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Old 02-13-2008, 07:10 PM   #1
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How much does a screenplay make?

I recently read a Peter Miller interview where he talked some about his hollywood business, representing screenplays. He mentioned how much more profitable screenplays are. That made me curious. How does the business look from the screenwriter's perspective? How much would a beginner make, does the movie have to be released, have to be successful, are there royalties, etc?
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Old 02-13-2008, 10:06 PM   #2
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I can only answer SOME of these questions, and only in part, because I am neither IN Hollywood at the moment, nor have I ever sold anything (yet). But I study the industry very intently so I'll give it a try.

First off, I see you're a newb. Welcome.

I also checked your (brief) posting history here at AW and found that you're more of a novelist than a screenwriter, with most of your posts in the sci-fi forum, so I guess you're just doing a curiosity stop here in this scriptwriting sub-forum rather than asking these questions on a need-to-know basis. That's fine.

Then you launched your question centering your focus upon the opinions of someone named Peter Miller.

Quote:
Originally Posted by hammerklavier View Post
I recently read a Peter Miller interview where he talked some about his hollywood business, representing screenplays.
I've no idea who he is, so I looked him up.

http://www.absolutewrite.com/novels/peter_miller.htm

He's a lit agent in Hollywood. (Okay. I didn't know that. Perhaps it's to my detriment that I didn't know. )

And then you added:

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Originally Posted by hammerklavier View Post
He mentioned how much more profitable screenplays are.
So now I need to ask: more profitable than what? More profitable than (say) representing a director? Or more profitable than books?

I'm going to assume from here onward that your comparison/contrast is to books. (Forgive me is I assumed wrong.)

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Originally Posted by hammerklavier View Post
That made me curious. How does the business look from the screenwriter's perspective?
The movie Biz looks tough. REAL tough. And writers are treated like crap in Hollywood, whereas in the book business, or even the New York/London (I'm focusing on the English-speaking world here) playwrighting business, writers are treated with respect. (Even television wrters are treated far better than feature film writers.) So if you're gonna write in Hollywood, you'd better want it more than you want ... respect.


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Originally Posted by hammerklavier View Post
How much would a beginner make
Depends.

Some scripts are optioned for as little as a dollar. (No lie. And far more common than you might think.)

"Guild Minimum" is in the low 6 digits (if you're lucky to get Guild minimum).

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Originally Posted by hammerklavier View Post
does the movie have to be released, have to be successful,
If the movie is never released (either theatrically or at a festival or on the internet or on DVD or on --say-- the Sci-Fi Channel of Lifetime Network, etc) it is incapable of making money. If the director or prodcuer leaves it sitting in his harddrive, there will never be one single nickel made by that film. And sadly LOTS of films never see the light of day.

But of course, this is all assuming that the movie actually gets finished in the first place.

--Hundreds of thousands of scripts get written every year.
--Only a minority of those get read by interested parties --such as production companies-- capable of financing them (the rest languish in wannabe-land)
--Only a minority of that minority that get read actually get optioned (the rest get trash-canned--something like 90% of all scripts lucky enough to get read are jettisoned as garbage)
--Only a minority of the optioned scripts actually enter into "development hell" while the rest sit "in the vault" and never see the light of day again (development is lengthy process capable of lasting months or even a year or longer when a room full of executives sit around and tell the writer how to rewrite the script to their liking -- this is where a lot of writers lose their integrities, lose their souls, lose their in minds, etc. -- a writer should feel very very lucky to enter into the soul-robbing and mind-breaking priviledge of development hell, where they must resign themselves to the advice: "abandon hope, all ye who enter here")
--Only SOME development efforts result in a committee-rewritten script that FINALLY gets a greenlight to shoot, the rest fizzle out into oblivion; but of those that DO result in an "acceptable" script, it usually required the production company to bring in another writer to replace the original writer (again--writers should feel lucky if a greenlight finally happens, even if it meant they had to get fired and another writer brought in to take their place)
--Only SOME movie productions actually even happen (once a greenlight is given, then pre-production process involves raising money, getting the cast, securing a crew, scaring up locations and equipment -- sometimes it never comes together and just gets abandoned)
--Only SOME produced movies find distribution of any sort (be it a festival or a sraight-to-DVD release -- the Holy Grail is theatrical release, but THAT is one tough trick to make happen!)
--Only SOME released films actually turn a profit (the general rule-of-thumb is you need to make back DOUBLE your production costs, so a $5 million dollar budget --mere penies by Hollywood standards-- means you need to make $10 million before you're in the black)

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are there royalties, etc?
We call them "residuals" but it's basically the same concept as royalties. And residuals were the primary thrust of the 3-month-long WGA strike that only just ended 12 hours ago (ended at twelve-oh-one AM this morning).







Getting back to your original question: are screenplays that much more profitable? (than ... books???)

I can't speak to the issue of book deals. I do know that every now and then, you read in the trade publications about how a script sold for three million or some such outrageously dream-fulfilling amount like that. And a Hollywood lit agent gets 10% of that (some situations allow for 20%). I do not know what a book sale will get an agent. So I guess it comes down to the math here.

Maybe there are other issues such as: up-front profits versus back-end profits that Peter Miller is weighing out here (I do now know what the comparison is with up-front book deals versus up-front screenplay deals). So maybe someone well-versed in both worlds should speak to that whole comparison/contrast situation.

From the standpoint of a lit agent, movies might very well be a far better deal. But from the standpoint of a writer, movies are a very deeply anguished proposition. But we do it anyhow. We love the art form. We are deeply jazzed at the idea of seeing our vision up on that screen one day. I wish I could remember the name of the guy (writer?director?producer?) who said it, but I read it in an interview about five years ago. He said: "The film industry SUCKS, but the art form is just amazing."
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Old 02-13-2008, 10:54 PM   #3
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Basic answer, anywhere from 0-probably roof at 5 million these days (Though it could be higher, who knows.)

It depends on your contract, it depends on the company, it depends on the budget. It's pointless to try and figure out how rich you'll be next year by going into script writing because most writers don't make any money at all because they can't sell anything.

Okay carry on.
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Old 02-13-2008, 11:20 PM   #4
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Thanks for your answers. But I was curious that an agent (who is going to be dealing with 'more sellable' scripts) would say the screenplays are more profitable than books (the other entity he represents).

