On your screenwriting journey don’t be afraid to say, “No.”
January 27, 2016 § Leave a comment
No. It’s a powerful word if used properly on your screenwriting journey. Or better yet, “No, thank you.” If you stay in the screenwriting game long enough you will encounter the ups and downs of the business. During the successful times when you’re working and your scripts get produced, it’s magical, but you must prepare for the Yin & Yang of the journey. There will be times when you’re scraping the bottom and it feels like nobody wants to return your calls. Or you might feel trapped in a cycle where you just can’t push any one project forward enough to actually see money or production.
So, what if you find yourself on the side of the cliff dangling by a mere finger hold and running out of time? Hang on. Climb back up and work on another script, and another, and get better and build your network of contacts. When you’re at the lowest point is when it really matters how you stay in the game because it’s much easier for you to leave the business when all hope is lost. And time keeps ticking away. It can be your greatest asset or worst enemy especially if you put an expiration date on your screenwriting dreams—“I have to make it by 30!” When you’re struggling on the side of that cliff, fight for your long term survival. Never allow them to stomp on your fingers so you fall into the void and never to live out your splendid screenwriting dreams.
Trust me, producers can smell desperation in the room if a writer needs to pay the rent or needs some validation about the work. This is when you unknowingly might allow them to take advantage of you and then you accept a crappy deal that benefits them and not you. Sure, you might need to get your foot in the door, but it doesn’t mean they have to crush your toes in the process. Any opportunity to work is a chance for you to shine, but your time is important and if you are writing at a professional level to compete, you should come into any situation with a humble confidence.
In the Wild West, a gunslinger could spot other gunslingers by the way they handled themselves and by the execution of their work. The same goes for professionals in Hollywood. Pros can spot another pro just by the title page on a screenplay. They have a built-in radar to weed out the amateurs and aspirants by recognizing their inexperience and bad screenwriting. And if you’re desperate, you just might consider taking a bad working situation just to move forward. Do not. Many times the job “is what it is” meaning there is no chance of advancement when it’s done, just more of the same. Or if you get fired with no credit it really doesn’t help your career anyway. In fact maybe next time they tell you that your pay is less because their business model has changed. If you’re meeting with a producer who complains about working with bad writers and bemoans about not having much of a development budget, it’s a major red flag.
I know, it’s difficult to walk away because it may feel like that producer is the only person interested and at least their interest is something. Some interest is better than the script file sitting in your hard drive, right? No. It’s talk until you both sign the contract and the check clears. Unfortunately, money does make it real. And if the interest from just one person is the “only game in town,” that doesn’t really give you much leverage for any type of negotiation. If you tell them, “Nobody else is interested in my script,” you’re sunk and they’ve got you. Never let anyone know the real status of your project unless they are ready to offer a contract and money. Until then you have it “at a handful of companies around town and it’s being considered.” Even if two of the companies passed, in your discussion it’s still over there and they haven’t gotten back to you yet. This buys you more time—but not much. Hopefully, they won’t ask you more details, but if they do have a real answer because they will check up and it’s a small town.
The only consideration should be the risk factor for you and that includes the payment, your time, and if it detracts from other more important work. Also realize the markings of a good deal and when it’s the best that you’re going to get. You might blow it a few times before you realize what you can and can’t push for at your level. It’s best to let your lawyer, agent or manager handle the back and forth negotiations of any deal. If you don’t have anyone on your team, consult friends who are more established in the film business for advice. They’ve been through the process for years and will tell you what to do and not to do.
The reality is you’ll probably make less money on your first few jobs until you can get established, show a successful movie and then can negotiate for a better deal. If any deal does not feel right or isn’t right for you, don’t be afraid to graciously say, “No, thank you.” Yes, even if you haven’t sold a screenplay before. Your time is more important than being locked into a crappy deal and something that could set you back. You come from a place of power when you feel that something is wrong and you don’t cave to your fears out of desperation. You will thank yourself when a better opportunity comes your way and you’re free to take it.
Keep writing and learning because it you stop you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.
Copyright 2016 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.
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