questionmarkI had a producer option an (award-winning) spec script from me for $1. Over the past 18 months I’ve undergone about eight substantial revisions and a few smaller ones based on their notes. All revisions were done on good faith, meaning without pay.

Recently we agreed that the producer could be attached as Director. They then asked me if they could do a Director’s pass to the script. I said I preferred they give me notes and I execute them. They said it wasn’t possible for them to find funding and get actors attached without first doing a Director’s pass.

I understand that in Hollywood a Director’s pass is part of the process. However, I feel at the independent level (the proposed budget is under $700K) I should be able to retain creative control until production since this is supposed to be a calling card piece for all involved, especially because I have not been paid for my revisions. What do you think?

— Bill Haley
Greenwood, Indiana

The producer/director is not happy with the current state of the script. Whether she’s saying it or not, that’s what is really going on.

There is no grand tradition of a “director’s pass.” When it happens, it’s because some directors (1) believe they can write and (2) believe they can fix the perceived problems in the script. They may say they want to “make it their own.” But underlying that is the fact that there’s something about the script that bugs them, and you haven’t been willing or able to address it.

You’ve been (much) more than generous by doing a ton of free work backed by a $1 option. 1 Based on the option agreement you signed, she may already have the right to bring in another writer, including herself. If so, you’re not going to improve the situation by creating a fuss. Be as supportive and constructive as you can.

Maybe she’ll surprise you and make some great changes. Remember: directing is a performance. Just like some actors can’t make sense of certain lines of dialogue, some directors can’t make sense of certain scenes. If she can recognize and correct for her weak spots, the movie will ultimately benefit.

If you’re not happy with her revisions, let her know why. Be specific and non-defensive. If you feel the script is really going off the rails, you may just have to hope she doesn’t get the movie made and you’ll have the chance to let the option lapse.

At that budget level, you do have some potential protections. It may be a little late to insist on one of the WGA’s Low Budget Agreements, but keep them in mind for next time; it could help protect your credit and back-end money. And with the dollar figures so low, you’re right to insist on greater creative controls. Don’t agree to further option extensions without both a conversation and a contract specifying how it’s going to work going forward.

  1. Bill can do this free work because he’s presumably not a WGA member, and the producer isn’t a WGA signatory.