This indicates that most screenplays get bigger 'advances' and bring in more 'royalties' (to use a couple book publishing terms) than do most books.
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Old 02-13-2008, 11:34 PM   #5
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The standard rate for literary agents is 15% of whatever the author gets--advance on royalties, future royalties--so the author gets 85%. Foreign rights typically get split between two agents, usually leaving the author with 80%. So if your screenplay number of 20% for the agent is correct, that would be a little better (for them!) than the usual 15% for the agent with books.
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Old 02-14-2008, 12:07 AM   #6
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Screenplays sold through agents typically get more upfront than books do.

Books commonly get between 2k-20k There are going to be books that get a lot more but they are rare.

Whereas screenplays sold through agents usually get bought at a much higher rate because agents are generally dealing with multi-million dollar budgets and studios that can handle it.

So yes, to put it simply, average screenplays can be more profitable than average books.
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Old 02-14-2008, 02:25 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hammerklavier View Post
I recently read a Peter Miller interview where he talked some about his hollywood business, representing screenplays. He mentioned how much more profitable screenplays are. That made me curious. How does the business look from the screenwriter's perspective? How much would a beginner make, does the movie have to be released, have to be successful, are there royalties, etc?
This is true, but it is only true in a sense.

What Peter is saying (and I get to call him that because he actually managed me for awhile a number of years ago -- by the way he's a manager, not an agent) -- is that the average *professional screenwriter* makes more money selling screenplays than the average *professional novelist* makes, selling novels.

For the average non-professional, sitting in a room somewhere, turning out unsold novels or screenplays, the monetary returns stacks up about the same -- double zero, double zero.

The reason that you should be in a room writing whatever you write is not because you hope to making a lot of money, but because it's what you want to be writing.

If your goal is to make money, there are many, many ways to do it that are much more likely to yield better returns than *either* writing novels or writing screenplays, both of which scan out at the low-probability end of money-making schemes.

As to what the business looks like, from the perspective of a writer, it really depends on how your career hits. First, you can end up as a TV writer or a feature writer. TV writing isn't as lucrative on the short scale -- that is, what you get paid per episode is on the order of mid-five figures for an hour-long. But there are residual payments with repeats that can add up to significantly more over the life of the episode -- and if one becomes a staff writer on a successful series, one can write many episodes.

For a feature writer, one can write "spec" sceenplays -- that is you simply write an original screenplay and try to sell it. Having done that, it may be optioned -- that is, you get a small fee up front and you don't get the full fee unless the project is set up -- that is, they get the financing for actually making the movie. Or they may buy the movie up front, if the demand for the project is high enough.

You can also pitch the idea for a movie, without having written it, in which case you then get paid for writing it in a "step deal" -- so much for a treatment (a kind of detailed outline), so much for the first draft, second draft, polish.

One can also be hired for an "assignment" -- to adapt something from some other medium -- a book, a real-life story, a play. Whatever. And a similar deal to the above. You get paid in steps -- outline, first, draft, revision, polish.

Most producers are guild signatories and have to pay guild minimum, which is, for any movie budgeted above five million dollars, thats $76,000 for the screenplay.

In principle, that's all that they'd have to pay, even if the movie cost a hundred million dollars, but in practice, big budget movies want top-ranked screenwriters, and those guys pull in million-dollar plus fees or higher.

As for "royalties" -- most contracts include what are known as "net points" -- that's a percentage of "producer's gross." These are traditionally known as "monkey points" -- because the definition of net profits as defined in these contracts are so byzantine that, by these definitions, even wildly successful movies never reach profitability by these definitions, and so they never pay off.

Rarely -- and I mean virtually never -- a writer might get "gross points" -- a share of the money that comes in at the box office, which is the kind of profit participation that big stars get. But that almost never happens.

What does happen, on occasion, is that there can be production bonuses -- apart from what you get paid just for writing the movie, you get an additional sum if the movie actually gets made (something which happens only about one time in ten). You can also get profit bonuses -- so that if the movie reports certain box office returns in some public way -- say in Variety, you get a bonus, up to a certain amount.

Beyond that, writers will also get paid a certain percentage for things like airing of the movie on network and cable, DVD sales, and now, thanks to a hundred day strike, releases on the internet.

Working as a screenwriter is a very different way of making a living from writing novels. Novelists, for the most part, depend on actual sales of their work to the public for their income. What money they make up front are advances against those sales.

The primary relationship is "public/novelist."

But that's not the case with screenwriters and the public. You go up to the average person on the street, it's unlikely that he will know the name of a single screenwriter or TV writer, unless that person also happens to be a director (and maybe not even then).

What a novelist writes, he owns. He licenses limited rights for a limited time to the publisher.

What a screenwriter writes, even a spec script, he does not license, but sells. The producer buys all rights, and thus has the right to do with the underlying material whatever he wishes, including demanding whatever changes he wants, bringing in new writers, completely altering the direction of the script -- whatever he wants. Then the director may be hired and change it all again (and the director may have his "favorite writer, who he brings along to rewrite whatever script he happens to be directing). Then the star, if he's big enough, may come in, and do it all again (and the star may have his "favorite writer" that he'll bring in to do the rewrites that he wants done to make the script over the way he wants it done).

And all of those writers? They all get paid. And chances are, on a major Hollywood movie, they're all getting paid six figure sums for their contribution, such as it is. And it sounds like a lot of money, but the fact is, on movies like this, they'll never be spending money more *slowly* than they are during this period *before* pre-production, even though they may be spending five or six million dollars over a couple years to develop the script.

Because once they go into pre-production, and then production, they're going to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a *day.*

It all seems remarkably wasteful -- millions spent on scripts that aren't made. Millions spent on drafts that aren't used.

And it is. It is an industry that is remarkably conservative -- which means that it is very risk averse.

If they don't have something to hang their hats on -- a director, a star, some piece of underlying material -- there's a kind of "critical mass comfort level" that needs to be achieved before a movie happens.

And a screenplay is just the very beginning of that process, like the seed pearl around which that "comfort mass" might conceivable begin to coalesce. Maybe that seed pearl will attract a director, and then attract a star and then attract foreign financing -- oops the star dropped out -- sorry comfort level gone. Bam -- project falls apart.

