Thursday, April 03, 2014
Should writers write for free?
This was especially true on pilots. Writer/creators had no staffs to support them since it was just a one-shot. So money was allotted to bring in established hired guns. If my writing partner, David, and I didn’t have a pilot ourselves one season we would bounce from show to show raking in the dough. There was one year where we lost money by doing a pilot instead of helping out on everyone else’s. Life was good.
Then came the ‘90s and studios starting tightening belts. Punch-up people for pilots was a luxury they determined wasn’t necessary. But still the writer/creators needed help. So we all began to work on each other’s pilots as a favor. We received lovely gifts from the writer/creator and when we had our own pilots we were able to surround ourselves with an all-star team. Life was not as good but still pretty good.
We are currently in the middle of pilot season again. Established writers are still helping each other out reciprocally. But a new trend has been making its way into the scene. Writers looking for work are essentially auditioning and helping out pilots for free. They’re hoping to dazzle and maybe get on staff should the show get picked up.
I certainly understand the logic in that. And for young writers it’s a chance to be noticed. But at what point is the writer/creator and studio taking advantage? The creator gets paid a lot of money (and is maybe on a seven-figure overall deal with a studio) to write the pilot and now young writers who have trouble making their monthly rent are contributing and making nothing. Exposure aside, this doesn’t seem fair to me.
And in most cases it’s unproductive. I’ve been in pilot rewrites where there are no less than twenty people. Way too many. And usually it’s only four or five who really contribute… and those are usually the seasoned pros. It’s hard for young writers to just come in cold and make an impression.
Personally, I would rather have a small room of people I trust. Three to five max. The best pilots are the ones with a clear voice. That voice gets muddled when twenty people, all with different sensibilities and levels of experience, are lobbing in jokes and suggestions.
Good luck to everyone currently filming pilots. Every showrunner has his own style and preferred method of working. Whether you use three additional writers or twenty-three, veteran or newbie, people you know well or have never met, I would just suggest you give nice gifts to all. It’s the right thing to do. (Paying is really the right thing but those days are sadly gone.)