Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Update on my first paying gig, eventually I hope

I didn't want to post about this because it reveals my foolishness, but then some dude on some other blog was like oooooh Emily Blake always tells us about her experiences and she's really honest and shit.

Screw you, nice guy.

Know how when you first write your very first screenplay and you think it's the best thing ever and you just kind of reread it and bask in its awesome and then you're like OKAY HOLLYWOOD HERE I COME! And you run around asking everybody how you get an agent because you heard the agent was the thing you had to have to get this baby out to Danny Boyle (You may say Spielberg, I say Danny Boyle) and the rest is fame and glory weeeeeeeeee!

For years now I've been past that stage, all giving out wisdom and shit, shaking my head at the cute new writers and remembering when I was ever so naive and thought the world would clamor for my attention if only I finished this first great script. Thank goodness I'm beyond that stage, right?

So here's what I learned from my project with the producers. It starts all over again.

Also, I am retarded. I learned that too. (Sorry, Sarah Palin.)

My manager sent me to a meeting. I rocked the meeting. The producers didn't take any pitches from me, but they threw a bunch of ideas my way to see what I connected with. At first I thought I had to agree to everything, but after a few suggestions I realized I could say no to some ideas if I wanted. In fact I was offered the opportunity to pitch a rewrite on one of my very favorite shows of all time, but it is not anywhere near my comfort zone genre wise, so I turned it down. I would have betrayed a great show by attempting it, so I leave it to more appropriate heads than my own.

I'll tell you one thing I did learn at this meeting. BE YOURSELF, although Myself is awesome I didn't have to try too hard. Okay so I've only had one meeting, but I did very well at that meeting so I feel like this is totally sound advice. I'm ready for other meetings. Bring that shit on.

I have a slight advantage, though. My day to day activities involve standing in front of teenagers and keeping their attention long enough to explain dramatic irony and whatnot. Talking to people about movies in a comfy chair, not too hard after that.

Anyhow, the producers threw an idea at me that I resonated with and they were like "Okay! Let's do it!"

This is what I heard laced between those words: "We believe in you so much that we want you to go off and write a treatment for WGA minimum and then we'll hire you to write the script for more money and then we'll take it to the company we have a deal with and then you're gonna get another job and OMG you'll be awesome as hell! WEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

This is what they heard implied in those words: "So go write a treatment, and we'll give you some notes and then see what happens."

I wrote my treatment. Now I'm waiting for notes. This isn't a dead end project or anything; these producers are the real deal and they do have a freaking awesome office and a deal with a studio. But what I realized is that I have to prove myself. First I had to prove myself worthy of a rep, then of a meeting, now of a project. Constant proof. Constant feelings of inadequacy.

Pro writers told me this, but I was so focused on getting the rep that I missed that part of the story. I had to learn the hard way.

I'm not worried. I'm still on the right path, I'm just not going to be rushing in guns blazing any time soon. This is the slow and steady path.


  1. You totally got offered the Buffy remake, didn't you?

  2. Lol. No way man. I'd have been all up on that one.

  3. Anonymous10:38 PM

    You know, I've had a taste of the whole "notes and notes" thing and, I gotta admit, it pisses me off. Big time.

    Unless your treatment or script needs a wall-to-wall rewrite it seems to me like something is rotten in Denmark (I mean Hollywood)at the moment. Would any publishing house in the world wait until a manuscript was ready to go to the printers before coughing up a dime for it?

    Not on your life. Yet producers in Hollywood expect a whole lot of off-the-clock work without any guarantee of an actual pay check. Never mind questions of morality - is such a practice even LEGAL?

    Look, I know times are tough, movies are incredibly expensive to make and show business is a competitive business. Still, I have to call bullshit.

    It's time for writers with some money and power attached to their names to start speaking up. Fast.

  4. Anonymous6:48 AM

    Good for you Emily.
    You are everywhere.
    What's next? Do you network heavily the INDY market?
    Where can we read some of your scripts or loglines.

  5. Anonymous7:00 AM

    Are you up to write an epic Disney like script about cats?
    Is that your dream project?
    I'm just starting one.
    Is there a market for that?