And that happens -- that things apart -- far more often than that it succeeds.

But without the seed pearls, without the scripts, they have nothing to build on. So we keep writing, they keep buying, and we all keep hoping.

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Old 02-14-2008, 03:15 AM   #8
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The standard rate for literary agents is 15% of whatever the author gets--advance on royalties, future royalties--so the author gets 85%. Foreign rights typically get split between two agents, usually leaving the author with 80%. So if your screenplay number of 20% for the agent is correct, that would be a little better (for them!) than the usual 15% for the agent with books.
Motion picture literary agents can only take 10% by law. Managers typically get 15%. Just wanted to clarify that.
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Old 02-14-2008, 04:32 AM   #9
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something else to bear in mind purely on a financial level, once your book stops selling, you stop earning royalties. you could receive a check for residuals forever (assuming someone somewhere is actually showing the movie your wrote and/or still selling DVDs or whatever format). if you ask me which one i'd rather be successful at (using being a 'mid-lister' as a reference point), purely on a monetary basis, i'd say screenwriting.

i mean, a single television script earns you 'only' five-digits? i don't know about anyone else, but the time factor alone makes this a by far better proposition.

if you get fifteen thousand for a book advance (and there's not like any real industry standard two people can agree on other than huge variances), most first-time authors don't 'earn out' that advance. obviously you'll not see any royalties from a book that doesn't cover the advance. maybe you'll get twenty thousand for your second book and see some royalties after that. you may do two decent books a year, three if you're prolific and not writing 150,000 word epics. maybe you can pop out three or four 'cozies' a year if you work hard at it.

if you belong to the WGA (writers guild of america), a position not given away but earned (although you can 'join' temporarily for a single sale unless i'm mistaken), the previous contract stipulated you'd get somewhere in the range of $34,000 for a movie script, and that's on the low side (someone correct me if i've got that figure wrong, but i don't think i do) and *if* you sell the script to a signatory (a production company that has accepted the terms and agreements of the WGA contract, which just about every major studio and production company belongs to (except lucasfilm, which, i've heard, takes care of their people very well anyway).

that doesn't mean you'll bang out ten scripts a year. just that starting out, hm, i'd have to opt for screenwriting still.

what about writing a novel or short story that's made in a movie? sweet! but you'll probably not be the one who writes the adaptation even if you did know how to write a script. it's not out of the question, just from what i understand you'd better not count on it. pay attention to the 'written by' credits in front of movies: assuming the writer isn't also the director, you'll probably see the author of the book is, at best, *one* of the writers.

from an artistic viewpoint, novels have it all over screenplays. even then you're likely to be asked by the publisher for revisions.

as far as 'fame' goes, what mid-list author do you know of that anyone has heard of or even cares about outside a select fan-base and some peer circles? the chances that you'll ever have a random encounter with anyone who's read one of your books is pretty slim. i'll say this ~ i'll bet a lot more people will have seen the movie you wrote than read the novel you did. granted, the latter will know who you actually are, but, still, if you're able to convince a random person you did either a novel or a movie script, both will elicit some amount of respect, don't you think? besides, if i'm not getting respect, free drinks, free dinners, or sex out of people knowing my name, who cares? is the ford dealership going to give me a better APR because i wrote a few books? probably not. so then this whole recognition thing has to do with promoting your professional status and the writer's ego being satisfied, i.e. having a lot to do with things the bible will warn you not to indulge in, such as pride and arrogance and 'thou shalt not have more than one trophy wife whilst knocketh sandals with your neighbour's daughter' (paraphrasing here).

here's my knee-jerk breakdown:

fame: novels

respect of your peers: hm, probably close to even, with a nod towards novels

money: screenwriting

the ability to convert your medium into a sleazy way of picking up chicks: screenwriting, baby

staying true to your 'art': novels.

self-satisfaction: probably novels on average. that's kind of tough to answer.

time invested: probably screenwriting. tough to call.

coolness factor: screenwriting.

ability to break into the business: that depends on you and your idea and ability. you're probably going to have to sell yourself a lot more in screenwriting than novels, so if you're anti-social to the max, that could be a problem. if you write a great novel or a great script, i'd have to say it'll get noticed by someone. eventually. somewhere. in some alternate universe if nothing else.

fame: novels.
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Old 02-14-2008, 05:10 AM   #10
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something else to bear in mind purely on a financial level, once your book stops selling, you stop earning royalties. you could receive a check for residuals forever (assuming someone somewhere is actually showing the movie your wrote and/or still selling DVDs or whatever format). if you ask me which one i'd rather be successful at (using being a 'mid-lister' as a reference point), purely on a monetary basis, i'd say screenwriting.

i mean, a single television script earns you 'only' five-digits? i don't know about anyone else, but the time factor alone makes this a by far better proposition.

if you get fifteen thousand for a book advance (and there's not like any real industry standard two people can agree on other than huge variances), most first-time authors don't 'earn out' that advance. obviously you'll not see any royalties from a book that doesn't cover the advance. maybe you'll get twenty thousand for your second book and see some royalties after that. you may do two decent books a year, three if you're prolific and not writing 150,000 word epics. maybe you can pop out three or four 'cozies' a year if you work hard at it.

if you belong to the WGA (writers guild of america), a position not given away but earned (although you can 'join' temporarily for a single sale unless i'm mistaken), the previous contract stipulated you'd get somewhere in the range of $34,000 for a movie script, and that's on the low side (someone correct me if i've got that figure wrong, but i don't think i do) and *if* you sell the script to a signatory (a production company that has accepted the terms and agreements of the WGA contract, which just about every major studio and production company belongs to (except lucasfilm, which, i've heard, takes care of their people very well anyway).

that doesn't mean you'll bang out ten scripts a year. just that starting out, hm, i'd have to opt for screenwriting still.

what about writing a novel or short story that's made in a movie? sweet! but you'll probably not be the one who writes the adaptation even if you did know how to write a script. it's not out of the question, just from what i understand you'd better not count on it. pay attention to the 'written by' credits in front of movies: assuming the writer isn't also the director, you'll probably see the author of the book is, at best, *one* of the writers.

