The creative power of the multi-hyphenate screenwriter…
January 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
All artists have an instinctive desire to maintain creative control over their work to guarantee the end product remains as close to their original vision as possible. As screenwriters we know too well the bitter sting of rewrites and changes forced upon our screenplay and the end product can leave us creatively frustrated and unfulfilled. As we know, filmmaking is a collaborate art form, but at times that means your script is creatively hijacked and taken away from you without any recourse. Such is the plight of a screenwriter and the end of the story—but you can rewrite this ending by taking more creative control over your projects as a multi-hyphenate screenwriter.
Eventually to gain more creative control over your projects, you’ll need to become a multi-hyphenate filmmaker and not just a screenwriter. This means along with your talent for creating the script you will move into producing and or directing as a way to maintain your total creative vision on the project. This won’t likely happen on your first few screenplays, but eventually you can negotiate your way into being one of the key decision makers or ultimately the director whose vision takes the script to the screen.
As screenwriters we already posses the powerful ability to create the material and this is one of the most important elements you can bring to the table. As a producer who also writes, you’re able to attach a vital element to the production—the screenplay. You can use your script as your way in to becoming a multi-hyphenate and being shepherding your project from idea to completion. On a lower-budgeted indy film, you’re generally paid less for the script due to budget constraints, but if you can negotiate a producer credit, you’ll get paid from that credit as well and it can help to make up for the small payday on your script. These are creative ways to build your experience and leverage your script for more creative control over the project. Your goal is working your way into being a double threat: A writer/producer or writer/director—or a triple threat: a writer/producer/director.
You may think, “I’ve finished script but how can I get somebody to hire me as a writer/producer or writer/director?” The first rule is don’t ever wait for someone to “discover” you or give you permission to make your own film. You go out and make some noise by empowering yourself with D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) filmmaking. It’s never been easier in the history of filmmaking to actually make a movie because of our access to the technology. There are no excuses anymore. People have made movies with their iPhones. But remember, you still have to tell a compelling story in a unique way and that’s always the important difference between movies that standout and garner attention and the others that do not.
A few creative types of D.I. Y. filmmaking for screenwriters:
- Securing book options/true story and article rights: You can find articles, old books, or true stories and option them for a set amount of time and for a set price. You’d be surprised at how little you may pay to option the rights to material that is out of print or forgotten by the masses. If you do need money, you can put your producer’s cap on and raise the funds on Kickstarter or privately by getting investors with money interested in your project. You’re empowering yourself by taking action, finding the material and finishing the script. As you’re the screenwriter, you may write the script on spec, but as you’ve secured the rights you will retain ownership and as the writer/producer.
- The Web series: My friend Karen Pollard and her husband Rick Gott created and produced a conspiracy thriller webseries called “Dark Pool.” They don’t live in Hollywood, but Sacramento, California and are teachers/filmmakers with a collective of local talent including their students. They wanted to give everyone a chance for production experience and the series is playing on their Youtube channel “Dark pool the Web Series.” They recently won five awards from the LA WebFest and have found success on the Internet. When they needed to raise the budget for the second season of their series, they used Kickstarter and with 51 backers reached their budget goal and produced season two. They are now shooting Season 3. It’s also now a series on KoldCast TV.
- The Comedy Sketch/Short: The success of comedy websites like Funny or Die and The Web Series Channel have opened up the world of short comedy sketches and shared them with the world. A good friend of mine, Rawle D. Lewis is a successful stand up/actor/writer and he directs/writes/produces funny comedy sketches on his Youtube channel RawleTv. He’s been getting a lot of web traffic and it’s also a great way for creative hyphenates to work out new material and stay sharp by writing and producing their own material for very little cost. You can follow him on Twitter: @rawletv.
- The indy feature film: Producing an indy feature film is a longer journey, but a very fulfilling and empowering road to take as a screenwriter. I co-wrote and co-produced an indy noir thriller called “Stingers” when I partnered up with a first time director who secured the financing. As producers, we brought in the necessary elements to the project including the screenplay, the financing, and attaching our lead, Academy Award acting nominee Seymour Cassel . Our three-year journey from completing the script to the first day of production was a priceless learning experience. We shot the movie on 35 mm film with Panavision donating the cameras and equipment, we negotiated a deferred lab deal with Deluxe labs, pulled favors, and made it happen. We ended up with a première at the St. Louis International Film Festival and eventually a DVD and VOD distribution deal.
If you want more creative control over your work, you’ll have to demand it by becoming a multi-hyphenate filmmaker. As a screenwriter, you already posses immense power by being able to create the source material for a movie. Taking more control by creating and producing your own projects is also a way to cultivate ownership. This is an important step in taking responsibility and more control over your screenwriting career and a way to establish your creative power to make decisions about your material.
As I mentioned before, good producers worth their salt can bring the necessary elements and attachments to a project and by creating the screenplay you already have the most important element of any project. Hopefully you’ll got paid to write the script, but if you wrote it for free on spec then you paid for it with investing your time. Your creation of the project is ownership and the key to negotiating yourself into a producer or director position. This is when you need an entertainment lawyer on your team to navigate the choppy waters of the deal. Make it your goal this year to move away from being just a “hired gun” screenwriter to hiring yourself by becoming a multi-hyphenate writer/producer or writer/director to fully express your vision with more creative control. Are you ready to take the leap?
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“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” — Joseph Campbell
“Film’s thought of as a director’s medium because the director creates the end product that appears on the screen. It’s that stupid auteur theory again, that the director is the author of the film. But what does the director shoot – the telephone book? Writers became much more important when sound came in, but they’ve had to put up a valiant fight to get the credit they deserve.” —Billy Wilder
“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”—Ray Bradbury