My Answer to an Online Question about Screenwriting
Charlie Frazier, a Screenwriter on Facebook asks me:
I'd like to advance a script that I've written. I have one that has already attracted a director who loves the script and has worked with an A list actor who we both agree would be perfect for one of the lead roles. How should I proceed?
Charlie, because I don’t know any other details than what you share with me in your question, the content of my response is general rather than any specific advice. I still hope my answer will contain some useful information.
Here are the First Five Things you should consider as you Proceed…
1 ) If you have an Agent and/or Manager and/or Lawyer get their advice.
If you’ve done the above… great!
But perhaps at the moment this is not an option. You should use the interest in your project to get an agent/and/or manager /and/or lawyer.
2) Evaluate your expectations for the project.
Write the answers down to this point so you can remind yourself what you were thinking when the process of setting up your project began. The process of getting a script professionally produced takes a long time, even under the best of circumstances. It’s easy to lose your compass along the way.
Hopefully, you can play the “long game” and not make any decisions that come from a place of… Fear. Fear that if you don’t jump all over the situation being offered you will miss out.
Fear that if you don’t give in to everything that other parties ask of you, you’ll be making a mistake.
Fear as a source that drives any decision that overrides common sense, and smart long-term thinking.
The number-one reason screenwriters make bad decisions is because there is an emotional desperation to get to the next step in the process. Always be aware that one step forward, may wind up being several steps backwards if the move isn't smart.
3) Check out the Director who has shown interest in your project.
Check him/her out in big way, as if the person is someone about to take over your house while you leave the country for several months.
You especially want to know these major things –
3a What the entertainment industry (production companies / studios / producers) thinks of the talent and marketability of the director’s work?
Who represents the director (agent/manager/lawyer)?
3b What is the perception among talent and craft artisans that have previously worked with the director?
3c What are the creative thoughts the director has about your project?
Many writers may ask why 3c isn’t more important than 3a and 3b. There are at least two important reasons why your main concern should not be on 3c.
When a director can’t get your project made because no one believes in his/her talent and/or capabilities as a filmmaker this person is valueless as an asset when trying to set up your project with financiers, studios, production companies, a producer, or an actor. This is true even when you and the director feel like creative blood brothers about your project.
Secondly, in many ways seeking a perfect artistic match should not be the measuring stick for proceeding forward. This negates the inherent strength that often lies behind many great filmmaking ventures -- a gathering of singular, but different talents with the goal of creating something greater when working in unison. A director may see your script differently than what you originally intended, and that could be a good thing. Different could be better, something many writers are unable to see clearly because of their myopic vision concerning their own work.
4) Check out the Actor who is interested in working with the director on the project.
Follow through on points 3a, 3b above.
People often assume that an “A” list actor can get almost any project produced, and of course that’s not true.
The less obvious point is this – Certain “B” List actors can get a greenlight on a certain type of project as long as it falls in a specific budget and genre. It's complicated.
This is why anyone thinking about attaching an “A” List Actor definitely needs to check out if the performer actually brings added cache to your project’s package.
And the above question is also what you would be asking yourself about the director as well – Is the director a real asset to a package that includes your script?
5) Think about the Best Terms for a written agreement (“Best Terms” defined as “Reasonable and Customary” in regard to the other party you are dealing with, but the specifics and overall consideration of any agreement to be in your “Best Interests”) that would allow your project to be taken off the market if you were to go ahead and allow the director to become attached to your project.
For instance, if you felt like the director was a value to your script, and his connection to the “A” list actor was potentially worth exploring, then work out an option agreement concerning your script that allows the director to explore the “A” list possibility.
But don’t think about working out any agreement if there are major red flags in carrying out the due diligence concerning points three and four.
You would be wasting everyone’s time.
And you would potentially also cause your project to become compromised by going down an avenue that proves to be a waste of time because you haven’t squared away the issues in point number two.
The number two reason screenwriters make bad business decisions is because they think with their heart rather than with their head. Don’t ignore the red flags. You won’t be sorry in the long run for choosing reason over misguided hope.