Transcript: Get Paid for Doing Nothing
Rob Long's advice for doing the least amount of work for the most amount of money
This is Rob Long with Martini Shot for the Ankler.
I was talking to a writer the other day who has written a wonderful script. He's sort of an unknown, so he did the smart, entrepreneurial thing: he wrote it on spec.
That is, he just carved out some time in his busy day, sat in one place, and over the course of several weeks he turned out a funny, smart, fresh pilot script — it's about a family, so it's not radical or edgy material, but the execution is top notch: the characters are funny and fresh, the dialogue is smart and true, all in all it's a winning piece of work, so winning, in fact, that I immediately attached myself to it as a producer, which means I'll get a small taste of whatever sugar comes his way on this, all for remarkably small effort.
Memo to agents and managers: you're not the only people who have figured this out.
So, a week or so ago, as we were talking, the writer said something alarming. He said, "I've actually written the second episode," which is a rookie mistake. You never write for free. Never. But obviously you do, you have to, sometimes, and so I understand the writer's confusion.
You see, in general, no one likes to do anything for free. We all want and need to be compensated. But when you're just starting out, before you've got a reputation and a list of credits, you're pretty much stuck with writing on spec.
For free, in other words.
You see the worst thing a writer can hear when they’ve just told someone what they’re working on, or even more awkwardly, just pitched a project, is this: "I'd love to read that script, send it to me when it's done."
Because that means that one, the script hasn't been written; and two, the person you're talking to isn't going to pay you to write it, and the key to being a successful Hollywood writer is getting people to pay you to write something before you've written it.
And then later, to find someone else to pay you again, after you've written it once and it didn’t move forward.
And look, you can get all artsy about it, I guess, but the truth is, the way most writers approach a writing project is, first, they ask themselves this question: what's the least amount of writing I can do before someone will write me a check?
Meaning: as I gather up my little fragments of creativity — a setting, a theme, a couple of great characters, an exciting plot — at what point can I present what I've got and get someone to give me money for it?
It all comes down to this question: spec or pitch?