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Writing Screenplays for Free

May 20th, 2009 · 3 Comments · Screenwriter Chat


By Gullible Gus

Am I a gullible sap for writing screenplays for free?

More than once (three times, actually) I’ve worked with production companies who were interested in my screenplays. Each time (well at least the first two – still in the process on the third) I’ve spent months rewriting, polishing and tweaking before I could even get the companies to commit to an option – for pennies I might add.

Many aspiring writers have the idea that once a production company expresses an interest in their screenplay, it’s all glory. They’ll pay you a chunk of cash for the option or outright purchase, then pay you for a rewrite, and then pay you some more for a polish. The reality is, at least for me, that doesn’t happen. Now granted, the companies I’ve worked with were smaller, but they did have some impressive projects under their belt.

I suspect the reality is, just like my spec screenplay, the film industry itself is a speculative business. Lots of sweat equity goes into projects in hopes of a payoff, by writers and producers. I can’t help but wonder though, if my time would be better invested seeking an agent rather than working directly with production companies.

I actually do enjoy working with producers. It’s exciting to have others geeked about my work, and they all seemed quite bright… just not bright enough to help me quit my day job.

I did get some press once in the Hollywood Reporter. They were at Cannes interviewing the production company I was working with at the time. The guys were gracious enough to mention me as a “hot new writer. “ I still have the framed printed edition in a box in the basement, somewhere. There were even rumors that HBO was looking for me after reading the article. They haven’t found me yet. I don’t understand – all they need to do is Google “Gullible Gus.”

For now, I guess I’ll just keep writing screenplays for free.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Linda

    Thank you, I appreciate your candor. Just starting out, trying to do something, reserverd, worried and unsure who I can trust. I am full of ideas and have many stories written. Just need to know where to start.

  • Gullible Gus

    Linda,

    There are lots of avenues to “Hollywood.” I have a friend whose wife babysat a popular actor. Now he’s working on a writing project for him. But ultimately it’s your storytelling that will get you noticed, and developing your craft will put you in the ballgame. Placing in a reputable screenplay contest got me some attention. But more importantly, it convinced me that I was pretty descent at writing and encouraged me to further develop the craft. After that, you’ll need to rely on your gut as far as who you can trust. The Internet does a good job at exposing people you probably don’t want to work with. I haven’t come across any crooks yet – maybe a little overzealous, or misguided, but no crooks.

    Don’t be afraid to simply “dive in.”

  • proscreenwriter

    Never, never, never, NEVER write a screenplay on hire for free. This is one of the main ways pseudo-producers exploit desperate, wannabe writers. If your writing is any good, it’s worth paying for. I guess you don’t really think it’s any good if you’re giving it away. Or else you really are that naive, that you believe you’re “getting somewhere” giving away your time to “producers” who are either *incapable* of paying you — and thus incapable of getting a movie made — or worse, *unwilling* to pay you.

    Those of us who consider this an actual job, and struggle to put food on the table doing it, really wish pseudo-producers would go away. Unfortunately, they won’t until the gullible stop playing their games.