Advice for screenplay writers

screenwriter nick blakeBy Nick Blake

As a writer I love working with people. I get exposure to all kinds of interesting people and ideas that feed my creativity. And for the most part people enjoy my creative input. After working with a client there is nothing more satisfying than hearing a simple, “Great job, I loved the work!”

When all goes well writing is a good partnership between writer and client. But not all clients are interested in my joy of writing, so it’s important to remind myself that writing is a business. And like any other business I follow a few simple ground rules to protect myself in the client-partner relationship.

Here they are for all screenplay writers in need of business advice. I don’t know if everyone follows the same rules, so if you do anything differently I’d love to hear about it.

1. Talk to the client
Make sure both parties are clear on exactly what the work is going to be and what you are going to deliver when the project is done. Ask questions. Get to know both the project and the client. Make sure you are comfortable with both.

2. Be clear about money
Negotiating is fine, but don’t get backed into a corner. Before you begin any job make sure that you are comfortable with the amount of money you’ll be making. As a writer you have the most negotiating power before you agree to take on any job. If you aren’t satisfied with the money on the table don’t be afraid to say no and walk away.

3. Get it in writing
No matter what is said in phone conversations the only proof you have to what you and the client agreed to is (a) the contract you sign and/or (b) any email exchanges between you and the client. As a standard procedure I send a follow-up email to all my clients outlining everything we’ve agreed to before I begin a job.

4. Get the money up front
Writing is a business. Don’t be afraid to be a businessman (or businesswoman). My standard procedure is at least 50% up front before I do any work on a project. The other 50% is due before I deliver the final product.

5. Keep it professional
Once terms are set, don’t back down if the client changes their mind. They have agreed to a deal, and it’s up to them to uphold their end of the bargain. If the client is unhappy it’s good practice to make them happy — after all, happy clients bring referrals and/or repeat business! But if their demands are unreasonable (if they decide they wanted something else after all, for example) don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself. As a friend of mine says, know where your line is and don’t allow the client to cross it. If the client is implacable, terminate the business relationship.

Most clients are fantastic to work with, and respect professionalism. By following a few simple ground rules you set expectations appropriately for both sides so you can focus on what you love — being a writer.

None of this is legal advice. For legal advice, consult your lawyer, and if you don’t have one, see our legal firm here to find the best option for your case. But laying down a few simple ground rules is simply good business for all screenplay writers.