If you’re writing for TV, you know you’re a professional when you realize that your goal is to create scripts that aren’t just for reading but for shooting. Most of us find watching our work being shot both exhilarating and frustrating. Here are some tips for surviving a situation that, if you’re lucky, will endure for the rest of your professional life:
by Mark Sanderson
If you’re blessed enough to actually sell a screenplay or get paid for an assignment job, your script will move into the important development process where hopefully your project marches toward production. This is your opportunity to shine as the ultimate collaborator and team player and you should do whatever it takes to move the project closer to the ultimate goal of production. It’s not the time to be precious with your material or a diva that bristles at the necessary changes. You want to stay involved in the development process as long as possible to help build your reputation and show your producers and director how vital it is to keep you around.
I’m blessed to have collaborated with many of the directors of my assignment screenplays because of my close working relationship with the producers. When the script finally hooks a director, the producer receives suggestions on how best to shoot the film given the director’s vision and the budget. That’s when I meet with the director and we discuss the requirements to push it closer toward production. Most of the directors I’ve worked with are veterans of the business, some with hundreds of hours of TV or dozens of films to their credit, and it’s in my best interest to listen and learn. Some of the directors have also been writers, and I’ve been fortunate they have respected that I wrote the screenplay and allowed me to do my job as they do theirs.
I’ve been lucky these directors never dictated to me what they needed as if I was an assistant, but treated me as a full collaborator. We discussed the issues and I was given a chance for my input, and then I went off and made the changes under the agreed deadline. The producers allowed this process to happen and it showed their respect for the role of the screenwriter on their project. I’ve been lucky, as this might not be the norm in Hollywood and your first time out may be different. If you do get a chance to work with directors, savor the experience and learn all you can from them as mentors.
Working with directors is an invaluable experience because you’re allowed to collaborate with the person whose job it is to put your words and story onto the screen. Give the director what he or she needs to make the film and you will be remembered as a vital part of the production. At this point in the process, you’re doing production drafts and the script becomes more of a technical document as everything is about making the script ready for the first day of shooting and beyond. Working with directors will help you become a production savvy screenwriter as you learn the realities of filmmaking, how to stay out of the way of the story, and how not overstep your responsibilities as the screenwriter.