from an artistic viewpoint, novels have it all over screenplays. even then you're likely to be asked by the publisher for revisions.

as far as 'fame' goes, what mid-list author do you know of that anyone has heard of or even cares about outside a select fan-base and some peer circles? the chances that you'll ever have a random encounter with anyone who's read one of your books is pretty slim. i'll say this ~ i'll bet a lot more people will have seen the movie you wrote than read the novel you did. granted, the latter will know who you actually are, but, still, if you're able to convince a random person you did either a novel or a movie script, both will elicit some amount of respect, don't you think? besides, if i'm not getting respect, free drinks, free dinners, or sex out of people knowing my name, who cares? is the ford dealership going to give me a better APR because i wrote a few books? probably not. so then this whole recognition thing has to do with promoting your professional status and the writer's ego being satisfied, i.e. having a lot to do with things the bible will warn you not to indulge in, such as pride and arrogance and 'thou shalt not have more than one trophy wife whilst knocketh sandals with your neighbour's daughter' (paraphrasing here).

here's my knee-jerk breakdown:

fame: novels

respect of your peers: hm, probably close to even, with a nod towards novels

money: screenwriting

the ability to convert your medium into a sleazy way of picking up chicks: screenwriting, baby

staying true to your 'art': novels.

self-satisfaction: probably novels on average. that's kind of tough to answer.

time invested: probably screenwriting. tough to call.

coolness factor: screenwriting.

ability to break into the business: that depends on you and your idea and ability. you're probably going to have to sell yourself a lot more in screenwriting than novels, so if you're anti-social to the max, that could be a problem. if you write a great novel or a great script, i'd have to say it'll get noticed by someone. eventually. somewhere. in some alternate universe if nothing else.

fame: novels.
Deciding whether to write novels or screenplays based on factors like these: Nuts.

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Old 02-14-2008, 07:32 AM   #11
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Old 02-16-2008, 07:46 PM   #12
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'Deciding whether to write novels or screenplays based on factors like these: Nuts.' ~ it's almost as if you're starting to understand my tongue-in-cheek nature.

really, making a living at either one is probably pretty tough and in the long run you'd probably with you'd spent your college years taking something useful instead of philosophy and literature. assuming you are able to make a living at either one, just do the one that brings you the most personal enjoyment and satisfaction because, honestly and in all reality, you're not likely to become famous or rich in either. the potential for either is there, obviously, just that if you're doing these things *for* fame and fortune then good luck.

from a monetary standpoint, i think you *may* see some better actual living wages writing screen- and/or teleplays. that's part of why the WGA exists now, isn't it, to provide writers with the ability to make a real living writing? i think there's a trade-off, though: true, you sell a script to a prodco signatory for $34 grand and, hey, that's not too bad considering you probably didn't have to work forty hours a week, fifty-two weeks a years to do it. $34G divided by 2080 hours (52 x 40) comes out to be $16.35 an hour, and if you can't live on that your lifestyle is more expensive than mine. (naturally, your actual wage would be a LOT less than this after taxes, membership dues, insurance, etc., but once you get rolling it also probably won't take you an entire year to do an average script. i hope not, because that script might not sell).

then again, nobody may buy it. you may option it for a lot less. you may sell it to a non-signatory for less. you may never get a nickel from it.

given that i don't have unlimited time to work on a 100K word novel, i can still do one, revisions and all, in roughly six months. you get to a point to where your trusty publisher can count on the quality of it and you won't have to sweat as much worrying about whether or not you're wasting your time. you may even begin a series, and can collect advances as fast as you can crank out good sequels.

the odds of you retiring on a million dollar paycheck? slim to none, and slim just left town. sure, it's possible for a lucky few, but i assume we're talking about 'regular' writers who have to work at it for a living, right? i think the whole fortune and glory thing will elude at least 90% of those who are able to make a living doing either one. once you're done with one project, you send it in and while you're waiting on an answer you start the next one. that, for the vast majority of writers, will not change, eh?

you know that once you send a script in you'll lose artistic control over it and no one reads the 'written by' credits. you know that the chances of it being produced are likely worse than it being published. the upside to that is you may get the script optioned so you're not completely out of luck, that you'll get *something* for it. publishers don't option novels, they'll either buy it (after revisions) or they won't.

one of the biggest draws to screenwriting for me is the simple fact that i believe i'll be able to tell more stories. i work two jobs, too, so time is something i don't have much of. based on my own market research and the kinds of stories i like to tell, scripts are more my thing right now. i've been gravitating towards them for awhile. i feel as if i would get more satisfaction out of screenwriting than novels. and after the money's been spent and the books are forever off the shelves and the DVDs have been pirated ad infinitum, and you're lying there on your death bed, what will you think will have been your greatest contribution to the art, to the public and to yourself? if you feel that you can point to one, that, then, i think, is what you should do because there are few guarantees in either publishing or screenwriting.

if you're looking for justifications why you should write scripts, do it just because you want to. i know working authors who write for a living and won't be able to retire any sooner than had they worked in an office for thirty years. will a working screenwriter fare better? i don't know, it all depends, it just all depends. i think there's a much greater game to be played in screenwriting and if you can sell yourself you'll do a lot better.

if you want to know if you're better off selling a script to a signatory for your first time or getting published for the first time which one has the most money, i'd say offhand the script. in the long term it's impossible to say. you can be counted on to write several quality stories a year and be beaten out by 'the da vinci code' or some lame follow-up to a hit comedy every time. the flip side is you'll probably get that novel published (an investment of thousands of dollars) before your epic is produced (an investment of millions of dollars).

so, what do you think, hammer? i'm sure for peter miller that screenwriting has been much more profitable. can he say that for all the other writers, though? i mean, i'm sure the WGA is full of people who are members after selling a script or two five years ago and haven't sold anything since (though i doubt most of them have stopped trying). i haven't looked, but if i did i'm sure somewhere it'd say that the 'average' salary for a screenwriter is better than for a novelist. and it might be, but what it won't take into consideration is a lot of mitigating factors, i bet. obviously there's a lot more money in movies than there is in publishing, but that's not to say you'll get what you consider is your fair share as 'merely' a writer. if you can move into writer-producer or some other kind of hyphenate, then you're talking a significant difference. from just a writing standpoint, there are pros and cons for each, i think. i'm sure mr. miller's assertion is true from a writer's standpoint... if you're actually selling scripts.
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Old 02-16-2008, 08:17 PM   #13
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I remember reading that on average 3% of the budget goes to the screenwriting, which is broken down into $$ for story, treatment, 1st draft, rewrites, final script.
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Old 02-16-2008, 11:09 PM   #14
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'Deciding whether to write novels or screenplays based on factors like these: Nuts.' ~ it's almost as if you're starting to understand my tongue-in-cheek nature.

