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So you have a story, but don’t feel like you are a natural writer. Or maybe you can string some decent sentences and dialogue together, but wouldn’t mind having someone else to help with the process. If any of the above is true, then hiring a writer should be one of the first steps you take. Because this is your story, you also want to be clear about what exactly you need your writer to do. Will your writer develop and expand the story with you, or do you simply want someone to translate your idea into screenplay form? The writer’s responsibilities may change based on the type of project, budget level or your working (not to mention personal) relationship. Whichever the case, this is an area where everyone literally needs to be on the same page.

Photo: Public Domain | George Grantham Bain

The Right Writer

If the writer you hire only views your project as a paycheck, you may not get the desired results. You want to find a writer who is passionate about the story and also understands the material. Maybe this person has written something else in the same genre or has a take that synchs up naturally with your vision – though, be careful about writers who get too attached to every word and aren’t open to feedback. Notes, revisions and rewrites are a part of the process, so any professional should understand this. At the same time, you likewise should be receptive to the writer’s suggestions and ideas. If you treat your writer like a paid employee, you will end up with that person who views your project as a gig to cover rent. And if you’re not paying a whole lot to begin with, the writer will simply walk off the project.

Union vs. Non-Union

Writers have a union too – the Writers Guild of America. An experienced film or TV writer will likely be a member of the WGA, and thus subject to Guild minimum payments for productions. If you don’t have enough money in the budget to meet these, you may have to find another form of compensation, such as a producer credit or profit participation. More experienced writers working on a low wage scale may also be less willing to compromise, and their representatives will likely build in a set number of revisions to their agreement. What non-union writers lack in paid professional experience they make up for in costing as much as you’re willing to pay. A less experienced writer might also prove more ready to collaborate and make sacrifices for the project. And even the best writers start out their careers outside the WGA. Whether you hire a union or non-union writer, it’s also important to be up front about credits; in addition to shouting matches and hurt feelings, you could also wind up in arbitration.

Further Reading:

What You Can Ask For

Depending on your writer’s level of experience, you may want to ask for certain things. If your writer is in the Guild and has representation, you will probably have to do this ahead of time in the contract; and yes, the more you ask for, the more you’ll spend. If your writer has less experience, you might want to make sure he or she knows what to do. An outline will give you a basic sense of what the writer is thinking. A step outline, on the other hand, will lay out every scene in the story. While this may seem like a lot of work, you’ll definitely know whether the writer is capable of telling the story. Any major problems ahead of time should be apparent, which will mean less work in the way of revisions. Of course, if you sign off on a step outline and then change your mind after the fact, then you’ll probably have to find a different writer for the next draft.

A roundabout way of explaining why you need an outline.

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