  6. I debated on posting because I think I've posted three times on your blog and this is my second blunt/parade raining post. It's just that the "their idea" part of it made me type.

    What you described is a practice I always referred to as "farming". Meaning the production company has a few dozen neophyte screenwriters (meaning no WGA card and no bonded agent) churning out treatments for ten of their ideas. They give you notes, you get it perfect and they still say something like "not right now" or "we've lost funding" and then they give the treatment to another more established screenwriter to churn out the script in a week. If the movie gets made they know you won't sue because you don't have their legal team and you don't want to ruin your career.

    Why do this? It's the "deal with a studio" that you mentioned. To keep that deal, especially now when sales are slow, they have to have large quantities of their branded material in play. And they're not going to pay the established screenwriter for the treatment drafts to get the story where they want it. Check Variety or the Hollywood Reporter or any place with sales and production information and see what the buying and packaging patterns are for the production company. Spec buys, book adaptations, a series of announced scripts with the same 3-5 writers always attached? Any sign of any new non-WGA writers making sales?

    I hope I'm completely wrong and next week they cut you a check. It's hard because you've got that rah-rah manager thing where he tells you that even though you're working for free you're developing "a relationship" with the company. My experience has pretty much always been if you establish the relationship where you work for free you always have that relationship.

  7. Archie, part of me thinks this may be a wetting of my feet scenario where my manager is sending me out to projects I can't screw up to see how I do before she invests too much time. So my mission here is, pay, farm, whatever, I'll do the best job I can so I prove my awesomeness. I have limits on what I'll do for free, but a couple of pro writers have told me they do this all the time, and sometimes it's better to just do the treatment in good faith. Shitty system? Yeah. But it's our only system, just like Anonymous #1 said.

    I was pretty disappointed when I found out I was writing for free, but I trust my rep. She's had a hand in several successful careers.

  8. Anonymous #2, I do not plan to write anything about cats. My scripts generally include fistfights and explosions. Is there a market for that? There's a market for anything if it's awesome enough.

    As for the Indy market, the scripts I've got right now are too expensive for that, unfortunately.

    Email me if you want to read anything.

  9. you are gonna do awesome, Emily. I am so excited for you and look forward to hearing what's up with the project.

  10. Anonymous10:04 AM

    Thanks for your reply Emily Blake!
    Question, is your action screenwriting style similar to the school of Mark Nevelidine and Brian Taylor (of Crank I fame), or more like the lean and mean style of Bill Martell. And would like to know your opinion of the screenwriting of Guy Ritchie? I think he has a Zombie script and few comic book adaptations in development. By the way your blog is very prolific compared to others. Impressive and very entertaining!

  11. I have no idea what my style is. It's not Matrixy, I know that, but I think someone else would be better equipped to say what it is. I just write.

    I've never read any of Guy Ritchie's scripts, but I like his aesthetic and his pacing onscreen. Snatch was terrific.

  12. Emily, I fear I may the "nice guy" you mentioned. Damn me all to hell!


    This is probably the last thing you want to hear after a post like that but... thank you so much for that. It's this part of the biz that seldom gets talked about. Why? 'Cause it ain't so fun to talk about!

    But it IS important for us all to hear.

    That being said, I'd say you've got the right zen approach going here. Every phase is both a MAJOR STEP and a baby step. You're fostering a career. It's not always pretty (sometimes it NEVER is) but, ultimately, it CAN work.

    Oh and I've been writing and "marketing" to the indie realm for a cool decade. It's no different other than folks return your calls and emails faster because they're as bored and terrified and lonely as you are. And instead of meeting in posh offices you tend to meet in trashy burger joints.

    Once again, great post!

    (Shit. I was nice again. I'll work on it...)

  13. Anonymous11:10 AM

    I'm sure you already know this but... you kick ass.

    So glad you're here giving an honest play-by-play. Isn't it "slow and steady wins" or some crap like that? You're getting there. It's that perseverance thing.

    Where am I? Lightyears behind you, my friend.