really, making a living at either one is probably pretty tough and in the long run you'd probably with you'd spent your college years taking something useful instead of philosophy and literature. assuming you are able to make a living at either one, just do the one that brings you the most personal enjoyment and satisfaction because, honestly and in all reality, you're not likely to become famous or rich in either. the potential for either is there, obviously, just that if you're doing these things *for* fame and fortune then good luck.

from a monetary standpoint, i think you *may* see some better actual living wages writing screen- and/or teleplays. that's part of why the WGA exists now, isn't it, to provide writers with the ability to make a real living writing? i think there's a trade-off, though: true, you sell a script to a prodco signatory for $34 grand and, hey, that's not too bad considering you probably didn't have to work forty hours a week, fifty-two weeks a years to do it. $34G divided by 2080 hours (52 x 40) comes out to be $16.35 an hour, and if you can't live on that your lifestyle is more expensive than mine. (naturally, your actual wage would be a LOT less than this after taxes, membership dues, insurance, etc., but once you get rolling it also probably won't take you an entire year to do an average script. i hope not, because that script might not sell).

then again, nobody may buy it. you may option it for a lot less. you may sell it to a non-signatory for less. you may never get a nickel from it.

given that i don't have unlimited time to work on a 100K word novel, i can still do one, revisions and all, in roughly six months. you get to a point to where your trusty publisher can count on the quality of it and you won't have to sweat as much worrying about whether or not you're wasting your time. you may even begin a series, and can collect advances as fast as you can crank out good sequels.

the odds of you retiring on a million dollar paycheck? slim to none, and slim just left town. sure, it's possible for a lucky few, but i assume we're talking about 'regular' writers who have to work at it for a living, right? i think the whole fortune and glory thing will elude at least 90% of those who are able to make a living doing either one. once you're done with one project, you send it in and while you're waiting on an answer you start the next one. that, for the vast majority of writers, will not change, eh?

you know that once you send a script in you'll lose artistic control over it and no one reads the 'written by' credits. you know that the chances of it being produced are likely worse than it being published. the upside to that is you may get the script optioned so you're not completely out of luck, that you'll get *something* for it. publishers don't option novels, they'll either buy it (after revisions) or they won't.

one of the biggest draws to screenwriting for me is the simple fact that i believe i'll be able to tell more stories. i work two jobs, too, so time is something i don't have much of. based on my own market research and the kinds of stories i like to tell, scripts are more my thing right now. i've been gravitating towards them for awhile. i feel as if i would get more satisfaction out of screenwriting than novels. and after the money's been spent and the books are forever off the shelves and the DVDs have been pirated ad infinitum, and you're lying there on your death bed, what will you think will have been your greatest contribution to the art, to the public and to yourself? if you feel that you can point to one, that, then, i think, is what you should do because there are few guarantees in either publishing or screenwriting.

if you're looking for justifications why you should write scripts, do it just because you want to. i know working authors who write for a living and won't be able to retire any sooner than had they worked in an office for thirty years. will a working screenwriter fare better? i don't know, it all depends, it just all depends. i think there's a much greater game to be played in screenwriting and if you can sell yourself you'll do a lot better.

if you want to know if you're better off selling a script to a signatory for your first time or getting published for the first time which one has the most money, i'd say offhand the script. in the long term it's impossible to say. you can be counted on to write several quality stories a year and be beaten out by 'the da vinci code' or some lame follow-up to a hit comedy every time. the flip side is you'll probably get that novel published (an investment of thousands of dollars) before your epic is produced (an investment of millions of dollars).

so, what do you think, hammer? i'm sure for peter miller that screenwriting has been much more profitable. can he say that for all the other writers, though? i mean, i'm sure the WGA is full of people who are members after selling a script or two five years ago and haven't sold anything since (though i doubt most of them have stopped trying). i haven't looked, but if i did i'm sure somewhere it'd say that the 'average' salary for a screenwriter is better than for a novelist. and it might be, but what it won't take into consideration is a lot of mitigating factors, i bet. obviously there's a lot more money in movies than there is in publishing, but that's not to say you'll get what you consider is your fair share as 'merely' a writer. if you can move into writer-producer or some other kind of hyphenate, then you're talking a significant difference. from just a writing standpoint, there are pros and cons for each, i think. i'm sure mr. miller's assertion is true from a writer's standpoint... if you're actually selling scripts.

Phrasing it the way that you're trying to phrase it, one might as well say, "Is it better to write literary books, or to write big bestsellers?"

You say that as if one can sit down, make a decision ahead of time as to which kind of book one should write, then sit down and write that kind of book.

One has to distinguish, in a really honest way, between what one wants *to write* as opposed to what one wants to *have written* -- that is, to distinguish between what you really want to be writing, and enjoying the fruits of the aftermath -- whether its the fame and kudos of being a successful novelist, or the monetary rewards of being a successful screenwriter.

You really have very little control over the latter. The reward will come or they won't. But you do have control over the former.

Ultimately, you will increase, by many orders of magnitude, the chances of doing good, and thus ultimately saleable work, if you are writing what you really want to write, what you know, what you are passionate about -- if you are writing what you *want* to be writing, right now, as you are doing it -- rather than being focused on the end result -- the reward that might conceivably come from having written whatever it is.

That reward may come or may not. It's always a question, at every level.

Given the odds of initial and continuing success in this business -- and it's true at every level, both for novelists and screenwriters, the first reward should always be in the work itself.

When the day comes when you don't want to be doing it -- when you're just doing it for a paycheck that you may never even see -- that's the time to start looking for a new line of work.

