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How Producers and Production Companies Should Conduct Screenwriter Searches

Updated: Aug 15, 2018

I have posted in the past on proper etiquette, procedure and protocol when screenwriters are wanting to submit to screenwriting jobs. There is also plenty of literature -- both in print and digital -- that also explain the do’s and don’ts. But there is very little information on the web that details and explains the way in which a producer or company should submit a search -- be it for a writer or script. In this blog we are going to talk specifically about posting SCREENWRITER SEARCHES & HIRING A SCREENWRITER. For SCREENPLAY SEARCH TIPS, CLICK HERE.

Screenwriting Staffing has facilitated over 200+ success stories, over 50 of them have been produced to screen. After 5 years of vetting industry pros who want to post on our site, I have found that the producers and companies that find the right screenwriter post a specific way. Looking for your next writer? We can help!

While there is no right or wrong way to post a screenwriting advert, there are some tips and tricks an industry pro should consider in order to get the most out of their posting.

Without further ado:

COMPENSATION. Often times compensation, especially in the freelance world, is based on experience. So it's fair to write: TBD or PAYMENT BASED ON EXPERIENCE. Just stating up front that there is payment will put you in contact with a higher class of writers. If you know upfront how much you can spend then state it. Even if it's low, like really low, it at least gives the writer a heads up on whether they want to peruse the gig any further, Be transparent -- it will save you and the writer time down the road.

If you are looking for a writer to collaborate or partner with, where compensation would be split or made on the back-end, make this known from the start. Yes, there are writers out there looking for this sort of opportunity, but a great deal of writers require payment -- so making this known from the start will weed out the ones you can't afford and have high expectations. Other words you should use are SPEC, UNION, NON-UNION. Spec, of course, means no up front payment until a sale. Union is self-explanatory.

The most important thing to consider is this: get the money piece out of the way so you and the writer can focus on the important things, like your story.

FORMAT/MEDIUM/GENRE. Most writers this day and age have accepted the fact they must be able to write for every medium and every genre under the sun if they wish to be staffed. However, there are still writers out there that prefer writing for one or two specific genres (like horror, thriller). Some writers only come from a feature film background, and don't wish to dabble in television. Same goes with shorts. There are writers out there who feel shorts are a waste of time (I degree, though. Big fan!).

So one of the first things you want to tell a writer is the type of script you are wishing for them to pen. For example: SEEKING A NON UNION SCREENWRITER FOR A DARK COMEDY FEATURE FILM TAILORED FOR THE FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT.

Just by stating the above copy, you have now attracted 1) feature film writers, 2) those who specialize in dark comedies, and 3) those who write for the indie market, not the larger budget, studio demographic.

GAME PLAN. Most freelance writing jobs don't pay a ton up front, most of it is based on percentage and back-end. So in order to attract the best writers, even if budget is limited, is by telling them your game plan. For example, do you have investors lined up? Is distribution in place? Any A or B list talent attached? Do you plan on a theatrical release or straight-to-video method? What type of writing credit will the writer get; will it be shared with someone else? How involved do you want the writer after the script is completed?

Get the writer excited about your project. Whether you can pay a lot or just a little, cluing the writer in on important facts and tidbits will keep the writer grounded, motivated, and passionate throughout the writing process.

YOUR BACKGROUND. Screenwriters want to know their work will be produced, and produced well. Writers often time have to take their name off a project because the story was changed so much or the quality was very low. Put a writer's mind at ease by stating your background. This includes: past produced films and credits, guild affiliations, job titles, links to work/reel, partnerships, location, and even education. Even if you lack most of the above qualifications, still provide the writer with something so they can verfiy you; this can even be a twitter or linkedin page -- anything. Let them know you are real and they can trust you with their work.

Note: IMDb seems to be the best way a writer can vet a producer; same goes with producers vetting writers.

