There are three factors that writers are judged by: Their material, their pitching skills and their knowledge of how the entertainment business works. It’s been my experience that writers know only a fraction of what they should about all three and especially about the latter.
As an example, most scripts are optioned not sold. Writers should never give a free option on their material and should ask for the most money on the front end for the shortest option period.
It is also necessary for writers to read and understand deal memos, which are abbreviated contracts. You have to check and see if there is a “poison pill” clause somewhere within it. A TV company was interested in one of my projects, and the deal memo contained the following clause: “If any other companies, networks, or studios show interest, we can hold the property indefinitely without compensation to the writer.” That was the “poison pill” that caused me to reject their offer.
There are certain deal breakers that writers should avoid. One student of mine in a writing class told me he wanted to write, star in, produce and direct his script. If he would have said that to a company that was interested in his material, he would have been shown the door.
Writers also have to be knowledgeable when asked questions by interested parties such as, “Would you be willing to make changes to your script?” A “no” answer ends the meeting because the writer lacks flexibility. Appearing confused or giving the wrong responses to questions convey a bad impression that may not be overcome.
There is a lot more information that can’t be covered in a short article like this. How the entertainment business works and what writers must know is covered on my High Concept CD or Ebook. Knowledge is power and you have to be well armed when you enter the arena.
- More Writer's Edge articles by Steve Kaire
- Legally Speaking, It Depends articles by Christopher Schiller
- Indievelopment: Show Me the Money! – Getting Paid in Indie
- Story Talk: Should I Take a $1 Option on My Screenplay
Tools to Help:
- Steve Kaire's High Concept: How to Create, Pitch & Sell to Hollywood
- Creating Original Series Ideas and Writing Spec Pilots with Erik Bork, writer/producer of HBO’s Band of Brothers
- Shaping True Story into Screenplay
- The Writer’s Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the Write “Side of Your Brain”