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Old 02-17-2008, 01:28 AM   #15
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Screenwriting is a great way to get rich and a terrible way to make a living. A friend said that to me recently and it strikes me as very true. I get paid by producers to do rewrites, crank out treatments and things like that and I cannot believe what I get paid per hour to do it. More than lawyers do. But the catch is this - it's hard to get these jobs and they are few and far between. Honestly I don't think any writer should PLAN on paying their bills through writing. Make writing and your facility with words your passion and your gift that you cultivate and share. But keep your day job, honestly.
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Old 02-17-2008, 01:39 AM   #16
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'I remember reading that on average 3% of the budget goes to the screenwriting, which is broken down into $$ for story, treatment, 1st draft, rewrites, final script.' ~ hm, interesting. i don't know if that's true, but it's interesting.

'When the day comes when you don't want to be doing it -- when you're just doing it for a paycheck that you may never even see -- that's the time to start looking for a new line of work.' ~ when it comes to artistic endeavours, i think this is generally true for anything.

still, there's no shame in making a pile of money, either. and if anyone ever asked me to write something and threw a lot of money into the kitty, you betcha i'd consider it even if it was based on a country song. i don't think there's any shame in entertaining people even if it's not exactly something you're excited about. 'oh, well, you're just doing it for the money then.' we all have bills. we might even, gasp, seek to improve our standard of living using our gifts and hard work. it's not like just anyone can put together a story, though most people probably think they can.

personally, i'm not the least embarrassed by the fact that i expect a fair paycheck. producers are certainly taking their cut. i'm not embarrassed either by the fact that if you tell me what you want written i'd do my best to write that... for a fee. it would be somewhat like saying studio musicians aren't artists.

most of us will probably always write whether or not we get paid for it. but, if we do get published or produced or recorded, you should demand your cut. were it a fair world, the WGA, ASCAP and the writer's guild wouldn't exist. or maybe because it's fairer than it seems that we need those?

so, indeed, i'd write on assignment for a paycheck. it doesn't need to be a lifelong passion burning in the depths of my soul for it to be entertaining. maybe that's why it's called 'the entertainment industry,' eh? (with emphasis on 'industry.' what you do is nothing more than providing product as far as they're concerned.)

here in about an hour, Sci-Fi Channel is showing 'gravedancers.' 'angry spirits terrorize three reunited friends after they disturb a cemetary after a funeral.' V, L, SC. i'm guessing we're not to expect a high calibre of art here. maybe the writer/s have had this idea for ten years and it eats at their brains until they wrote the daemon away. they wrote it, felt good about it, and was shocked someone gave them money for it.

or maybe some writer did their research and had an idea that would fit the market, then added some things in there to meet audience expectations. he probably had a lot of fun writing it, but it's not exactly something he wants etched into his tombstone. maybe he just had an idea he thought he could market it better if he added some boobage, a little blood, and tossed in some language for good measure. after all, who really wants to see a movie called 'gravedancers' if it doesn't have that stuff?

is this stuff written for the paycheck? well, maybe a little bit. he certainly probably wouldn't have done it if there had been zero chance of getting some money for it. let's face it, it sounds like pretty generic fare here, lucky to get the two stars it did. there's a market for this less-than-oscar-worthy stuff, too. this writer probably has a lot of fantastic ideas, but he needs the experience and resume-building, and he's got to pay his dues along with his water bill.

i really believe you have to look at two different aspects. first, the artistic side, that which satisfies yourself. second, there's a practical business side to consider. that's why i contend that novels are likely to garner you more personal satisfaction than scripts which may be turned inside out and wind up being nothing like you envisioned in any way, shape or form to the point where you might ask yourself why they even bought the script if they were going to do all *that* to it. that may be a hyperbole, but compared to an editor asking you to cut 10,000 words out, at least you still have artistic control over the novel.

with a novel, you're the quarterback. QBs are usually the MVPs.

i think you're right, nm, you never really know what the financial rewards are going to be. just about everyone who worked on 'star wars' was sure it would be a disaster. i remember before 'titanic' came out some predicted it would sink (no pun intended) because they pushed back the release date to work on it further as i recall. 'halloween' wasn't supposed to be a franchise spanning three decades. and i would be surprised if some bean-counter thought 'miss congeniality' would rake in $100M. meanwhile, 'eragon' tanked, 'the postman' was laughed at, and 'best defense' wasn't laughed at (which is a problem for a comedy).

in trying to entertain, you may not always be making great art, but you're having a good time doing something a relative few people can do and, hey, what's wrong with earning a buck or two? 'i wrote that!'

'yeah, but it's 'ishtar 2'.'

'okay, true, but what have *you* written and had made? ... i thought so.'

'yeah, well ~ bob? bob, what's wrong?! is it your heart again? bob!...'

CUT TO

INT. TOMBSTONE ENGRAVER - DAY

'and what else would you like etched on his tombstone, mrs. gennero? did he ever do anything noteworthy you'd like to mention?'

'hm. well, he was a screenwriter. put that on there and list some movies.'

'which are...?'

''ishtar 2.' 'the fuzzy little happy bunnies go to la-la land.' 'barbie's dreamworld.' 'barbie does denver.' well, leave that last one out, and instead put in two episodes of 'up goes chuck.''

'i see. i must have missed those 'masterpiece theatre' episodes. i was always more of a 'six feet under' kind of guy. and, of course, 'gravedancers' just rocked.'
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Old 02-17-2008, 02:01 AM   #17
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'Screenwriting is a great way to get rich and a terrible way to make a living.' ~ love it.

