Hiring a writer for a screenplay: how much does it cost and how to find a writer?

Everything you say has truth to it, but when we say “execution” we are also including the “translating an idea to a screenplay,” not just the filming/distribution of the screenplay. On your analogy, once again, the crappy products are coming out of the high tech factory not because product planners are too stupid to know that a rollable computer screen or hoverboard or sexbot would sell like hotcakes, but because they don’t have the engineering chops to make those concepts work as a product that they can manufacture in that factory and sell at a reasonable price.

I was trying to stay out of this area as it is a hijack of the OP, but since you brought it up yourself…

Movies are expensive to make. As you mentioned $200 million dollars expensive. The people who put up that kind of money aren’t looking to make art, they are looking for a return on their investment. Trends and focus groups show that most Americans wouldn’t know art if it lovingly sucked their cocks. They are marketing to the lowest common (paying) denominator. It works, check out a Happy Meal. Movies are not art, they are business.

Hee hee hee! Welcome to the Heartless Exploiters’ Club! The dues are a little steep, but I think you’ll enjiy the stylish crested blazers!

I am not “in the business”, but everything I’ve ever read about screenwriting (and I have done a lot of reading on this subject) indicates that what you see onscreen can bear little resemblance to the screenplay that was actually sold. A lot of problems in movies that get blamed on the “bad script” were actually the result of changes made to the original script. In other words, it may very well be the case that plenty of money was spent on a fabulous screenplay, and that the suckiness was introduced at a later stage in the moviemaking process.

Once a script is sold, the screenwriter loses control of the project. The studio can do whatever they want with it. IIRC if the studio wants a rewrite then the original writer has the right to have the first crack at it, but after that it can be totally rewritten by someone else…sometimes again and again. The director and in some cases even the stars also have the ability to make substantial changes to the story and dialogue. For more about how a good screenplay can become a bad movie and why it’s foolish to assume you can determine the quality of the script from watching the finished movie, see this Wordplay column.

Congratulations on your perseverance. But unless I’m misreading, what you are saying here is the precise opposite of what Polerius wants to do.

Real writers do the hard work. They study, strive, network, and “write, write, write.” That’s not unique: that’s the norm.

It’s also true that many screenplays are written as a job. It’s hard to believe that Guillermo del Toro has been waiting his entire life to make a movie based on Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride.

Neither remotely applies to Polerius. He doesn’t want to write, write, write. He wants someone else to. He’s not a producer with a guaranteed buyer for a $200 million movie. He’s not a director who wants to film his vision. He’s not a screenwriter who has characters that are begging to be filmed. It doesn’t even sound like he’s a pornographer who wants someone to write up a script so he can film his girlfriend nude. (Yes, many movies were made for this reason.) He doesn’t fit into any of the categories by which real movies are made.

As for Polerius’ aside: every writer in the galaxy has been saying exactly that for decades. Big whoop. Whatever your plan is won’t change the reality of Hollywood any more than it will add a new head to Mt. Rushmore.

Sorry, I meant to address this.

Cory Doctorow. Not true, I believe. He released his first novel online simultaneously with its publication by Tor. He was already a full-time writer, though.

John Scalzi. True. Again, he was a full-time nonfiction writer for a decade before doing this.

Scott Sigler. True. Except, of course, for the decade he spent publishing novels before his breakthrough online.

What are our rules? What do we do with guys who had popular blogs/websites (Fark, Real Ultimate Power, Four Hour Workweek (??)) first and then got book deals? That seems to be a not-super-rare route (though the “books” are often just lame-o rehashes/compilations of the web postings).

Or are we only talking straight self-published fiction?

Sometimes watching a bad movie you can glimpse fragments of the original script – little bits of dialog that suggest character motivations that no longer exist, story arcs that imply the existence of scenes that were left on the cutting room floor, odd discontinuities that would make sense if you jiggered things around a little.

One of the games that my family plays after we go to a movie is trying to reconstruct the bad decisions were made on the fly during production. How was the story originally supposed to work before it got mucked up by the director … ?

Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!

I completely agree that people have gotten attention from online publishing and made deal with major mainstream publishers. That covers a lot of ground, from e-books to blogs.

I just wanted to make the point that many of the examples that get pointed to are really from experienced writers trying to leverage their expertise. That’s perfectly honorable and smart. It’s not quite the same as somebody who sticks their writing up online and gets noticed the first time out, which many people seem to believe is the case. There are some of those but they are far rarer.

Sorry if my point was lost. I’m jaded from having this discussion too many times and I take responsibility for my jumbled meaning.
It seems from the OP he recognizes the futility of the exercise but wishes to pursue it anyway:
“I do have an idea for a screenplay, and I know that the chance that it will ever get made into anything are essentially zero, but if the price is not too high (say, $10,000 or less), I would like to see my idea turn into a screenplay.”

Which was met with:
Originally Posted by** Huerta88**:
People systemically overestimate the value of “ideas.” It’s all in the execution.

Originally Posted by astro:
“I have an idea for” is maybe 1% of the work of really fleshing out a story or a dramatic character."

Originally Posted by Peter Morris:
Ideas are ten a penny. The hard part is writing them.

Originally Posted by** Estilicon**:
"First of all, ideas are worthless"

I was trying to point out that even if your idea is second to an actual script, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a decent writer to put it into 120 pages of professional material just because that writer might have good ideas of his own.

My second point was that an outsider (as I was) can get their foot in the door if they network enough. If the OP pays for someone to produce a sellable script and he is willing to work hard and smart enough he has a shot at getting it read. It’s not as hard as you might think if you are creative. For a script to get read by a big wig it must first get past “the help”. I got past that step by step by befriending Pamela Wallace who I met at a seminar. Rather than talk about ‘the biz’ I asked her if she knew the best place to eat while visiting Monterey, she in turn introduced me to a low level reader.

