Last week, I wrote an article highlighting when the time is right to hire a ghostwriter (screenplay, mostly) and what to consider during that process.
Today, I’m going to address when you SHOULDN’T hire a ghostwriter- or even consider it (for the sake of this discussion, a “ghostwriter” and “screenwriter-for-hire” will be considered one in the same). Why would I do that, considering that I AM a screenwriter by trade? Because if you consider these points first, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, money, grief, ill will, and protect your personal. So, for the sake of all things holy, do NOT consider hiring a screenwriter until you’ve done and thought about these things first:
1) Please do NOT shop screenwriters to write your “movie idea” that you haven’t thought through.
Calling us and saying “I want to hire you to write a movie about my life” is fine, but when we ask about your life and what makes it so special, we cannot spend the next six weeks interviewing you, your family, your childhood friends, your teachers, and an old lover you met on a six-month hitchhiking tour of Europe in 1978. I mean, we CAN, but it’s going to cost you. A lot.
2) Please do not commit to an agreement with money you do not have.
It is not our place to “ask” if you have the funds, or where the funds are coming from; that’s none of our business. There is a certain amount of assuming that has to take place- we ASSUME you have the money or you wouldn’t be committing to the project. Most screenwriters (me included) ask for 50% of the total price as a down payment. This is standard in the industry. If you do not have the down payment, the conversation basically stops- “Call me back when you’re ready to pull the trigger on this project!” Once you verbally agree to do the project, a written contract goes out outlining all of the nuances of the agreement- cost, dates, end product, post-project involvement, etc. As the screenwriter, my involvement in that project begins immediately. I am thinking of the story, conducting any research that is necessary, outlining characters, potential plot points, titles, even a comparative analysis of the particular genre in the industry, as well as lining up potential clients to read the screenplay at its conclusion. Most of this is done within the first 48 hours of the verbal commitment. We are also adjusting our schedules, blocking out the 12-16 weeks to complete this project. That MAY mean cancelling family trips, vacations, re-arranging child care, putting off medical procedures, whatever the case may be. YOUR project takes 100% precedent in OUR lives at that point.
3) Please do your DUE DILIGENCE FIRST.
This goes both ways, actually- for the writer AND the client. You have to find out with whom you are dealing, if you do not know this person personally, and most times, we do not. A Google search will give you some basic things, and you can drill down from there. If you’ve had a good relationship with the person up to the point where you are seriously considering on hiring them for this project, THEN find some questionable history about them- ask them. Either they have an explanation or they don’t. Either you accept that explanation or you won’t. I’ve had clients that were real bad hombres- ex-cons with murder rap sheets and such- but that was generally why we were talking in the first place. We were discussing this past life in terms of a movie screenplay, etc. so it wasn’t too much of a shock. If my client has a history of check kiting, I’m probably NOT going to be accepting checks from them for payment- or at least waiting until they clear before spending any time.
4) Please BE REASONABLE in your expectations.
You are NOT going to get a W.G.A. writer for $1500, but neither should you pay $85,000 to a screenwriter who has but only two shorts to their credit list.
Also, do NOT expect a 100-page professionally-written, final draft screenplay, in five days. You’re probably not Steven Spielberg…and neither are we.
5) Please realize that WE ARE THE PROFESSIONALS.
Chances are you’ll be hiring a writer with some background and history of success. This didn’t happen overnight, or by chance. For some of us, this IS our livelihood and how we put food on our table. We’ve studied and worked on the craft for years. WE know what we’re doing. You (the client) have probably only seen movies as a paying customer. We’ll listen to you, and do our best to satisfy each and every request, but sometimes YOUR ideas are not always the best ideas. IF you really want to give a screenplay a fighting chance of doing well in a competition or at a film festival, or be considered for an option or sale, its best you allow US the final decision on some of the more important aspects. Creatively, this is your project, and we’ll do our best to see your vision through, but know when to yield for the sake of the project. At the same time, you do not want the hired screenwriter to take your idea and change it in such a way it no longer resembles what you were originally paying for.
In the end- believe it or not- we want to see your project be successful as much- or more so- than our own work. There is a sense of pride when writing for someone else. It doesn’t matter if our name is on the title page. Just knowing I wrote your screenplay that went on to win these three contests, and was read by forty producers until one chose to pay you to option it, is why we write in the first place. The screenwriter and the client are partners throughout the process and, if done well and they work together well, the project has a much higher chance of being successful.