How to Use Wordweight to Your Advantage

Word Weight Image“Wordweight,” as I call it, is the amount of black ink relative to the white of the page it’s printed on. When deciding how to print your work, there’s a common expression that’s a good rule of thumb to follow: “more white than black.”

When a pile of scripts lands on the desk of a reader or a producer’s assistant, it’s their job to read through the seemingly endless pile of words, providing coverage notes for the producer to look over. Those notes are what determine if the producer will take an interest in the script and decide to read it in full.

When readers approach this daunting pile, they generally decide what to read first based on genre, title, and first impression. This first impression is made by simply flipping through the pages to get a feel of the wordweight of the script.

In a normally formatted screenplay, you can have as many as 250-300 words per page. After indentations and dialogue, it will resemble more of an epic speech than an actual script. At this density, your script looks like a LOT of work to read. Chances are the person flipping through will think to themselves, “I’ll save that one for later..”

Your goal is to target 150-180 words per page. At this wordweight, the readers eyes can relax and take in the text with greater ease. Even though the word count of the entire script hasn’t changed, it will seem like a faster read, which will make it more enjoyable for the poor person who reads through these things day in and day out.

Once you’ve reformatted your script, you’ll experience the secondary benefit of this rule: a new perspective for assessing your own word economy. You’ll notice long sentences (especially those describing actions) standing out, and they can and should be simplified. With fresh eyes, you’ll be able to go back and make your script a lean, mean story machine.

After you’ve approached your scripts this way a couple of times, you’ll find all of them losing their wordweight, becoming sleeker and sexier. And hopefully, you’ll be getting more attention from the producers you’ve been dying to work with.

What to Do When You Accept a Screenwriting Gig

Almost every writer at some point in his/her career has completed an assignment and discovered that the client can’t, or won’t, pay up. Unfortunately, sometimes this is unavoidable. There are a lot of scammers out there waiting for unsuspecting writers to take advantage of. However, there are some tips and tricks you should know to reduce your risks of getting “burned.”

  1. Where you find your gigs matters. Very few people posting on free sites like Craigslist are “serious” industry folk. These sites usually make it easy for the poster to remain anonymous or unverifiable, especially if it’s a job you work on remotely.
  2. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. A “producer” looking a 10 min script is not going to pay $2000 to have it written by someone they find off of Craigslist. Most small time producers posting on free sites are probably bankrolling the production themselves. They simply aren’t going to have the budget, and more likely than not they need someone who can work for free. Doing a couple free projects can lead to paid work down the line, but make sure you’re being realistic with yourself about the likelihood of that eventual payoff.
  3. Know what your personal and careers goals are, and go after projects that are in line with them. You have to make decisions based on more than pay. You might accept a low paying job because it’s a really cool project you have personal ties to, because you would be helping out a friend, because it will eventually lead to higher paying work, or simply because you have a few bills that needs to get paid, now. Do what’s right for you, and don’t worry about what others think.
  4. Request your agreement be put in writing. If they make up an excuse as to why they can’t, write it yourself. Send it to them and request that it be signed and returned before you begin working on the assignment.
  5. Once you have a first draft, register the screenplay under your name. If they do not pay you any portion of what they owe, “remind” the client that the screenplay is registered to you and you alone. Once the debt is settled, you can give them the registration number, and they can choose whether they want to re-register it under their own name(s).
  6. Request 50% of your payment up front. If they don’t have it now, they’re probably not going to have it later.
  7. Don’t act like everyone is out to get you. Professionals want to maintain positive relationships with all of their clients. It’s important to be cautious and prevent risks, but try not to behave like everyone is out to take advantage of you. You won’t end up building any quality relationship that way.
  8. Research your clients. Ask for their name, website, and IMDB page. If they have a number of legitimate projects under their belt, chances are they are trustworthy.
  9. Talk with other screenwriters about who they enjoy working with and who they avoid. Learn from others mistakes, and let others do the same from yours. This will save everyone time, and help you build strong relationships with your peers in the industry.
  10. Meet every requirement of your contract. That means due dates, approval of changes, etc. If you meet your end of the deal, there is nothing they can argue as to why they aren’t paying you in accordance with your contract.

For a working relationship to be a positive one, both sides have to hold up to their end of the deal. This is a basic tenet of respect and the first step in building trust. With that respect and trust, you’ll be able to leverage the relationships you form for years to come.