I found a great writer. Now what do I do?

Yesterday we talked about where you can go to find writers who will put your idea for a Broadway or Off-Broadway (or Off-Off Broadway) show on paper.

But once you find that writer (or writers), then what do you do?  Here are four tips on what to do with that writer once you find him or her.

1.  Think twice.

The first thing you should do before jumping into bed with a writer is to give it a second thought and get a third opinion.  You’re marrying this writer.  Sure, you can always get divorced (see below), but that’s just going to make things more difficult later on (and more expensive), and more importantly, it’ll slow down the development of the piece.  You want to make sure that this writer is exactly what you are looking for. Don’t compromise, especially if the idea for the show came from your head.  It’ll drive you crazy to sign somebody up only to find out that he/she is not as passionate about the idea as you, or if they want to take it in a different direction than you do.

2.  What’s the deal?

Are you commissioning the writer?  In other words, are you paying him or her a fee to write your idea?  Upfront commission fees can range from a few hundred bucks to several thousand, depending on the reputation of your writer, and how badly they want to work on your project.  Commissions are especially common in the non-profit world, but creative commercial producers can and should use this tool as well.

When you do commission a writer, make sure you protect your creative contributions as well.  Most playwrights are going to ask that they own the final product (unless you can pay a significant upfront fee), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a piece of future income due to the writer(s) (and perhaps a credit as well) for being the creative impetus for the project.

Maybe you don’t want to commission, but instead you want to collaborate, which will put you more into the creative mix.

(Red Flag Alert:  When negotiating, be wary of writers who are only after high up-front advances or fees.  Sometimes this is a sign that they are not as interested in the project, and that they don’t believe that they will see a lot of long-term royalties (which is why they want guaranteed income up front)).

There are a thousand different ways to get a writer on board, and I strongly recommend you speak to a lawyer or someone who has hired writers before to get an idea of what will work best for your unique situation.  At  the end of the day, you want a deal that works well for both parties.

And don’t just try and get the writer to sign on board for nothing.  Giving people a little money makes them feel better about working on a project, and also makes them more beholden to their boss (that’s you!).

3.  Set deadlines.

Establish clear deadlines from day one for the development of the piece.  When is the first scene due?  When is the first Act due?  Completed script?  First reading?  Map out a developmental course, have the writer agree to it, and then make ’em stick to it.  Sure, you may have to adjust deadlines along the way, but having a mutually agreed upon plan will guarantee that more work gets done, and faster.

4.  If it’s not working out, make a change.

If the script isn’t coming together the way that you had envisioned it in that theater in your mind, then fire the writer, and move on.  Yes, it may cost you some bucks . . . but how much will it cost you in the long run if the idea that gets on stage isn’t the one you wanted written?  Now add in the mental anguish and more you’ll experience by working with someone for years when you don’t see eye to eye.  Now that’s expensive!  This is where theater producers need to be more like movie producers.  If the writer isn’t working, then find another one.  Period.  You owe it to your idea.  If you don’t make that change, you’ll always wonder what if . . .

Finding and hiring a writer is hard.  It’s one of the hardest things that a creative producer will ever have to do.  But it should be.  Because it’s the most important thing a creative producer will ever have to do.

It’s like building your dream house.

You can find the lot, and you can list all the features that you want . . . a big porch, a 3 car garage, a jacuzzi tub.  But it’s up to someone else to build that house, make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing, and make sure it doesn’t fall down after a few months.

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