ASK “THE SCRIPT MENTOR” No. 6 – COST TO HIRE A SCREENWRITER; CONTESTS, ETC.

questions2Q. I’m thinking about hiring a ghostwriter, and I was referred to you and The Script Mentor services. Can you tell me what a ghostwriting assignment might cost, in general?

A. I’m flattered that your friend was kind enough to refer you to us. I’d love to thank them personally. Regarding ghostwriting, it is something that I’ve done, and have arranged for other writers to do. I boast a network that exceeds 20K entertainment-related people, many of whom are writers of various talent levels. In the last month alone, I’ve arranged three such assignments, and the price/cost varies from case to case.

When you are hiring a ghostwriter, you must understand two things:

1) It will generally cost more because the writer is trading his or her writing credits for pay. While the general writing assignment may run anywhere from $500- $5,000 – and higher – you can expect to double that for not giving the writing credit and having it a ghost assignment.

2) The second thing is you get what you pay for. Rarely (although it DOES happen), you’ll get a very talented, experienced writer for the least amount of money. For example, I’ve completed ghost assignments for as little as $2500, though I recently completed a television writing assignment where I received $50,000 (1/2 down, half upon completion). That show will most likely get made by the production company who hired me.

The last two assignments where I found the best writer for the paying client were for $5000 and $1000, respectively. The $5K writer was one of those rare examples of a landing a great writer far below the writer’s market price, but did it somewhat as a favor to me. The $1K writer- someone who wrote one of the best spec screenplays I’ve read in years- had a lot of writing experience, but was getting back into the field after being away for a while.

I will do what I can for you, and thank you (and your friend) for allowing us to help you!


Q. Hi Geno! Do you think you can advise me about cost estimation to engage a writer, particularly for our “Animated Feature” project(s)? We are currently filling in our budget for those projects. There are the plans we have in mind:

  • Plan A: Script notes- We are developing the Script internally; planning to send out to someone to provide us the script notes. How do we estimate the cost from there? What is the cost range would be?
  • Plan B: Polish Up / Rewrite the script: We would like to engage someone experience to have a look on our Scripts and perhaps polish up from there. How do we estimate the cost from there? What is the range would be?
  • Plan C: Provide a treatment to the writer and the writer start writing script from there. How do we estimate the cost from there? What is the range would be?

We just came back May 2014 from Cannes Film Festival, where we had a booth in Marche Du Film. So what is your advice, based on above Plan A, B and C? No hurry at all, just share with me whenever you are available.

A. Thank you so much for allowing me to help you and your animation team with on your new animation project. As you know, I boast a network of over 20K entertainment-related people; many of whom seem to be writers of all levels. It includes professional writers currently working in all of the major studios and production houses to new writers writing their first scripts- and everyone in between! Just this year alone, I have assisted dozens of writers in getting new writing jobs. In fact, I just closed one last week- an adaptation of a client’s novel- that paid the writer $5,000 USD on a budgeted project of about $100,000.

Here in the United States, a truly professional writer and member of the Writer’s Guild (an industry union) is bound by certain laws that require the writer to make a certain amount per script. Studios use these writers, as money is no object to them generally. They can afford the $100,000 payday for a screenwriter. If you can as well, look no further. I’m your man! 😉

Realistically, though, it will depend on your production budget for the project, and what you’re willing to pay for the quality of the writing. As I said, my network spans the quality spectrum. But if you told me how much you think you can spend on the writer, I would make the effort on your behalf and secure you the best writer for that money, someone I know and trust and would stake my reputation on. This is a lot of work for me to do this, but I feel it is important, especially if my reputation is behind it, and I love to be involved in fellow professionals- like you- from around the globe.

Re: Script Notes– If you have a script in place and require script notes on structure, formatting, plot and story, there are literally thousands of writers who offer to do this. Even I do this. The prices range from nominal to off-the-charts expensive. I can arrange to get you very solid notes from a contact whom I strongly recommend for about $150- $300 USD. It wouldn’t be me, but someone I think is very talented. I would make nothing on that deal.

Downside: The problem, of course, is getting one person’s point of view on a one-time read. If you wanted to go back to that person for follow-up notes (let’s say certain changes were made), you would have to pay that fee again, and again. This may not be the best solution in your case- but only you can say.

Re: Script Polish/Rewrite – Again, the number of writers I know, including myself, who could accomplish this is high. Generally, you’re looking at $1500-$2500 USD for this process, or more if you require a writer with vast credits and experience. As an example, I was recently paid $10,000 USD for this type of assignment.

