I've been blessed this year. I've been hired several times to rewrite projects. Round of high-fives!
Not bragging, but I have managed to work on three feature rewrites and two pilots. So why on earth would I be frustrated?
I've had a spec screenplay I've been planning to write for a year and I have not had the time or energy to get to it. One might say that this is a “#firstworldwriterproblem" - but it’s really not. As great as it is writing (or rewriting) and getting paid for it, it is really critical for writers, whether you are Aaron Sorkin or Joe Schmoe, to find a balance between paid jobs and putting your own ideas down on paper. Here’s why:
1. Movies are hard to get made
Right now, the major studios are releasing brands. Disney - Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm, Disney Animation and a live action remake of a classic film. Warner Bros. - committed to DC & Lego. Universal – "The Dark Universe," "Jurassic Park(s)." You get the idea. Unless you're working on one of these big-budget films, there's a chance that your paid assignment could take years to get financed. Or never made at all. Even worse, because of so many factors, the film could turn out to be something you never want anyone to see.
2. Write-for-hire is not truly your voice
Congratulations! There really is nothing more flattering than getting hired to write or rewrite a project. I personally prefer rewriting as some of the work has been done for you. And getting hired to do a pilot or feature means that someone really enjoys your voice and perspective. That said, this is a WRITE-FOR-HIRE. It’s not your baby, no matter how attached to the characters you get. The script, no matter how much of it reflects your input, will never truly be your sole voice...because someone hired you to write it. And they have the right to hire someone after you as well. There will also be notes. And more notes. And sometimes your true voice won’t be there at all. And if you signed an NDA, you may not be able to use it as a writing sample as it belongs to someone else. So, you've spent months working on someone else’s project and have nothing to show for it. That’s okay though, you got paid.
3. The industry requires new writing samples
True, there are not a lot of specs being sold these days, but the industry is still a business and as a writer in this business every new script is a reintroduction. You can’t always shop around a 20-year-old script. Life happens. People come and go. Time changes and your script may not reflect it. You need a writing sample for the now. I’m not saying don’t shop those old scripts, God knows I do. But also try and come up with new ideas.
4. Flex your voice
Your writing voice is a muscle just like anything else. Writing for someone else could be considered working on your legs. But you can’t exercise your legs all the time. You have to work on arms. I previously said that life changes. Well, so do you. Your perspective at this juncture may be radically different than when you wrote your first spec. Put that muscle to work!
There is no greater satisfaction for me than writing “Fade to Black” on a script I thought of and wrote. Why? At this point, the script is pure. It's truly your creation. No one else has read it. No notes have been given yet. But you have created something new from YOUR brain and heart.