Money for Nothing, and your Scripts for Free

Twitter: January 31st - The Writer’s Guild of Canada quotes a top Canadian agent: “The way we win against LA is giving talent sense of mastery, purpose, creative freedom. It’s not necessarily about the $. We, think he’s on to something.”

I swell with rage, yelling at my sympathetic roommate everything that comes to mind: One-Dollar Options, Shopping Agreements, how can our guild promote the idea that money isn’t something that is an important factor when it comes to show BUSINESS.

Screenwriters are the first people that will give away their work for free for an opportunity to be seen.

Being both the little devil and little angel on my shoulder, my roommate eventually convinces me not to tweet back and to sleep on it - the main point is that reacting to it might put me on a blacklist. Being labeled as a troublemaker is the biggest fear for an emerging writer when trying to launch a career.

But then she encourages me to start following Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Instagram, and the vision of an empowered woman taking on the ‘way things have always been done’ reminds me that I have a voice and it would be meek of me not to address this rage in an appropriate forum. My own blog. Let the chips fall where they may.

I have reached an age where it might be more important for me to get shit off my chest then to sit quietly and keep sweet for an opportunity in an industry that is constantly telling me I’m “too much” or “not enough”. Maybe now is the time for us to band together and express that creatives are not an after thought when it comes to content creation, that we are the heart and soul.

The fear of losing talent to Los Angeles is very real, and as someone who has always wanted a Canadian career but hasn’t been able to make serious traction, it has become a very real option for me. I have been called “a hard sell” to my face by those who should be in charge of selling me. What’s a girl to do when the powers that be say that you’re not what they can sell in Canada. Let’s say you study elephants? Are you going to stay in a place that doesn’t have any - no, you go where the work is.

But that’s not what this tweet is saying, it’s saying that: giving talent sense of mastery, purpose, creative freedom is more necessary than making sure they receive a fair wage to bring your stories to life. So my challenge to them is to let us know What Does That Look Like?

As a society we place a monetary value on things, that way we know what we want to foster and protect.

So how do we give talent a sense of mastery, purpose and creative freedom without making it about money? How do we ask a Screenwriter to take time out of their life to develop a TV show, to create a Webseries, to research a Film? How do we do that without putting value on their time? We pay agents and execs so that they can make space to promote scripts, we pay people at the networks develop what they deem worthy, we pay trade and crafts folk to make the vision come to life. Why are we always looking for a loop hole to not pay a decent wage to the person who wrote the script? I have joked in the past that I have only ever seen one producer wearing a crappy pair of shoes.

When I was an A.D. a producer pointed to a stack of scripts and said they got them all for a buck, I have signed paperwork to give an opportunity to a production company to shop my script to networks for no compensation.

There’s a lot to be angry about, but it boils down to the heartache that our Guild tweeted a quote that implies that a sense of mastery, purpose, creative freedom does not also have a monetary value. That money doesn’t gives us worth, that investing in our creatives is secondary to “empowering” us. This quote lets the purse holders exhale, that if they are good listeners, content creators will feel fulfilled.

That same producer who had a stack of Dollar-Options gave me great advice, he said NEVER agree to one. He said that if a producer has to pay - even a hundred bones - that script will be at the top of the list, because they will see that script as worth more than a lowly can of coke, but more like the cost of a dinner - with wine. Interestingly, he’s the same producer with the crappy shoes.

This message isn’t for agents, producers or execs, this is for the WRITERS: What value do you put your mastery, purpose, creative freedom at? Is it the cost of living for the months you write content for them, on spec, before you even get to the pitching stage? Do we hold the industry responsible for our financial and therefore our creative freedom? How do we ask them to take our work seriously without paying for it, because our work is our purpose? We have all in various ways invested in our education, paid for software to insure that the formatting is appropriate, or walked away from mainstream employment to hone our craft, how else are we compensated for what it takes to be a master?

The myth of the starving artist is romantic, but I ask again, have you ever met a producer with a crappy pair of shoes? Why are they asking us to stay below the poverty line for the sake of art? The same ART that they SELL. Do we want to live in a world where the Auction Houses make more money than the Painter?

L.A. isn’t the enemy (even though they pay ten times the amount for development and acquisitions). The idea that the work should be FREE is.

Gillian MullerComment