questionmarkI’m a relatively new screenwriter, also working as a PA and doing script coverage. I’m loving it but it’s not helping me on actually getting my writing out there at all. While the coverage is helping me grow as a writer it’s not helping me get a foot in the door, so to speak.

This has left me looking around for any writing gig I can land to help get my name out there, but I’m quite unsure as to if I should even approach an unpaid writing position. Not that I’m not willing to put the work in but I just don’t want to get screwed over.

Am I right to be wary of these types of positions? I just don’t know how to get my work out there.

— Tim
Toronto

Any work you’re not getting paid for should be yours and yours alone. That’s why aspiring screenwriters write spec scripts. That’s what you should focus on writing.

Still, there may be situations in which it makes sense to write a script for someone else without getting paid. You become friends with a promising-but-broke young director who asks you to write her screenplay. You might say yes. And while it would be smart to have some kind of contract at the outset delimiting rights and responsibilities, it will ultimately come down to trust.

As the writer, you own copyright until you don’t — either by signing a contract transferring copyright, or by entering an agreement to make it a work-for-hire. Yet in many of these situations, someone is coming to you with a property, an idea, or some pre-existing material that makes ownership much less clear-cut.

So again, you’re ultimately going to decide based on how much you trust your collaborators.

You may find writing gigs that are more work than simple coverage but less than a whole screenplay. Say a scrappy young producer asks you to write three webisodes for him, unpaid. Run the cost-benefit analysis in your head. Would you get enough out of the experience to make it worth the hours you spent? If so, do it.

But my first advice remains my final advice: most of what you write should be for yourself or people who can pay you in money, not experience.