COMMUNICATION. This one is often overlooked and ultimately wastes everyone's time if not discussed up front. If you want to work with the writer one-on-one, whether from your office or a coffee shop, this needs to be stated in your advert. Furthermore, the location where you want to meet (street, city, state, etc) needs to be mentioned. This alone will eliminate a good portion of writers. But it will also narrow down the writers that have the ability to meet you face-to-face.

If you are open to working through skype, phone, email, we chat, or facebook messenger -- great! But it's important to mention your time zone and location. For example, FB messenger is banned in Iran. So you may not be able to communicate with a writer based in Iran if FB is your preferred method of communication. If you are a Chinese producer based in China you probably use We Chat. While I personally use We Chat, it's not gained a lot of popularity here in the States yet. So a writer would need to 1) download the app, 2) create an account, and 3) learn the app (although simple). Communicating through phone or skype can be difficult given time differences. So if you live in Los Angeles, working with a writer based in Maryland may not be ideal.

Seems basic, but I promise you it will save you loads of time.

REQUESTED MATERIAL. The first thing you will want to know is if the writer is produced. You will want to see a list of credits (probably on IMDb), what companies and filmmakers they've worked with in the past, and how well their movies did in the box office. So first and foremost, have the writer start off by stating their work history, carefully listing out scripts they've had purchased and produced, as well as scripts they were commissioned to write. You can even throw in contest awards and placements.

Once you have these details, you will probably want to read a writing sample. Just saying "send your best writing sample" is not enough. So let's go back to the feature dark comedy, film festival contender search. It would behoove you to request a script that's limited location, small cast size, character-driven (given you wish to go the festival route first), something that showcases their comedy chops, and something that's feature-length.

However, reading a feature script can take up a lot of time. And you may not have the time (or energy) to read through a bunch of features. So I recommend asking for a short under 10 pages (this way you can see them tell a story from point A to Z), or a scene from a script where there is a clear beginning/goal, where the hero wants something, they don't get it, they go through the whole hero's journey, and finally get (or don't get) what they want. Kind of like how Tarantino sets up his scenes.

Lastly, you will want to mention whether you want their resume (i.e. bio, list of credits, education, awards, and location) listed in the body of the email or a PDF/Word Document. We encourage writers to put this in the body of the email -- most producers don't want to open a bunch of documents (then stored on their computer) from people they don't know. It also allows for a quick search when you can breeze over an email. If you are sold on their pitch via email, then you can open up the attached writing sample.

FINAL THOUGHTS/SUGGESTIONS. Here are a few other things you may want to clarify and state in your advert:

1) Does this specific job require a writer to have a certain level of education? If so, does it have to be in screenwriting?

2) When does the project start? When do you need this project by? A writer may be on another job and won't be available to start on your project for another couple weeks.

3) Where are you in the development process? For example, do you have a loose idea, a summary/treatment, 30-40 pages already written, is it an adaptation for an already published book, is it a re-write on an existing script? All of these elements matter when a writer is applying.

4) Hollywood is a small town. So you may want to see references. If a writer has been commissioned before, they should be able to provide feedback from their last employer. At the end of the day, you want to work with someone who is open-minded, driven, and able to properly collaborate.

While there is always that one screenwriter (if you even want to call them that) who doesn’t follow instructions (probably copies and pastes their same pitch to every producer), the majority of screenwriters do read adverts carefully and all the way through. They also value your time and needs. By following these SIMPLE INSTRUCTIONS, you will get the most out of your search.

Screenwriting Staffing is always looking for capable and talented industry professionals to post on our site. Professionals who are legitimate and are actively searching for screenwriters and screenplays are always allowed to post for FREE. Takes less than 5 minutes to post!


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This article was written by Screenwriting Staffing’s Founder, Jacob N. Stuart. Jacob is an award-winning screenwriter with over 20 scripts either optioned or produced to screen, airing in over 15 different countries. He is a graduate of The Los Angeles Film School with a degree in FILM/ENTERTAINMENT. Outside of judging and spear-heading multiple film festivals across the country, he is a regular contributor for FINAL DRAFT, MOVIEMAKER MAGAZINE, and CREATIVE SCREENWRITING MAGAZINE.




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