'Make writing and your facility with words your passion and your gift that you cultivate and share. But keep your day job, honestly.' ~ like i mentioned, most of us aren't likely to give it up if we don't make dime one from it. we may give it up for awhile, but it'll always been there waiting for us to return.

for most people, definitely keep your day job. ask a lot of writers in the novel forum how they're doing. some will say they're able to make a living at it. and they write and write and write. what they'll forget to mention is most of them are single, have no insurance, can't be certain what they're working on right now will net them any money to survive on, are childless, etc.. basically, plenty of them have no significant bills beyond the basics to keep themselves alive and are really just a minour disaster away from being really screwed. most of 'em don't earn enough money to support a decent drug habit. not saying they eat ramen noodless three times a day, just that they're not bopping back in forth to the bank in an escalade, either.

but, if you write for television, well, you're pretty much going to need to be in l.a., no?

if you're the kind of person who worries about what'll happen if you get konked in the head by an errant horseshoe, maybe a day job with good benefits is the way to go and do writing as a hobby or side job.
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Old 02-17-2008, 02:39 AM   #18
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I believe the WGA has a chart for minimums -- story, treatment, drafts, final screenplay.
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Old 02-17-2008, 03:16 AM   #19
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you're right, donroc, they do. i'm not sure what will change about the pay, though. i'm assuming those figures will go up. the minimums apply to signatories, those production companies who agree to the WGA's terms. just about any major production company you'd aspire to write for is a signatory (lucasfilm excluded, maybe a few others, i'm not sure). actually, that $34K i use as a reference is wrong, it's more than that now. i'm just psychologically stuck on that figure, my apologies.

without giving any minimums away, the pay heirarchy goes something like this for a film:

screenplay with treatment

screenplay without treatment

original treatment

story or treatment

screenplay rewrite (which is identical in pay in far as i know with 'story or treatment')

screenplay polish

as a WGA member, i think you have two rights, one to view the final product and first crack at the revision.
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Old 02-17-2008, 03:20 AM   #20
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Why are you guys so interested in what you get for a great screenplay?
Why don't you spend that time and effort writing that great screenplay, and then it will still be early enough to wonder about financial questions.

(Just my thoughts; I don't mean to kill the thread.)
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Old 02-17-2008, 03:30 AM   #21
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when you go in for a job interview, don't you want to know how much it pays and the potential for advancement? i think it's reasonable in wanting to know whether or not writing is a viable career or basically charity work for the entertainment deprived.
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Old 02-17-2008, 04:08 AM   #22
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Quote:
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Screenwriting is a great way to get rich and a terrible way to make a living. A friend said that to me recently and it strikes me as very true. I get paid by producers to do rewrites, crank out treatments and things like that and I cannot believe what I get paid per hour to do it. More than lawyers do. But the catch is this - it's hard to get these jobs and they are few and far between. Honestly I don't think any writer should PLAN on paying their bills through writing. Make writing and your facility with words your passion and your gift that you cultivate and share. But keep your day job, honestly.
This is so true, I make about 100 bucks an hour with the time it takes and the work and so forth with my script writing job. Only problem is it translates between 1000-1500 a month, because the work isn't frequent and steady. I hope that changes and the workload increases, but we'll see. I love the job and I hope it can go the next level.
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Old 02-17-2008, 04:09 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Daydreamer View Post
Why are you guys so interested in what you get for a great screenplay?
Why don't you spend that time and effort writing that great screenplay, and then it will still be early enough to wonder about financial questions.

(Just my thoughts; I don't mean to kill the thread.)
This is a scriptwriting board and we engage in script writing discussions and the business there in from time to time. Perhaps?

I don't need to be chastized on how I spend my time, I have writing blocks set aside and well I'm an adult and I don't need to get permission of where I spend my time nor am I accountable to anyone on here of how I spend my time. Don't worry, my career in scriptwriting and writing in general won't go in the toilet because I stop by to post now and then to have educated discussions with my peers.

Quite frankly, it's insulting.
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Last edited by icerose; 02-17-2008 at 04:33 AM.
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Old 02-17-2008, 06:36 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by preyer View Post
when you go in for a job interview, don't you want to know how much it pays and the potential for advancement? i think it's reasonable in wanting to know whether or not writing is a viable career or basically charity work for the entertainment deprived.
The problem is -- what you're asking is akin to asking -- those guys who play for the NBA -- what does that job pull down? Playing for the NBA? How much do you earn in an average season? You make a good living playing ball?

How about pro hockey? Or pro baseball? How do the various pro sports compare?

Or maybe being a pro race car driver, you know, on account of while I've played basketball a few times, I already have my driver's license, so I'm just sort of trying to balance to various career possibilities. You know -- pro basketball player, pro hockey player, pro baseball player -- or maybe nascar -- or would it be better to just own a team, or maybe own a team of drivers?

Look, Preyer, I got news for you.

Check the "jobs" section. They don't advertise for those jobs either. Maybe if they're looking for somebody to play on an amateur league team for free in your local neighborhood they'll post something in the local supermarket flyer.

And if somebody is looking to have somebody else write a screenplay for free, they'll post an ad for that in the back of Backstage.

But nobody goes on a "job interview" in the way that you mean to get the kind of job that you're talking about.

Hell, I don't think I've sent out a resume in close to twenty years.

You want the statistics?

Every year, fifty thousand screenplays get registered with the WGA.

Including theatrical features (including indie features), DTV and made for TV movies, something around six hundred movies get released a year.

The majority of those -- all TV movies and most theatrical features are assignments. Many of the rest of them, including most indie features, are the work of writer-directors and writer-producer-directors, and so they're not part of the market for screenwriting assignments.

Of the few slots that are left, beginning screenwriters have to compete with spec scripts written by established screenwriters -- people with track records, who've already written movies that have made many millions of dollars, have won Oscars. And not just with spec scripts written this years. Specs written in past years haven't gone away. Often they are still out there and can still find a market.

Just last year, I sold a spec script that I wrote ten years ago. It's going to go into pre-production in April.

And I got a bunch of other spec scripts. They're all out there. And everything you write is going to have to compete with them -- and the next spec script I write, and every other spec script written by every other established writer currently working in the business, writing spec scripts -- and every spec script that every one of them ever wrote.

Quite simply, for someone who is just starting to write spec screenplays to be focused on how much they're going to earn in the business is, as I have said elsewhere, indistinguishable from someone who has just bought their first lottery ticket focusing on which neighborhood is best for buying their first mansion with the winnings.

This is why I am saying that you should be doing it because you want to be doing it.

Because if you're writing now expecting to cash in, I'm telling you -- this is a long odds game. As professions run, screenwriting, like directing, is among the most competitive in the world. You have to go to something like pro sports to find an equivalent.

So you'd better like playing the game, win or lose. Because if you're just playing for the win, odds are you're going to be investing a lot of time for a dismal outcome.

