I knew a kid in Newport who used to constantly ask us what if questions. Some of them were absolutely bizarre. “What would you do if I stabbed you?” “I’d probably cry out in pain.” “Then what?” “I think start bleeding is the usual chain of events…”
But yesterday I got the “what if?” question I hadn’t been expecting. Not from the same guy… I’m sure since he couldn’t stay out of trouble he’s probably a politician somewhere (!).
But… “What if a major studio buys the project?” I wrote it specifically in mind for a particular studio, but hopefully I’ve written it well enough that anyone will take it. I’d certainly hate to be the next Francis Coleman…
So, there’s two answers. I really had to think about it. And here’s my answer.
If a studio buys it, it’s a major sale, and it of course depends upon the estimated budget. Foot in the door. I make a chunk of cash, but not enough to guarantee risking my job. David Gerrold was a script reader for a TV studio, and he was assigned spec scripts for Hawaii 5-0, and he wrote it was the worst job on earth. When Star Trek paid him the spec fee for a script, he quit his day job, which was a risky move, and now Hawaii 5-0 is cancelled.
So now, I kick into overdrive. I’ve sold a script, and now I give up useless pursuits for a little while like playing 90 minutes of Age of Empires every weekend (I only have two computer games, the Tone Rebellion and Age of Empires III). Now I go serious about writing.
Finish the projects in my hands as fast as I can, and make quality work out of them, and begin working on my own projects as well. Finish the editing on my first novel, and get those into the hands of literary agents. Because Now I Have Sold Something, and people are more likely to talk to me.
In other words, I need to produce something buyable very quickly, to keep career momentum going.
Now, here’s a further question… what if this gets filmed? The two answers are not the same. If this gets filmed, depending on the budget, I can suddenly find myself a full time author. My day job consists of sitting and writing now. That of course means… I have to let the other job I currently work (and have had for 9 years) go!
Yup. Screenwriters apparently get 9% of the budget. If something films for $20 million, you get $2 million. I’m a co-writer on something, so I get one million dollars – that’s 25 years pay at my current salary.
If you write a blockbuster movie that costs $55 million to film, and you are the only writer, it’s… 5.5 milllion. I think in that case, I’d probably order pizza. Heck, two pizzas!
Looking at what I have now is 25 movie ideas. If I sold all of them at $25 million budgets each, it’s a lot of money. If on the other hand, I just sell the one movie, it requires I live at the level I’m living now, but I’m taken care of for most of my life.
So, let’s assume the brass ring – this gets bought, and filmed – I now have to leave my job, and start looking for my retirement home in Rhode Island. I think the biggest joke I have is that writing is the most obscure career in the world – everyone expects you to move to a place where you have gorgeous scenery to inspire you, and then you sit in a room all day looking at a computer screen!
See, these are nice problems to have. Currently, I’ve got 100 homes saved in my Zillow account, but see, some idiot keeps buying the good ones! Knock it off!
Let’s ask the other question… what if it gets filmed, but after the pay split, expenses, taxes, union fees (I have to immediately join the Writer’s Guild, and that’s $2,500 right off the bat)… I’ve made maybe $60,000?
That’s not enough to leave a job over. But it’s a really good start! I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t complain. See, even getting paid fifty bucks to write a script would be great, because it’s $50 I wouldn’t have without this!
But yeah… I think just in case God smiles on me during all this, I’d better write a 50 step plan of moving to Row Duyland. Step one… pay off bills. Step 2. Buy stocks. Step three – order pizza… etc.