Scriptwriter for Hire
By AZ Yeamen
Considering all the paperwork is in order and the lawyers are happy, you're ready. You have a commissioned writing assignment, you gave a modest 6-week deadline, now you write? Yes and no.
“Eventually, structure supersedes the desires of an idea.”
Veteran writers know that every assignment is just like the first day on a job; you need lend more to your two eyes than to one mouth. Listen to your client, what is said and what is not said. The worst thing you can do is assume you know what they're trying to say with an idea. The writer has to know the messaging behind the story. Why at this time in their life do they (the producer) want to communicate this particular story? Maybe that saw a series and thought I loved it, now I want to write my own. This reason ain't going to go well. Dig deeper. Creatives are a passion group so chances are the series or film resonated with them because of a deeper reason. And like an investigative journalists you have to find out why.
Investigate the client's reasoning.
And here's when they may squirm a little. You're going to start asking questions like, why did the film pique your interest? What was it about the main character that made you gravitate towards them? Have there been any other films that you have a similar feeling about? Oh boy, they did not expect a therapy session, but this is required for the next step: the Synopsis.
Write a synopsis. Yep, on the spot.
Have you ever heard the saying, "fail often and early"? Okay, you want them to know that you know you've heard them. The writing version of: "So, what I heard you say is..." That is what an on-the-spot synopsis is like. Details are good, but not important. You need to understand the main character and the story arc. Sort of like a math problem; (PRODUCER'S IDEA + RESONANCE + CHARACTER TRAITS) x GOAL = SPOT SYNOPSIS. You can give this verbally or written depending on the circumstances. Quick and dirty, 250 words or less. You'll need to agree on the direction of the assignment before you tackle the outline.
Different writers have different processes on how they approach a script. However, when you're on commissioned work for the first time, you have to execute an outline for your own protection. An outline is the plan for how the script will be built. You and the producer need to agree on your approach and execution of the story. You most likely deviate from it once you start writing, however, you'll document and update your client on deviations. If the changes are small in detail, scene location, character motivations, those aren't a big deal, you will update them on the change during your weekly progress emails. We'll get to those later. Other major changes will required a recorded conference call. C.Y.A. is imperative here. Outlines are extended beat sheets you can use the B17 method.
First 5 pages.
Within 24-48 hours of receiving an assignment send the client the first five pages. Why? Because of the adage: fail often and early. You need to know if you are executing in the tone they anticipated. If not, you and the producer can discuss what elements worked and which need to be fleshed out.
25 percent updates.
Professionals treat assignments as a job with a deadline. You are a professional, correct? Therefore, you need to send the client weekly progress "reports." Professional writers under promise and over deliver, therefore, your six-week deadline is really four weeks. What that means is you're working on the script each workday. For instance, for a 100-page screenplay, at 25% installments, your weekly goal is 25 pages per week, 5 pages per day with one editing day. Monday - Friday writing days, Saturdays live day (break), Sunday edit day. After a day off from the screenplay, lend Sunday to edits, then review on paper or on your phone, something other than the tool you've been writing in, now send on Monday morning. The earlier the better, preferably before 8 am. Following this order of business keeps your producer happy, on track, and managed. You are laying the groundwork for professional interactions, in turn, (most of the time) producers will respond in kind. With respect to your time and the project.
The second most important part of being a professional is proper payment for proper work. You deserve to be paid for your work, provided you've followed the above steps. The steps are key to continuous buy-in with the client, and as the young people say, they provide receipts for the work you've done. Along with the Monday script installment, you also want to use an invoicing tool to request a 25% payment. Monday invoice, Wednesday deposit. If you and the producer are on the same page after each 25 percent update, then there should be no issue with the quality of work and payment. Rewrites should be minimal and you can move on to your next assignment.
Closing out the assignment.
Okay, that went well. Great, now send a closing email with a zeroed-out invoice, the obligatory "thank yous" and joys of working with them, then ASK FOR A GOOGLE COMMENT. You need credibility, ask the client for a quick testimony on your work and professionalism. You'll surely receive a referral for additional work.