Re: Treatment for a New Script: This may be the best move for your project. You can steer the final outcome of the script with much more control. These agreements are done in several ways. Most of the time, the writer accepts the assignment and is paid 50% of the agreed-upon fee up front. They are given a certain amount of time (for example, 12 weeks) to produce a first draft. The client reviews it, and asks for certain changes. The agreement generally calls for ONE FREE rewrite, where the writer fixes the script to your liking. Prior to the time of the final delivery, the remaining portion of the payment is made. The WRITER will generally request screenwriting credits, to be acknowledged through IMdb, our professional database for credits. This is very important to us, as writers. You could expect to pay between$2500 for a very new writer with little professional experience, to $100,000 for a working professional- and everything in between. This year alone, I was paid $5,000 USD for a rewrite of someone else’s script, and ten times that much for a brand new feature script from a very high-level production house with 15 shows currently running on cable television.

Another option is by way of a GHOSTWRITING assignment. Everything is the same, except the writer doesn’t get writing credits. In fact, no one knows they were involved in the project. You or your producer/director may wish to claim THEY wrote the project, and in exchange for money, we would agree to this. Of course, this is more expensive because we are selling our rights as writers. You might expect to double the writer’s asking price; my last ghostwriting assignment paid $10,000.

Summary: Your projected budget for finding and hiring a screenwriter for this animation project is all dependent upon the overall budget of the project. You’ll want to target about 2-4% of the budget; the higher end for the more talented writer. I would welcome the opportunity to find and help you select the lucky writer for this project. As a producer, I do this all the time with production companies and have assisted in getting many, many writers some great gigs, while helping production companies get the perfect scripts for their projects.

I’m very good at it.

Thank you for reaching out to me on this project, and I hope we can work together very soon!


Q. I want to thank you and The Script Mentor team for their help and guidance in finding my recent success at the Hollywood Pitch Fest. I received quite a few compliments on the pitch. A veteran writer I know looked at my script and commented on how much “white” there was on the page!

I had several fresh script requests at Pitch fest for both of my scripts. I was able to get one of them in the hands of Silver Productions (Matrix, V for Vendetta), and two other companies that did “300” and “Twilight” respectively. Morgan Creek also took both. Millennium’s VP was there and seemed enthused by the script, saying “this is exactly what we do.” He was very happy to take the one sheet (which he complimented me on, thanks again for your guidance!)

Again, I just wanted to thank you so much. I spread your name and company to a few writers at the event so I hope they get in contact with you.

A. Wow, that’s some great feedback- both on your pitches as well as our service in helping you to this point. I certainly hope your pals from the pitch fest follow up with your suggestion and contact us. I expect big things from you going forward, as I always thought having the Gods of mythology come alive in the present was something very unique and intriguing as a concept.

Continued good luck going forward!


Q. My name is Frank, I am a screenwriter, and I have been immersed in film and television since a young child as a hobby. I’m looking to place my work in some legitimate contest. If you have any ideas please send them my way. Thank you for your time, I look forward to speaking with you again.

A. I absolutely, one hundred percent, endorse entering contests. My own success through these competitions is directly linked to me recently landing several paid writing assignments. One client specifically sought out contest winners, of which I was one. In my opinion, it’s the quickest way to get recognized, get compared to your writing peers, and to get your projects read by executives and produces, who often judge these contests at the higher levels. In return, should you do well in them, the contest organizers themselves promote you and your work. Who wouldn’t want to lay claim that Frank’s project got produced after having done well in their contest? That’s their number one goal!

That being said, I would STRONGLY encourage some steps PRIOR to entering any contests that costs money to enter. I list these steps in my blog at https://thescriptmentor.wordpress.com. Before you even enter ONE contest, though, you’ll need professional feedback. Friends and family are nice, but they’re never going to give you honest feedback, and it is doubtful they know anything about screenwriting. Contest writing (and reading and judging) is all about the numbers. With an average of 5,000 entries per any mid-level contests, how can it not be? Therefore you can do certain things to ASSURE your advancement to the Quarter Finals round and beyond. We believe so much in our system at The Script Mentor that we offer a 100% MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE on that very thing! If a member of TSM followed our philosophy, we guarantee you a high finish in any one of the 3500+ competitions going today. So, get you screenplay reviewed by at least three professionals beforehand. We can help with that if you need it. We offer a FREE first ten-page review, which should give you a good indication where you stand, writing-wise.

