I've heard many a screenwriter complain about having to execute multiple rewrites on their screenplays for producers. No, I’m not referring to screenplays that are in development or pre-production…I’m talking about situations where a “producer” has merely expressed some interest in the screenplay and sets the poor writer off on a mission to make improvements.
By the way, did you notice how quote marks were around the word producer? Well, that’s because there are hordes of people who go around town claiming to be one. Very few of them actually are. Sure, maybe their intentions are good, and maybe they’re sincere when they tell you they have plans to put your written vision on a movie (or TV) screen, but intentions don’t pay the bills, folks. So, let’s say you have a script, and this producer “loves” it (they all tell you they love it), but it just needs a bit more rewriting. Being the eager fella (or gal) that you are, you readily accept their notes and ideas, and you sit down to rewrite your script.
So, you’re doing all this rewrite work (making changes you may or may not totally agree with) for no pay and no promise of actually getting the script into production. Not the greatest situation to be in, but hey, at least someone has taken interest in your script! But just who is this guy who “loves” your script? Has he produced anything previously? Does he have any kind of track record? Is he fresh out of film school? If I may paraphrase Paul Newman from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid…WHO IS THIS GUY?
Chances are, Mr. Producer has a dozen other scripts (and a dozen other writers) in “various stages of development.” He’s hoping that maybe – maybe – one of those scripts will be his foray into a production deal. But if he’s actually lucky enough to get a script off the ground, will it be your script, or will it be one of the other eleven? Sorry, I can’t tell ya that, but hey, at least you’re in the running…and that’s not such a terrible place to be.
OK, now, the big question: Is this producer paying you for these rewrites? I’d be willing to bet he’s not. Has he even signed an option agreement with you and shelled out some halfway decent option cash? Again, I’d be willing to bet he hasn’t.
Speaking of options…do your best NOT to accept the infamous dollar option deal. What’s a dollar option deal? This is when your producer says, “I’m pretty confident I can get your script produced, and I’d like to option it, but I can only pay you a token amount. Let’s sign a one-year option agreement," then he'll cut you a check for a dollar to make it legal. Actually, if you’re lucky, you might get five or ten bucks. At least with that you can buy a cup of coffee at your favorite Coffee Bean. But the “dollar option” offer should raise a yellow flag. Look, you’re being asked to tie up your script for six months, or a year, or longer. If your producer is legit, and if he has faith in your script, then he shouldn’t have a problem putting a few dollars in your pocket.
How much is “a few dollars”? A hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? A few grand? Well, it all kinda depends on how serious you both are. Point is, if Mr. Producer stuffs some cash in your jeans, you know he’s at least halfway serious about his intentions.
And don’t fall for the “I’m your buddy” song-and-dance routine. Sure, these producers think you’re absolutely the bees knees (did I just write that?) when they’re trying to peddle your script around town, but once that option expires, once they’ve failed at getting your script off the ground, chances are really good they won’t even respond to your e-mails. OK, fine, then forget about ‘em. After all, it’s Show Biz, Jake. As a wise Hollywood insider once told me, “There are no friendships in this town, only business relationships.” I think 99.8% of the time that’s absolutely true.
So tread carefully, dear screenwriter, cuz there be sharks in them there waters. Sharks that bite.