Scriptwriter speaks to director

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, you always want to hire a scriptwriter, not the production company, first. You need to find the right scriptwriter for your project.

Scriptwriters aren’t a commodity. Some have worked in their field a few years and some many years. Regardless of background, any good scriptwriter’s most important asset is his or her ability to learn your business well enough to excite the audience about it.

Ask questions. 

When interviewing writers, you have a chance to find out if you’ll get along with them—this is often a strong indication of whether they’ll give you the product you want. You’ll get a good idea if you ask the following questions about specific scripts:

  • what were your client’s objectives?
  • do you feel you met those objectives?
  • was your client satisfied?
  • have you followed up on your projects?
  • how much do you need to research your topics?

Listen for “get-alongability.”

You want to know that the writer will take your organization’s needs to heart and will offer the most efficient, least expensive solutions to your needs. A good writer may not always agree with you but should be able to explain why his or her solution might work better. That’s what you’re paying for. Select the writer you feel most comfortable with—the one you trust, the one who seems the most interested in your organization and your project.

Look for quality, not low price.

Ask two or more writers to produce a sample treatment so that you can choose the one you like best. Consider this a competitive bidding situation like any other, except you’ll pay them for the work.

Meet with each writer, give each the material you have and anything they request, and have them develop a rough treatment for the production. Select the one you like. You may or may not use these treatments once the writer has become as familiar with the project as you are. Right now, you’re looking for clarity, creativity, and style.

Because you’ve also paid for the ideas you rejected (your arrangement with each writer is a “work for hire,”) you’re free to use any you like.

Don’t try to save on the scriptwriting.

The money you may save skimping on a script will likely haunt you in the production process. A professional writer is worth the extra money . . . to prevent nightmares from coming true. There’s no sound like the thud of an ineffective video.

Always work with a professional scriptwriter.

Scripts are very different animals from brochures, books, and press releases. You don’t want to try out an in-house writer, or someone who’s always wanted to write scripts. If there is such a person, have that person shadow your professional scriptwriter during this process.

Sign a contract with the writer.

I’ll cover contracts in another blog.

Figure the treatments and script into your budget planning.

Most writers charge a lump sum, based on the number of hours they think they’ll put into your project. At the time of this writing, you’ll pay between $100 and $350 per finished broadcast minute—usually depending on how much input you expect from the writer in terms of:

  • conceptualization
  • research
  • number of meetings
  • working with your staff, such as talent
  • specialized writing, such as dramatization or humor

You’ll also pay more if you expect the script process to happen faster than, say, 8 to 12 weeks. For a video of 7 or 8 minutes, your writer has to become very familiar with your subject matter, and all schedules require suitable turnaround times for you and your staff.

Generally, writers require payment in a two-part schedule: 1/2 up front, and ½ after the final script. This varies, however. On longer projects I charge 1/3 up front, 1/3 after treatment, and 1/3 on completion.

Pay on time.

Expect the schedule to run smoothly only if the writer is paid on time. Pave a clear way with your accounting department. Writers who aren’t paid within 30 days don’t have much incentive to work for the same client in the future.

When time is of the essence…

You won’t be able to get a firm idea of your schedule (and whether it can be met) until you send the treatment out to production houses for bidding—and the time factor must be included with your specifications.

The sooner you begin the process the better.


Video 101: Find the right scriptwriter

by susan time to read: 3 min

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