Like many people in creative or entrepreneurial businesses, I often work on spec. I write grant proposals that may or may not get funded and plays that, when produced, may or may not make enough money to pay the bills I've run up mounting them. I have written and rewritten feature scripts that may never get made. I have had producers sit across from me at $100 lunches and ask me if they could pay me a dollar for a script I'd worked on for over a year. A portion of my current income is tithed to retiring tour debt to people who loaned me money or worked for me on spec who I owe big time not just for their talent and money but for their faith and support. I do plenty of writing, including this blog, for free. All the artists I know do contra deals, that is work trades. I just traded modelling to a photographer friend in exchange for pictures.
This week, a person who is not an artist, approached me and asked me to co-write a feature film script from an idea he has, based on a family member's self-published memoir. He was convinced it would take me little time and effort to turn the book his family member's writing into a coherent and exciting film script someone will want to spend millions of dollars making. We'll share the writing credit because of course, it is his brilliant idea. I will of course write this thing, with him, while teaching him to write screenplays. Of course I'll be willing, no excited, to do this for free.
I get one of these offers at least once a year. Sometimes the person has a notebook of hand-written ideas, sometimes a vanity book, sometimes just "a great idea" they want me to write while they tell it to me. Not one of these people has ever, once, offered to pay me.
Nor I am never offered a work trade by these people. The well-paid professionals who ask me to do this wouldn't dream of giving me thousands of dollars worth of their services for free but have no compunctions about asking me to give them thousands of dollars worth of my services and many hours of my time, for free.
I am currently working on an interdisciplinary theatre/dance piece that requires I read about ten thousand pages of research. It needs to be some kind of a script by December, a script for which I will be paid in due course. The grant application I am currently writing in support of this project has easily taken 40-60 hours of work.
I also have a 2/3 day job I really enjoy. I have family and friends who need time and attention. I like to get to a yoga class on occasion. I need to see plays and films to stay current on work by my peers and to have something to write about here. My garden needs some serious weeding and I owe my mom and my aunt a call. I am my own cook and my own cleaning lady. I am woefully behind with my knitting. The kitchen needs painting and so does my bedroom. I constantly pitch scripts of my own and go for auditions. Prepping for those meetings takes time and effort.
I have plenty of ideas of my own for my next few plays, I have a couple of feature ideas, there's a television series pitch I'm knocking around with a few friends and then there's the play I want to rewrite and the feature I've already written that I've decided really needs to be a book.
In short, I'm plenty busy and I haven't run out of ideas.
I always tell these wanna-be movie honchos the same thing: "I can't write your script. It's your story and you have to tell it." I then offer to give them private writing tutorials
for pay, or story notes once they've written the thing themselves, also
for pay. I tell them I am not reading the book or their notes. I tell them I expect them to start by telling me, on one
computer-printed page, not in a scribbler full of hand-written notes,
what the story is about in one sentence, who the protagonist is and what happens at the start, what happens in
the middle and what happens at the end. When they realize I'm not dying
to write their movie for free and that they have hard work and hard
thinking ahead of them, as well as an outlay of cash if they want me to
help them, they go away.
Sorry this is my blog entry for this week. As soon as that grant app is done, and I am over a wicked head cold, I plan to go see Pamela Sinha's CRASH at the FACTORY BACKSPACE. If you're free and in Toronto this weekend, I suggest checking out DANCING QUEEN and Paul Hutcheson's SPRING FLING cabaret both on tonight at Buddies in Bad Times. Paul and his cohort are wickedly funny and very naughty. DORA-award winning actor Ryan Kelly stars in DANCING QUEEN, the Sky Gilbert-Keith Cole collaboration that is a musical about a gay love triangle. Their press has been mixed, but neither Cole not Gilbert strive to be everyone's cup of tea. If you're in Winnipeg, EDEN by Hope McIntyre opened this week and the CAROL SHIELDS Festival is on at PTE. Have fun for those of us who are trying to raise money and avoid spreading contagion in our wake.