It’s a loooong shot sure, but doable. I know because I’ve done it. My only regret is that I’m not a better writer so I could have capitalized on it.

Well, most of us probably just wish for the OP that (s)he have the confidence and commitment do it him/herself, as you did. Your dedication and sincerity and effort and commitment to your story are likely a huge part of what got your foot in the door. I just have to think the same message/passion/excitement is not going to come through if the approach is – give me one chance, I had an idea that was so important to me that I . . . hired someone else to do the detail work.

I was doing straight published fiction.

Yes, Doctorow’s books were published as books in addition to the eBooks, but I believe it was the eBooks that fuelled his popularity until Little Brother. Scalzi had no published fiction until putting Old Man’s War on his website made him a huge sci-fi star. And Sigler’s first fiction book, Earthcore, was published as an eBook before he hit it big with his podcast novels.

I admit I’m not familar with these, but here’s what Wikipedia lists:

They appear to be gaming adventures, but that doesn’t mean they don’t count as books.

This is BS.

First, I never said that “I had an idea that was so important to me…”. I’m not consumed by it. I have a job and a good income. I’m not waiting on tables, diligently working on this idea and waiting and hoping for it to make me some money. The fact of the matter is that I just happen to be mulling an idea for a movie in my head for a few years now, and I thought it would be cool to see it on paper. That is all.

Second, I don’t see why I need to “have the confidence and commitment do it myself” and I don’t see why doing it myself would show “dedication and sincerity”.

If I thought that a painting with two galloping horses in a meadow would look great in my living room, why would the preferred route be to take some art lessons, learn how to paint, and paint it myself?

Why would it be a lesser painting if I found an art student, and paid him to paint it for me, after we went through some sketches and I explained to him what I want? The art student would actually likely do a better job than me, even if I took some art lessons.

Same with the screenplay. Why would it be a lesser screenplay if I just found a screenwriting student or amateur screenwriter and paid him to write it for me, after we go through a lot of discussions and I explain to him what I want? The screenwriting student or amateur screenwriter would actually likely do a better job than me, even if I took some screenwriting lessons and worked on my script for a long long time.

Just because some people feel the all-consuming need to put their story on paper themselves, and so learn how to write and spend a lot of time and effort writing it themselves, that doesn’t mean that that should be the only route.

You guys have one thing right: A script from someone outside the industry has a snowball’s chance in hell to ever amount to anything. I know that.

But that’s about the only thing you got right.

It does when you’re talking about fiction versus non-fiction. Before Earthcore, Sigler wrote a computer help manual and four rulebooks for tabletop RPGs. Those aren’t fiction of any kind.

When you’re talking about getting your start in fiction, those really don’t count.

OK. That still fits exactly into my experienced writer leveraging a new form scenario. Basically he and John Scalzi went the same route.

I think part of the problem is that you have said both that you just want to see your idea on paper and that you might be interested in actually getting this script turned into a movie. These are two very different things.

Setting aside the difficulties of actually selling a script in Hollywood, it sounds like you would want to have legal control of the document. First of all, I’m not certain this is even possible. There is a provision in US copyright law regarding “work for hire”, where the copyright belongs to the person who commissioned the work rather than the person who actually created it, but this is limited to certain types of work. It’s not clear to me that a screenplay would qualify. If it does, then the writer would have to sign a contract saying that you would be considered the legal author of the work and would hold the copyright. Some writers would be willing to do this, but I suspect that many would not as a matter of principle.

If you commissioned a painting for your bedroom then you’d own the physical object but the original artist would still hold the copyright. You wouldn’t have the legal right to turn the image into a line of greeting cards or something. If you wanted to commission a writer on similar terms then s/he would just give you a copy of the finished screenplay but you would not be able to publish it or sell the rights to a studio. The writer could attempt to sell the script to Hollywood if s/he wanted to, but you’d have no say in the matter either way. I think you’d be a lot more likely to find a writer willing to work with you on those terms.

Yeah, that opens my eyes. All of us are wrong, and you are correct. You are much cleverer than we are, and don’t need our advice.

Guys, I think we should all stop even trying to advise him. Our puny intellects are obviously no match for him. Let’s all just bow to his superior wisdom, and move on.

The standard practice in Hollywood is that the production company owns the screenplay (or teleplay). Anyone familiar enough with the industry to be capable of writing a screenplay would know this and have no expectation of retaining copyright.

Here’s something from Wikipedia which looks right to me:

But Polerius isn’t a production company, and wouldn’t be paying anywhere near what a screenwriter would expect to get from a Hollywood production company. It’s one thing to sell a screenplay for lots of money to someone with the ability to turn it into a movie. It’s another thing to sell one for a much smaller amount of money to a middleman who will then attempt to sell it to Hollywood for a lot more money. The odds are against this attempt being successful, but either way the writer is better off with the fee from Polerius AND the copyright to the work than s/he would be with the fee and no legal right to the work. If the final screenplay is good then even if Hollywood isn’t interested the writer might want to turn it into a novel or something, and if it’s bad then the writer would probably prefer that it not be shown around too much.

There are probably writers who’d be willing to sign away their rights for the amount of money Polerius is offering, but there must be even more who’d be willing to take on the project if they got to keep the copyright. It’s unclear to me whether a screenplay counts as “part of a motion picture” if you’re writing it for someone with no connections to the movie industry and who isn’t going to attempt to shoot it independently, so I’m not certain it’s even legal for Polerius to ask a writer to do the project on a work for hire basis. So if he wanted to go that route he’d probably need to check with a lawyer about it, and would definitely need someone to draw up a work for hire contract. If he were fine with allowing the writer to keep the copyright then this wouldn’t be necessary.