I write a lot more about contest tips; here are but a few:

1. Determine what your budget is going to be for the year. In 2013, mine was set at $500, because I felt I had a strong entry.

2. Sign up for Moviebytes.com. I’m a paid member (WinningScriptsPro) and it is a very helpful and informative site and service. They list most major contests, and offer ways to easily enter and track your entries.

3. Investigate each contest, including user reviews. User reviews are very enlightening, I assure you.

4. Determine what the prizes are and if that is what you are looking for. For me, money, recognition and exposure were my goals. I’m less concerned about table reads or free airfare to someone’s seminar in Cabazon, CA.

5. Calendar EARLY BIRD DEADLINES. You can save significantly if you enter early.

6. Spend any extra money on an occasional feedback. It might double the entry fee, or more, but in most cases, it is well worth it. My very first feedback, years ago, was from Script Pipeline (Script P.I.M.P. as it was known then). The script was awful, but the reviews made it sound like it had, and I had, potential. This was extremely important to me, because, like many others, I was feeling vulnerable when submitting my life’s dream- my first completed screenplay- up for ridicule. The feedback was spot-on, extremely informative, but more importantly, highly positive in tone. This was a major reason for my delving into another script, and another, and so on.

7. Read, accept and learn from the feedbacks, but do not dwell on them. Take the review to heart, because if it’s factually correct, it comes from a good place. Make an effort to make the improvements/corrections as pointed out in the feedback. Also understand not everyone is going to like it, and not everyone is going to hate it. Chances are that the reader probably knows a bit more than you, especially in the bigger, more prestigious contests.

8. Check out “Withoutabox”. This is a great little secret that everyone should be aware of. It makes sending scripts, tracking scripts, and paying for entry fees extremely easy and user-friendly. It’ll save you money to pay for $100 towards $120 worth of entry fees, as well. Cool site.

9. Read all of the contest rules. Some REQUIRE cover pages with info; some others PROHIBIT them. DO NOT get caught with your contact info anywhere on the script (including title page) or you’ll be disqualified.

10. Get confirmation on your entry, and save it.

11. Document your script entries. If you don’t use a contest entry program, create an Excel spreadsheet, and document script, contest name, date of submission, entry fee, costs for feedbacks, date of finals and any other pertinent information. By the way, contest entries with feedback are tax deductible as a business expense (refer to your tax professional for details).
Some of the more popular contests are as follows:

A. The Nicholl Fellowship (http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/index.html) is widely accepted as the premier screenwriting contest in the contest, and how can it not be? It is owned and operated by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the same people who bring us the Oscars each year. This is a career “game-changer”. The downside is that it is an International contest and will receive close to 7,000 entries. The odds are long, so unless you’ve received several “recommends” from various coverage companies, I’d think twice about entering, at least in the early stages of your career. Previous winning entries include “Arlington Road”, “Finding Forrester”, and “Akeelah and the Bee”.

B. Scriptapalooza– another international contest with a solid reputation, but probably half as many entries. Past winning entries include “L.A. Confidential”, “Dark Woods” and “The Break-Up Artist”. They offer substantial prize money, and include several levels of winning, as well as several different genres winners.

C. Story Pros– Now in its fifth season, they boast of having the same contest “grade”, provided by Creative Screenwriting Magazine, as The PAGE, Scriptapalooza, Slamdance and Warner Bros. They offer $30K in prizes, and have a unique system that gives you up to 16 chances to become a winner.

D. Script Pipeline (formerly Script P.I.M.P.)- another solid contest, which boasts 2010 winning entry “Snow White and The Huntsman”, released this year, as well as the 2008 winning script “Killing Season” which is to star Robert De Niro. Pipeline is entering their tenth contest season.

You can review all of these and more at http://www.moviebytes.com.

(In full disclosure, it should be noted that I’ve won contests B, C and D, so while it may be slightly biased, few would disagree with these contests as being good ones for your career).

If “The Script Mentor” can help you or your writing career any further, please don’t hesitate to ask. Good luck!


 If you have any screenwriting questions, don’t hesitate to contact The Script Mentor @ thescriptmentor@hotmail.com. You can also join our LinkedIn pages at “Script-To-Screen Network” and “FADE IN”.

For PAID screenwriting assignments and notices of script searches (WITHOUT having to pay for a subscription to a  newsletter), please join the “Script Assignments and Searches” LinkedIn group, as well as the Facebook page of the same name. Everyday, new paid writing assignments or script searches will be posted, with the links available to the original ad site.

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