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budgeting for script writer

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budgeting for script writer
on Jan 9, 2006 at 3:37:39 pm

This has always been the most challenging part of a video proposal for me, perhaps someone here can provide some insight.

When working on a proposal how do you budget for a scriptwriter? It used to be $100-$200 per finished minute. That still works out well, but what about the 2 extremes...a 30 second ad spot and a 30 minute Infomercial? Can you budget $50-$100 for a writer to write a 30 second spot? Can you figure on $3,000 to $6,000 for a writer to write a 30 minute infomercial script?

What about talent fees? Are they the same for corporate on-camera talent as they would be for on-camera infomercials? I'm talking non-union here.

Last question... If you were producing and directing an infomercial featuring a male and female host team, with the look and feel of the old PM magazine show, where we would tape the on-camera in various shopping locations, would you use TelePrompters or Cue Cards?

Thanks for your help and suggestions.


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Mark Suszko
Re: budgeting for script writer
on Jan 10, 2006 at 5:48:33 am

As far as the script writer goes, if you're talking non-guild, well, whatever they will accept, is the direct but useless answer.

I think it has to depend a lot on how much work the writer is taking on. To do the job right, the way I would do it, I would demand to do some research and the needs analysis, if there isn't good enough material already available from the client. Then I would need x amount of time to come up with the creative approach, then a treatment stage, which would then be brought in for client review, before I even wrote a word of the script. Call me insane, but I try to do this exercise even for 30-second spots, it's good discipline.

Your freelance writer, if she or he does all these due-diligence steps, would want to charge you either a day rate or an hourly rate, one that has a fudge factor for the "thinking time" they are putting into the project even when they are "off the clock", and the gas they spend driving to meetings and such.

How do they figure the rate? Some start with a total number they would like to get to, and work backwards to figure the likely hours and rate. That's about as safe as playing the horses; every gig is different, every job brings up different obstacles, all of which may blow the predicted time on task, so you overshoot or underbid most of the time, niether of which is good for business.

Then what of revisions? Gotta charge for re-writes at some point, though I think most non-union guys give you one free re-write as part of the package. I would, if I was confident in the treatment. If the front-end work leading to the treatment was done right, re-writes would be pretty rare, and usually minor tweaks.

Let's say for fun, it's a 30-minute infomercial.

*Three one-hour meetings, one up front, one for research, one to present the treatment.

*A couple of phone calls in between, to discuss some of the creative approaches and nip the impractical ones in the bud. Maybe an hour's worth, spread out here and there.

*A day of thinking and writing time.

*A day to write the actual treatment.

*A day for tweaks after the review meeting.

*Hour meeting to re-present the revised treatment and get approval for script or termination of the effort.

*2 days to write the actual script.

*One hour meeting to present it.

*One day for any final tweaks after legal and etc. have "put their stink on it". Approval over phone or e-mail.

*Optional "stand-by" time on set or in post, to help with any unforseen problems that crop-up during the shoot or edit, one to four hours. Some writers insist only they are allowed to execute the script changes, depends on the contracts.

That makes roughly.... 46 hours of work or so, at ten bucks an hour, $460 for about a week's work, spread out over a week or maybe more, give or take, and cheap at the price. But I could be off by a factor of five or ten, it really varies with each job. Will the guy touch it for ten an hour? Real full-time writers have the same business concerns producers and editors have: they have insurance, taxes, gas, capital costs, etc. to pay off, all from very short-term jobs. They really can't write more than one big thing at a time, so if they take you on, on your schedule, for your price, they have to be able to pass up any more lucrative work that gets offered perhaps the next day. You pay peanuts, you get squirrels. Once you work out the hours, are you writing for less than minumum wage? What level of writer will work that cheap?

Yeah, you're mileage will vary. Sometimes, the whole thing just pops out, fully formed, like Athena from Zeus' forehead, after a short phone conversation, and it's perfect. That's more common for 30-second spot ideas than 30-minute informercials. But be wary of projects where the writing is so matter-of-fact; typically, what you'll be getting will be re-run cliche' hack jobs, re-treaded from previous productions and sloppily modified to use with your product/service.

Or a snap-decision, without the due diligence, to do something "cool" and trendy, in imitation of the latest pop phenomenon, will cost you a lot of money and maybe look prety slick in the end... but will it actually sell anything? Will the clients be able to remember the visually compelling gimmick, but not recall the product name? The Superbowl half-time spots are infamous for many of these.

How much business is this project supposed to bring in to the company? An extra hundred thousand in new accounts? A million? What percentage of that target revenue is worth investing in the production to get the desired result, 10 percent? More? Maybe you CAN afford a guild writer after all, if it's worth the effort?

Back when I worked as a line producer on a cable show imitation of PM Mag, we used cue cards on location, and occasionally prompters in the studio, when they were available. We also relied a LOT on the talent being able to memorize a paragraph or two's worth of links, or we'd prep them with enough facts that they could ad-lib the throws and do all right. In those cases, the cue cards were only maybe five key words, to jumpstart their memory. Prompter rigs today are light and relatively cheap: you can put one together for right around a grand, or rent them for lots less, just when you need them. Mine's a hundred a day, or $150 for a 2&1/2-day weekend, self-operated. Not advertising, just trying to give a sense of a low-end rental rate, you can certainly pay more.

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