Is This What I Signed Up For?

Getting the best from the Writer-Producer relationship

Note from the editor: An earlier version of this article was published was incomplete. We apologise to the author.

Think of any love-relationship you’ve ever been in. Now strip out the joy and sex and dial the stress and anxiety up to 11. And that’s pretty much your typical Writer/Producer working relationship.

It begins, like many couplings, with a feeling of “coming home”. You’re bathed in a glow of praise and love for your project. So much love. They’re loving your “original voice”. Your outline “jumps off the page”. And you? You’re ridiculously, hopelessly grateful. You’re starry-eyed with optimism as you embark on what will surely be a mutually beneficial relationship. What could possibly go wrong?

The intense crush phase gradually wanes. No more chummy coffee-mornings in the production office discussing your vision. You’re now a zoom-face or a phone-voice.

You’re a one-person word-factory, churning out the required material as fast and furiously as you can. As you plough through rewrite after rewrite, deadlines seem to meet each other head on. It’s all about delivery. Production schedules wait for no writer.

You’re starting to crack under the pressure. But you can’t let them see that. After all, they’re depending on you. They commissioned you. They love your work, don’t they? It’s hard to tell anymore. You yearn for that former closeness, wondering had you imagined it? Maybe they’re seeing other writers?

And finally, it’s done. You’re a shadow of your former self, you’ve developed a facial tick, stomach ulcer and full-body eczema, but you’re the proud owner of a piece of work that’s going to be on screen for all the world to see. It was all worth it. Wasn’t it?

There is an alternative.

Begin from a different standpoint. Don’t seek the love or the closeness. Never forget, this is a business relationship. The producer is not your friend, your counsellor or your mother. They are your business partner. Actually scratch that – they’re your boss and you’re the employee. [Down the road when you’re an Executive Producer, this all changes, but for now it’s You and Them].

On the upside, they genuinely like your idea. More importantly, they’re the only ones who can bring it to the screen. And kudos to them for churning out those funding applications, reaching-out to broadcasters and bringing home the money. Which, let’s face it, isn’t your strong suit. That’s the trade-off. You don’t need flowers.

And your precious project? It’s a product (yes, yes, a wonderfully original one) but, thankfully for you, they’ve reframed it as a marketable commodity and will sell the bejayzus out of it on your behalf. So no, it’s not your baby anymore. But then again, it’s nothing if it sits in your drawer.

Keep that front of mind and everything changes;
The early-days Writer-Producer meetings become less of a love-in, and more an opportunity for you to find out what their expectations are and get a sense of how they work.

Take off the fuzzy best-friend glasses and you glean vital information about the nuts and bolts process of bringing your project to screen. Not only will that inform how you work, but it demonstrates to your producer(s) that you too see it as a business relationship.

Those endless requests for spirit-crushing rewrites? Now that you’re not looking for the love, you see the demands for what they are; steady steps forward on the way to reaching the finish line and getting your product (story) out there.

Even the casting decisions – the ones you didn’t agree with – you stop obsessing, because you’ve got your business-head on now, and you trust that their decisions will nail the funding, and get the damn thing made.

And yes, there will still be moments where human meets human and a warm breeze of creative sympatico will blow through the room; a joyful whoop when a particular actor gets on board, a shared eye-roll when a funder delivers bizarre script-notes, an encouraging text late on a Friday night. But don’t wish for it. Just keep your eyes forward and do the work. It’s your job.

For love, hugs and unquestioning adoration, get a dog.

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