Starting small

I keep reading posts where people bash other people because they’re trying to make a film for free. There’s one guy in particular who regularly posts on a film-makers message board, shouting about how insulting it is when people expect a writer to give up his script for free.

This guy has several feature film credits, until you investigate further and realise none of them have actually been produced and the company which optioned them is his company.

Did he pay himself?

Sometimes I see adverts by new companies looking for scripts so they can make their first feature film. Frequently, these companies want to appear at least semi-professional and therefore don’t bother mentioning that ‘the company’ is just two guys with no experience and a camera.

Someone, usually the same guy, bangs on about the company looking dodgy because they have no credits and no information about their past work. Now, I can understand writers who regularly get paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to write major motion pictures not wanting to submit their work to a first time company; but why would an unproduced writer not want to take every opportunity he can get?

Is it better to have a pile of scripts at home which you’re waiting for one of the big production companies to buy for millions; or is it better to have several of those scripts in production by small first time companies who may or may not be able to pay you a pittance?

I fall squarely in the second camp. There are always new ideas, writing is what I do and I can always write more. I’d rather take a chance on a new company being able to make a half decent job of one of my scripts than waiting to be ‘discovered’ by the big boys.

Sure, send it to the big companies; but the chances of them wanting your script are very small. If someone else will actually produce your work, why not? You never know what will happen, the film might be good enough to draw attention to your work from people with the serious money.

At the beginning of your career it’s all about exposure, the more people who get to see your work, the better. This doesn’t happen if you don’t get it out there. Who knows, the people you work for free for, might attract enough attention to get a budget behind them the next time. If you’re good at what you do, they’ll want to work with you again. This is what’s happened to me and I now get paid to write – life doesn’t get any better than that.

Perhaps I should be thankful that these moaners aren’t trying harder? It’s all less competition for me. I do hope to be in a position where I can always get paid for my work, I’m almost there now, but I still send material off to first timers and small companies – why? Because I love writing and I love seeing my work on the screen. The money is nice and something I want more of, but over and above that, I just want to see my work in production.

So lay off on the criticism, let people make a film on their own terms. If you don’t like it, don’t get involved; but why feel the need to spoil it for others? Good things can happen when people collaborate, working for free is a good starting point; just don’t pay them any money, that’s a scam.

Categories: Industry Musings | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Starting small

  1. I agree 100%, Phill. I’ve come up against that mentality as well. Someone I know does’t want to submit her comedy sketches to anybody because she can’t bear the idea of them being changed.

    Reminds of the Seinfeld bit where he comments on the fact that people are more scared of public speaking than death, leading to his great line about how, at a funeral, most people would therefore prefer being in the box than doing the eulogy.

    Some folks really need to loosen up their egos.

  2. Couldn’t agree with you more on this one Phill! I was actually going to post something about it on my own blog, damn you! Unless, like you say, these people are asking for money then there’s nothing to lose but plenty to gain by sending in your script.

  3. Hmm. To be honest, I’d much rather ‘the company’ admit upfront that they’re two new guys and a camera. It’s when they try to big themselves up with bluster and half-truths that I start to distrust them and don’t want to work with them. “We’re just starting out, therefore there’s no money,” reads much better than, “We’re great, we’re fabulous, we’ve won too many awards to mention, we’re God’s gift to film — and by the way, there’s no money.”

    So I suppose my position boils down to, I’m happy to give my script away for free if I feel the producers are being honest with me.

  4. Outright lies, I agree with you. Lies of omission, that’s fine with me at the initial stages.

    One of the first things I ask people when I start working with them is if they do this full time or if they have another job. I’d expect people to be honest at that point.

    I do find this to be a problem, here in the micro-budget end of the pool. How do you judge if someone has the ability and the will to actually make your script?

    I guess I agree with you too, Christine; I’d rather people were honest, but I don’t blame anyone for not mentioning they have a day job.

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