who wants a lot of upfront fees for postage, phone calls, copies, mileage, reading fees, submission fees, rewrite fees, etc. The standard is a 10 percent cut of any funds from sales of your work, where the agent is involved. Often there are individuals who want to get into this business as agents themselves and they will be looking for new clients. There are also hundreds of small, boutique agencies and managers. For the really big agencies---ICM, CAA, William Morris, etc.---approach with caution the same way you would a big studio.
A good way to approach these jobs is to work by phone and e-mail to get the specific details of the story the buyer wants scripted. You then do an outline of the material the way it would work for a screenplay, and the client can approve this before you go ahead. Sometimes companies or producers will be in a big hurry to get one of these scripts done and ask you to complete the work in just a week or two. If you're any good or like to stay up late, these can be done, but beware of making promises you can't keep. Keep in mind that you may be asked to surrender the by-line on a 'for-hire' job to someone else and work as a 'ghost-writer.' This is your choice, but you can blow the deal by insisting on credit for yourself. For some jobs, you will provide 'pages-in-progress' as you go (or however many pages you write each day) for review. Many clients will ask for a lot of changes, almost like a collaborator. 'For-hire' jobs can earn you between $2,000 and $10,000 for a feature length script, and if you get a reputation for these, they can come often. Each finished job goes on your resume to impress the next client.
With so many writers holding onto both a cautious optimism and a pocketful of dreams, it's worthwhile to point out that the screenwriting game is not for everyone. The seduction and lure of films has ruined lives and wounded the idealistic and gullible. Because there really is sympathy for those feelings and those who have stumbled, here are some thoughts about how to avoid some of the more sinister fates that might await the uninitiated.
Let's say you hook up with a flashy producer from
Pessimistic? Dark? Rough hardball? Risky? Maybe, but it really depends on your approach. You need to take warning before you make these life changing choices about your writing. In this way, you can remain a happy writer, safe and secure in your cozy writing nook, respected and treated well.
First, in the modern world, it's not necessary to pull up stakes and leave behind your
Likewise, by thinking of your screenwriting as a low cost, creative small business, rather than a lifestyle, you can steer clear of many problems and still enjoy realistic paychecks and film credits. You might even write screenplays just as a hobby or as therapy. Scale back your grandiose expectations, get the star dust out of your eyes, and your work will be more rewarding in the long run.
Sometimes writers talk about the disparity between film as a business and a 'pure art form.' Art or commerce? Both art and money have a strong role in any successful project. The smart writer learns to do both---nurture your true creative self with material you feel strongly about on the side, but be skilled enough with basic scripting techniques to do a solid job on the quick buck films that are more common. It's a compromise, but why fight it?
Violence, suicide, threats, deceptive practices, sleazy deals, drug addiction, abject poverty, or bitterness need not be a part of any new screenwriter's voyage towards fulfillment. Take a hint---it's not worth it. Give it up and find something else life has to offer. Passions, egos, and money drive a lot of what makes
Although most screenwriters want to create those memorable dramas and adventures we've all known and loved, the fact remains that to work writing scripts you'll need to find opportunities in other kinds of script writing just to pay your bills. But take heart---there's good pay writing video scripts on all kinds of fascinating topics, and as we know, a well done documentary can change the world or an election.
These lesser screen credits can be bankable for future sales. You can also find great satisfaction in the process of visualizing a project, writing it down in a standard format that can be interpreted by a video producer, and seeing the end product come to life. We all have to start somewhere, and local video producers are sometimes a great way for the beginner who wants to write for the screen and make a fair sum for his work.
Local video producers vary in size, interests, resources, and willingness to out source scripts. Many of these producers make most of their income from weddings and event videography, tape duplication, producing and burning DVDs, or transferring film to video and vice versa. But often a video producer will come across a client who has something specific in mind, such as an educational subject, a documentary, or a training video.
To make the video producer's job easy, he needs a script before he can shoot and edit any of these. That's where you come in. If you can grasp a wide variety of topics and explain them in simple and visual language, if you can provide a shooting script the producer can work from that doesn't neglect proper format, terminology, industry standards, and creativity, and if you can do this on a deadline, working as a team, with a willingness to make changes, you can succeed in the world of small video scriptwriting.
Your first step is to become familiar with the script formatting your video producer wants to use. Some video producers use a 'split page,' two column format, with visuals on the right and narration or sound on the left. Others will use a more common 'motion picture' or 'film format' style . Computer programs are available to do most of the formatting work for you. These formats are not as rigid as you might think, but you need to know the basics before you begin or your producer will not be happy.
How can your local video producer hire you if he doesn't know you exist? One way to start your business writing video scripts is to open your local phone book and start calling video companies nearby. Introduce yourself and let them know about any writing experience or credits you have. Ask if the company sometimes hires outside script writers. This can also be accomplished via e-mail, or snail mail, with a resume, query, and contact information. You might also want to have a few projects of your own to pitch to the producer to see if he might want to pursue them. These could include things like a video on local tourism attractions, a video on local restaurants, videos on things like local artists who may be available to share special art techniques, or anything that might somehow be profitable to put on tape. You need to develop these ideas somewhat and be ready to follow through. Remember, the producer is only interested in devoting his time and resources to projects that can turn a profit, preferably a quick one. Advertisers who might buy into a special project, subjects that are ready to be filmed, or paying clients with unique needs are all welcome.
The style and substance of each video is different. If you are doing an educational video on livestock grooming, you need to do the heavy research that makes the product valuable to the student audience. A video profile of a local artist is more fluid and informal. Any kind of instructional video must provide complete details on the technique or subject involved so the viewer can really benefit. Corporate clients are extremely sensitive about their public image, so the words and images you choose are all critical. The key is to make your script so full of useful, accurate, and enjoyable information that the producer, client, and audience are all satisfied.
Documentaries are another screen option you can have success with. Some documentary filmmakers don't even use a script, but the really outstanding docs are filled with authentic, original research. Our world today is filled with situations that cry out for the truth to be exposed---political situations, human rights violations, wars, mass starvation, abuse of children, protests, new scientific methods, new products, cultural changes, and on and on. This kind of screenwriting is much closer to journalism than any other kind, and you must be ready to apply strict standards of proof, sources of information, accountability, accuracy, and ethics for your work to be taken seriously. For example, if you're documenting a horrible global situation on film, your work will be controversial and your information and sources will be checked out. Besides, it's simply the only approach that will make any real difference. So called 'mockumentaries' can be fun and even enlightening, but they do a disservice to other filmmakers who won't take the easy way out with the truth.
What does a documentary script look like? Because they often rely on first hand video of events, interviews, situations, and on location set ups, the scripts for these are best handled as a loose fitting road map for the project. Working with your filmmaker or producer, you go over the facts and details you want to include---this can require serious research at a library or online. Background information on a political situation, for example, is thoroughly explored and related as narration, filling in between the parts of your doc that you simply can't plan. The writer uses visuals that paint a picture of these facts and details, with an introduction, mid part, and end. For the rest---the interviews, first hand footage, on location shots you can't plan for---you put these into the script as scenes or segments that are described or written on the page, as if to be placed later, depending on what happens in the field. In this way your filmmaker has his road map and can plan his production, but leave room for the unexpected. Sometimes a documentary writer will not come onto a project until much of the footage is already shot and completed---he will then go over the footage, do his research, and piece together his script so an editor can assemble the film in a presentable way for a high quality finished product.
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