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Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

I’ve agreed to write a script for a producer, but he’s always looking over my shoulder and I don’t like it.  I don’t even want to finish it because he’s so hard to work with.  Do you have any advice, DcH?

Harold J. from Michigan

This week's Answer: 

Money Up Front, Producer Over Shoulder

Yes, Harold.  The answer to your problem is simple.  Just fling your hand over your shoulder while crying out “Eureka!”, thereby bopping him in the head.  When the producer gets up from the floor, apologize profusely, mumbling something about a war wound and an automatic reflex.  That should do it.

Harold, I appreciate your question because it definitely merits an answer that hopefully could be helpful to other scribes who are in your same position.  (I don’t mean your exact same position.  I mean... you could be sitting or standing or crouching -- which reminds me of that famous film, “Crouching Writer, Hidden Agent.”)

In the long run, all of us screenwriters are writing for money.  (Well, there actually could be exceptions.  Some screenwriter could spend a year on a piece de resistance script; a producer could fall in love with it and offer him or her 500,000 to 1,000,000 dollars, and the noble screenwriter could gallantly push the check away, declaring that he or she wrote the script for principle, not money and wouldn’t touch a single dollar because it would soil his or her artistic integrity.  Don’t look at me like that.  It could happen.... On another planet.... In another galaxy.... Far, far away.)  But I understand your situation.

Chances are your muse is not amused.  Writers usually like to write from within, not without.  (But, then again, if all they want to do is write, they’re going to need to make that beloved occupation a beloved vocation or they will be “without” eventually and need to find another vocation in order to shelter and feed themselves and pay for the paper that their work will need to eventually end up on.)  At first, it can be exciting to be contracted to write a screenplay.  But once, as B.B. King so aptly puts it, the “thrill is gone,” and you have a producer patron who is involved with creative choices in your script (“It’s mine, I tell you, all mine!” ((shouted like Dr. Frankenstein in the classic old film))  Actually, it isn’t.  And never will be.  Oh, sure, you should be able to recognize your own writing by the time it hits the big screen.  But don’t count on it.), you have a kind of second job, and that is, along with writing your magnificent, heartfelt, and involving opus, to get along with him, even as he fires notes at you left and right, mentioning how he likes this, but he doesn’t like that.  Or likes that, but can’t stand this.  “And if you could just change the scene in the cemetery to a beach with some hot babes.  Don’t forget the chase scene, the “essential” sex scene, and the – on second thought, let’s have the babes chasing each other in a cemetery.  And leave some room for a killer “babes chasing each other in a cemetery” song.  That’s the ticket.  Now get that in your script and I’ll call you in the morning with more notes.”  (Hey, don’t look at me.  You took the job.)  Somehow, if you’re going to get through this kind of  writer-answers-to-the-producer situation (with some of your hair still in your head), you’re going to have to find a way to work with him.  Period.  

By all means, cherish every feeling, every thought, every vision of you hunting the producer down and taking him out of your misery.  Process it all.  Fill five or six journals; tape record yourself raging at him; tell all your friends how much you despise how he is trampling on your sacred artist’s ground.  But you’re still going to have to work with him.  If your name is on that contract and you want to stick to your agreement, you must find a way to blend your creativity with his opinion.  Think of it this way, as soon as you accept a contracted writing assignment, as much as you may be thinking words like “I’m in the money” and “finally getting paid to write a screenplay,” I suggest that you, instead, immediately think the word, “compromise.” 

The challenge here stems from the fact that the producer is not a collaborator (most likely).  You’re the writer; he or she’s the critic, editor, and God-knows-what-else rolled into one wonderful person.  He’s also the purse strings holder.  Like it or not, your job is to manifest a script that will please him.  Make no mistake about it:  it takes considerable flexibility, stamina, and poise.  (Sounds like a yoga class, doesn’t it?  Maybe you should take up the practice in order to stay as calm and relaxed as possible for when you get that next morning’s call, being told that the producer slept on it and now thinks the movie would “sizzle” much more if the babes were from another planet.  “That’s it!  I’ve got the new title:  “Babes From Another Planet!”)

And you’re off and running on your next day as a paid screenwriter.  Isn’t Hollywood grand?!


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