What’s The Big Idea?

At what point does your high (or low) concept pitch become ‘intellectual property’ that is unique, has monetary value and is defendable?

Turning your project from idea into a financeable property is one of the hardest journeys for a screenwriter to make.

Reducing the blood, sweat and tears that goes into writing a great screenplay to, well, a commodity might seem like an insult to you but you have a dual identity as an artist and as a business person and an unproduced script does not a mortgage pay.

So, let’s clear up where value is created. An idea has no monetary value until it has been given detailed expression in written form. That may be a synopsis, a treatment, story bible or a screenplay.

There should be a clear premise, plot from start to finish and an outline of the principal characters. In short, everything that makes your story unique and non-generic. Let’s now – for the sake of simplicity – call this document a property.

The value producers can add is a route to market, credibility with contacts in commissioners or financiers, a capacity to package the project with the optimal directing and cast and then successfully manage the resulting production to realise the writer’s vision.

A producer without a script to develop is out of business. They need a viable (which is to say a financeable) property. Despite this fundamental truth, many producers are killed telling you how they have no money to pay you and why it is that you should let them option your work for free (or the ‘good and valuable consideration of €1’).

The Writers Guild of Ireland suggests that there are no circumstances when you should agree to that. None. If you don’t value what you have created, why should anybody else?

Now while it’s true that many Irish producers lead hand-to-mouth existences, if they can’t or won’t pay, you should strongly question why you are contemplating going into business with them at all. Because that is what they are: a business partner. They are providing their knowledge/experience/contact and you are providing them with access to something to sell. Resist any attempt by a producer to diminish your role to one of a contractor following the brief of a demanding client. You should also quickly disabuse inexperienced or arrogant producers (these qualities tend to come in pairs), that offering an opinion about your work or suggesting possible plot, character or dialogue changes do not entitle them to a credit as a co-writer.

As you gain in experience as a writer and more of your work is produced, you should begin to insist on a greater continued creative control in the realisation of your work. After all, your reputation is now adding value to whatever property you have created and that extra value makes it easier for the producer to attach talent and finance the project.

The arrival of the streamers in the audio-visual content market has heralded a host of new opportunities for writers with talent and ambition. Viable returnable commercial ideas have the power to redress the power imbalance too often endured by creatives in the past. It’s up to each writer to stand their ground and assert their fundamental right to have a big say in how the projects they have created are realised.

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