NMS
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Old 02-17-2008, 08:03 PM   #25
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'Look, Preyer, I got news for you.' ~ nm, why are you riding my ass on this? i think anyone who's read this whole thread understands there are no guarantees. maybe it wasn't a great analogy, but damn i feel attacked at every turn by you. i hate feeling as if i have to walk on eggshells.

is there not a WGA contract stating in black and white EXACTLY what you'll earn as a minimum when you sell to a signatory? of course there is. have i not said you can earn this salary IF you continue to sell? yes, i did.

'But nobody goes on a "job interview" in the way that you mean to get the kind of job that you're talking about.' ~ why are you the only one that takes every. single. thing. i say to literally? then again, i'd certainly say a pitch meeting is an interview of sorts. haven't people sold themselves and their script before a guy who didn't sell himself but maybe had a better story ever? of course it's happened.

'Quite simply, for someone who is just starting to write spec screenplays to be focused on how much they're going to earn in the business is, as I have said elsewhere, indistinguishable from someone who has just bought their first lottery ticket focusing on which neighborhood is best for buying their first mansion with the winnings.' ~ easy to say when you know precisely how much you have in your bank account. for most of us, it's nice to know whether or not it's a viable career option on a practical level. i'm tempted to end that last sentence with a dumb joke, but seeing as how you wouldn't get it, i won't bother.

'This is why I am saying that you should be doing it because you want to be doing it.' ~ have i said otherwise?

'Because if you're writing now expecting to cash in, I'm telling you -- this is a long odds game. As professions run, screenwriting, like directing, is among the most competitive in the world. You have to go to something like pro sports to find an equivalent.' ~ it's almost as if you understand all the individual points yet can't make the connection between them. yes, we're quite aware it's a long odds game. we've been exposed to the statistics, i'm sure. the question isn't about how do we get there, that's what the rest of the board is for, it's about what you can expect once you reach the destination, if indeed you ever do. jeez.

'So you'd better like playing the game, win or lose. Because if you're just playing for the win, odds are you're going to be investing a lot of time for a dismal outcome.' ~ i'm not even sure you're talking to me by this point, but i assume you are, in which case you just simply must have forgotten what i said about finishing something, sending it in, and while you wait for some word to get back to you you get started on something else. if this isn't apparent as a matter of course for a person wanting to write for a living then it soon will be. besides, you don't play this or any other game to lose ~ of course you play it to win! it's not one hail mary throw after another, it's a lot of short yardage gains and even a sack or two in the process. it can be riding in the air stream of the car in front of you until the time is right to take the inside track. it can be the home run king bunting.

it's as if you think that my plan is to send in a script and expect it to be immediately produced and i can retire on my 'psycho sock' earnings, and as far as i know i can't think of why you'd think this is true. seeing as how i've *never* thought this was true, i don't know why i'd write such a thing or even hint at that. i have no illusions, i think i've laid out my motivations from time to time, but at the same time some people like me likes to know what the potential there is to earn a living. there's nothing wrong with that! and i'd appreciate it if people just stopped trying to make others feel bad for wanting to know what kind of lifestyle they'll apt to be living as if wanting to know about the rewards for your work is a sin against every 'artist' who ever lived. like anyone who has a commodity, we want to know what it's worth (which is nothing to begin with, so, please, for the love of jeebus, there's not need to expand on that), how to make it worth more, and how best to go about selling the product for maximum gain.

you don't want to play to win? fine. then don't send your writing in to be evaluated, criticized, categorized, toyed with, turned inside out and rejected. but by sending it in you're saying to me 'i want compensated for this.' there are other things you're saying, too, such as, 'i want to entertain the world, or at least some small part of it,' and, 'this is me, my imagination, and what i can do,' and a host of other things. but, and let's be honest, you're also wanting to strike a deal with someone in order to keep doing the one thing you really want to do, to write.

that's why people want to know the real financial side of writing, it's not with the idea of picking out which porsche (pronounced 'poor-shuh,' gawd i cringe every time i hear this in a movie or show. trust me, if you bought a porsche, that salesman isn't going to let you leave the showroom without you knowing how to pronounce the name of your own fucking car), it's whether or not a person can, once they've graduated from little league and are in the arena playing ball, earn enough money to continue doing what they want to do.

and i think that's a fair and reasonable (not to mention a responsible) question everyone NEEDS to know lest they operate under some fantasy. not everyone is a kid anymore, and the issue of insurance and retirement (among others) is important. here's where i think you're not getting it ~ it won't stop anyone from writing either way! we'll write if we don't sell a goddamn thing. ever. you think that's going to stop me from wasting my time? hardly. do you want to know why?

because it's 50,000 to 1 and i like those odds. if i lose, doesn't matter. if i win, i want to know if i can quit my nine to five (or in my case 6 am to 8 pm ~ i'm a worker now, let me tell you). the answer is 'no,' at least not for a long, long time, if ever. what is it about that that's so wrong to know? what is it about anything i've said that strays from the truth? why do people who submit their own work for a lot of reasons, getting paid not being the least of them!, turn around and chastise those who ask what kind of money is there to be made, as if those who ask as a career option or are just curious are just in it for cheap cash money grabs? (ironically, a lot of these people are only too quick to cave into conformity and even do the most mundane pieces of fluff imaginable and act as if they've somehow contributed to great art rather than just providing some people a forgetable time-killing device as they wait to be stuffed into their pressboard coffins.)

and don't give me that 'well, if you think *i'm* rude or whatever, wait til you deal with hollywood!' look, if i wanted to work for an asshole, i'd be self-employed. wait, i am. anyway, while i'm sure hollywood is full of egotism and self-importance, there's no law stating i HAVE to work for people like that. the old saying goes, 'people don't quit their jobs, they quit their boss.' everyone has the same goal, to make sure the end product is as good as it can be given all the issues thrown at them, and i'm sure there are just as many if not more of the ones you can get along with than there are david o. selzniks (sp) out there. i'll only put up with abrasive personalities up to a point before saying 'i don't need this from you, pal, so why don't you check your ego at the door and let's get this over with so you'll never have to see me again.' i've done it before, i'm sure to do it again. it's really the only way you can get these people's respect anyway, by getting in their faces and saying, 'i'm not going to take your bullshit.' sometimes it even works. those times it doesn't then if nothing else i can walk away feeling good about myself.

the 'game'? i look forward to it.
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