Writers Beware: The “No Pay Partner” Exploitation

Earlier today I was reading calls for writers when I came across one that made me mad.

It had been posted by some yo-yo (yes, that is an insult that I am using) and said that he had written a screenplay and put it on some website and gotten a critique, but felt he was only a mediocre writer so wanted to pair up with someone. Since there was no guarantee the film (which he “sees” as getting made as a big-budget flick) would be made, it “wouldn’t make sense” for him to pay the writer selected as his “partner” (I use the term loosely), but he’s willing to offer a 60/40 split on anything he earns when and if the money starts rolling in.

The ad made me so mad I took to Twitter to vent my frustrations with this kind of bullshittery.

Now, let me be clear: I don’t think a 60/40 split is unreasonable for this endeavor, necessarily. What got my hackles up was the casual dismissal of the idea that it might make sense to offer *something* to the person ghostwriting/doctoring someone else’s pet project. The guy talks about the projects he has under his belt, admitting they aren’t large-scale, but there’s no mention of reciprocity or access or mentoring or anything else. Just two caveats: don’t have an ego, and don’t expect to earn off the work till it’s up on the big screen.

And then you get 40% of the writer’s fee. Anybody wanna look up WGA minimums for that? Bet it wouldn’t pay my rent for three months.

Now, I believe in profit-share, and I believe in it big time. But the idea that this guy expects someone else to throw down time for a project where he himself seems to have zero skin in the game? Writers, I recommend you run, not walk, away from ads like that. No thank you. There are professional ways to indicate a gig is a profit share, and this ain’t it.

Here’s the thing: if you’re running a straight-up profit share, then everybody has to have some kind of creative autonomy that they’re going to find fulfilling and that will broaden their horizons in a way they find significant. Taking someone else’s overwritten first draft and incorporating third-party notes with zero compensation until the guy gets it picked up by a studio? Is this an ad being posted undercover by Ashton Kucher? Then NO WAY. No way, no how, nothing doing.

This isn’t to say that writers shouldn’t get involved in profit shares. My upcoming play “Ace in the Hole” (YES, IT HAS A TITLE!!!) was commissioned under a profit share agreement, with my earnings coming off the back end. But a) I know who I’m working with, and we have a good previous relationship and b) the guidelines I was given meant that I could challenge myself as a writer and really take something positive from the process no matter what eventual level of financial success it attains.

The reason I get mad when I see ads like the one that set me off today is because people get taken in by that shit all the time. Some writer hoping for a break will probably pour blood, sweat and tears into that script – or any of the dozens behind ads just like it – and not only will they never see a dime, but they won’t be building relationships that will help them in the future, either. Because someone who actually writes “no egos” in their ad probably already has enough of one to fill a room on their own. Do you really want to write for someone like that, for free?

Earning money as a writer is hard enough without people thinking it’s okay to devalue the work we do. When someone tries to cast their exploitation in the light of partnership, be damn sure you know what non-monetary gains you’re going to take away from the table if the script doesn’t get made into a blockbuster.

Cuz unless Tyler Perry is looking for ghost writers, that 60/40 payday is most likely never gonna happen.

One response to “Writers Beware: The “No Pay Partner” Exploitation

  1. I’m not a writer but I know a few people who are. I’ll be passing this along. Thanks and take care.

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