A while ago I read Josh Olson’s article in the Village Voice blog, entitled “I Will Not Read Your F—ing Script.” After chuckling through his op-ed piece, I read each of the comments posted. Some understood his position, others thought he was arrogant and too high on himself. What it stirred up for me in reading it was not so much that I don’t want to read your f—ing script, but rather that I don’t want to write your f—ing script.
I have been a professional freelance writer in L.A. for years. I’ve traveled to France, England and India for projects. I have optioned, sold, done rewrites and ghost written on films and television scripts. I’m not saying I’m winning the Academy Award this year (not that it’s not a dream), but I’m a writer in the trenches.
I was recently approached to co-write a friend’s “story idea," something she’d always thought would make a great movie, and upon hearing the idea I wanted to run screaming into the Hollywood Hills. It just reminded me of Josh’s article and instigated my wanting to write a companion piece, if you will. I hope you don’t mind, Josh.
It is mind-boggling to me how often I have people come to me who are on the periphery of the business with this “brilliant” idea that is going to sell tomorrow! “If only it were written, because I’m not a writer, but you are!” “I have huge connections, I just need to bring them something.” “I don’t have any money, but I’ll split the proceeds with you. Sixty-40.”
Every time I hear this (and I’ve heard it a shocking amount of times) I get a glassy look … and ask with incredulity “Who are you thinking gets 60?” Even my mom pimps me out, telling her friends to contact me with their stories. Ultimately, what I’m getting at is that I don’t want to write your f—ing script … for free.
An anecdote of my feelings on writing for free is the story of when my best friend who works in post-production was dating a TV agent at CAA. He begged me to write up a pitch package for an idea he and the agent, post coital, had come up with one night. Unfortunately for me, I was suckered into the “Please, you’ll be a producer, she’s already sold on the idea and wants to take it out! I’ve told her all about you and she’s sooooo excited that you’re writing this for us. It’s CAA!”
Sadly, sucker is indelibly inscribed on my forehead and he is one of my oldest friends, so the guilt factor was especially high. So, after hours of painstaking research, and character descriptions, and story arc ideas, and 13 episodes fleshed out, I presented my pitch package to said friend. He, having no idea what it takes to write and develop a pitch package of any worth, tells me nonchalantly that he’s stopped seeing the agent. … She hates him. … They no longer speak. She caught him screwing some other bootie call he’d been chasing and they’re done.
To say I was annoyed is putting it mildly. I’m pretty sure I got more screwed that night than his new bootie call.
And he’s just one of oh so many! I’m amazed when I read posts on Craigslist from people who are certain that they have a stellar idea that is brilliant! Yes, I now read Craigslist from time to time as I’ve had three friends get their WGA movies set up through postings! Who knew?…
But among the legit offers are postings where amateurs are looking for a writing partner to flesh out their idea. Really? Why would I want to write your story? I get no money until it sells. And although this person with the “stellar idea” is sure it will sell tomorrow, that doesn’t make it so. And, should the clouds part and the story gods shine upon us … the company who would buy it will no doubt come from me, because it really is pretty much about who you know.
So, if I were to spend countless hours writing their movie idea, that takes away from my writing my movie idea. With their idea, I have to split any money that we may make four to seven years down the road if we’re lucky, rather than writing my own story (on spec) and getting all proceeds. Not to mention, with their idea I have to find a story out of some drivel that they think is a fully fleshed-out three-act movie.
And the coup de grace is that nine times out of 10 people that come to me with their “blockbuster story”… that has to be told … that they want me to write for free … usually have a modicum of a story based on something that happened to them. Which, once they tell me about it, either makes me yawn so I can imagine that the audience will be asleep. Or is an interesting anecdote, but doesn’t make for an entire 100- to 120-page screenplay. (It’s usually at that point I tell them to write it as a short story and get it published.)
The idea you would assume that a writer would want to take time away from their paid projects to make you money off their labor and connections at no charge is not only obnoxious, but shows your naïveté and proves that you obviously don’t know the business.
This is the deal … Writers love to find stories they can get excited about. If you have a book, or an article, either of which a professional writer can actually use to potentially get a writing assignment, then contact me. I’ll absolutely read the flap (to begin with) or the article. But in the rare case you have a story that is truly amazing I, the screenwriter, will option it from you for free, (how do you like that!) Or a small fee for a period of time, if you’re really lucky. Unless it’s a best-selling book, and then I won’t be able to get it because the studios optioned it way before it even came out.
But assuming I have your material … Then, I will pitch the idea on my own, or with you (if the story revolves around your world) and try to get a studio or production company to pay me my rate to write the script. That’s how it should work.
It’s bad enough in this economy that producers want free rewrites (which is against WGA rules), but happens sometimes so the producer can ultimately get the project made. A win win in the end.
I say all this not to be mean, but hopefully to give a perspective on why it is ridiculous for a professional writer to write someone else’s idea on spec. It’s just not a good business decision.
The moral of the story is to think before you ask a professional writer to write your “blockbuster of an idea” for free. For me, I know I will not write your f—ing script … for free.