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08/17/2001 - What Producers Want from Writers

How to Produce Movies for Television

"Never put a period where God has put a comma."

-- Anonymous

What Producers Want from Writers

Script Changes - "First Draft" vs. "New Draft"

After a writer delivers his or her first draft script to a producer, there are several variables in play that usually evolve. What happens next is dependent upon the deal that's already in place:

For example, the standard contract for established writers usually includes a first draft script, rewrite, and a polish.

New writers, on the other hand, are often employed on a "step deal" basis. This means that they can be cutoff at any time. The First Step may be for the writer to deliver a story outline with a beginning, middle, and end. If the first step is acceptable to the producer, the writer may then proceed to:

Step Two: The producer engages the writer to extend the story outline to a full blown treatment. If this is successful, the writer is assigned the next plateau, which is:

Step Three: An assignment to write and deliver a first draft screenplay. If you want to know more about the particulars, we recommend that you check the WGA website which includes their Minimum Basic Agreement guidelines

Some of the script changes that producers, story editors, or development executives may request from writers on assignment include:

l.) A "page-one rewrite." This means that just about everything that in the script will change. In some cases, even the underlying story concept will undergo a major overhaul.

2.) "Rewrite" - this usually includes major script changes. However, some story sequences may be left intact.

3.) "Polish" - this usually applies to specific script changes which are recommended by producers and development executives. Example: restructuring a character or improving upon dialogue.

4.) "Tweaking" a script. Usually limited to selective changes for specific scenes or sequences.

We've often been asked how producers and writers confront built-in legal problems when
it comes to writing dialogue for non-fictional characters.

This is a tricky situation. Some helpful tips follow:

In order to avoid libel (saying something which can be construed as possibly being slanderous about a living person) which can be costly, it's also important at the same time to maintain historical accuracy.

For example, if the script is a "period piece," the writer needs to carefully research and capture the colloquial expressions of the day. Abraham Lincoln may have referred to someone as "a pennypincher" if indeed that was a popular expression during Lincoln's time but it's unlikely that Lincoln would have referred to an arch rival as an unscrupulous "power broker."

In the final analysis, what do producers really want from writers? Scripts that get a green light. That's every producer's wish.

To all those aspiring writers who read our column, we leave you with these words: --

"Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no
birds sang except those that sang best."

-- Henry Van Dyke


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