    My first two screenplays are perfect for outdoor summer activities such as providing kindling for a weenie roast say, or the pages can be fashioned together into an umbrella to stave off those nasty UV rays.

    Awesome post... thanks again!

  14. Oh man, haven't we all been there.

  15. "...but I trust my rep." That's what you need!! If you can't trust anyone, it's gonna be tough.

    You always hear/read about the 'getting screwed' part of hollywood. So just hope you have a rep you can trust and plenty of lube... then you're set!

    I've given myself a 3 month deadline before I dive into the "looking for representation" group (okay maybe 4 with the World Cup on). But thanks for these posts, an inspiration to all!

  16. Anonymous7:36 PM


    Not true. No pro screenwriters are handed newbie outlines.

    Here's what you're in, Emily. If they like your treatment, they won't pay you. They'll ask you to write a script for free. And then give you notes and make you rewrite, over and over. And then if they love it, they'll try to sell it.

    Or they'll abandon you at some point during the process and move on to another writer who'll write it for free. It's their idea, after all, and since you're not being paid and there's no contract, you have no protection.

  17. Anonymous I do know enough to know that's not going to happen.

  18. Anonymous8:49 PM

    Hope I'm wrong, just laying out what I've seen.

  19. Anonymous4:49 AM

    If they like your treatment, they won't pay you. They'll ask you to write a script for free. And then give you notes and make you rewrite, over and over. And then if they love it, they'll try to sell it.

    Or they'll abandon you at some point during the process and move on to another writer who'll write it for free. It's their idea, after all, and since you're not being paid and there's no contract, you have no protection.

    That is exactly correct.

    When you get notes on your treatment, I hope for you they're going to say "Awesome, here's 40k and a houseboat, go write it." But I'll put money on them asking you - if they do like the treatment - to do a draft on spec.

    This crap is endemic. I'm pretty sure it's happened to everyone. Most recently, it happened to me with a legit producer with a studio deal. And no, I didn't write the spec.

    My best advice: keep writing specs. Don't put your eggs in the basket of some producer, those projects basically never go anywhere. And watch out for the phrases "We're looking for a writer who wants to develop this with us" and "Young and hungry"="We have no intention of paying you, ever."

    signed, not the same Anon, just someone who's been there.

  20. I appreciate the advice. I've heard that a few times, but I've also heard several examples of this kind of thing leading to a real deal. Like I said, I trust my rep, so I'll wait and see what everybody does.

    But I don't plan to write a script on spec from someone else's idea.

  21. Anonymous11:40 AM

    There are about five producers left in town with discretionary funds. I don't think they're going to pay you for the treatment. Have your rep check, but I'd bet free draft is next request.

  22. You're a really UP person, huh.

  23. Anonymous2:09 PM

    I am telling you, realistically, that there is probably not a paycheck for you even if they eventually like your treatment. That the next step will be more work for no money.

    You can accuse me of being negative, or you can have your manager find out what the real situation is and save yourself more free work.

    I'm trying to be helpful. I'm sorry if that seems down.

    Ask your pro screenwriter friends who gave you advice before whether this is right or wrong.

  24. I appreciate your intention. What I'm trying to tell you is that I do get advice from great sources and I have a rep who is on it. I'm not going to assume anything, either negative or positive, until I have all the facts of the situation.

  25. Anonymous11:47 AM

    I have been through this process already. I wrote draft after draft of a script for a legitimate producer who sold a bunch of scripts in the past and has two films in development. Yes, I did a lot of work for free, but I learned an enormous amount from this guy about how things are done in the "real world of Hollywood" as opposed to what you may learn in screenwriting classes, writer's groups, etc. If the producers you are working for can do the same for you, I would recommend doing what they say and looking at it as gaining some valuable information. As for the status of the project I was working on that producer, it is still unfinished. I am working on other projects right now -- independent of this producer -- but I hope to get back to that project some time -- the producer still thinks it's marketable and calls me from time to time to get me back to working on that project. Even though I didn't make a sale with that script -- and who knows, maybe one day I will -- what I learned in working with this producer has really helped my writing.


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