How The Screenwriter-Producer Partnership Works

In its broadest terms, the producer’s key job is to shepherd a project into production. It’s not only about attracting investors, but also to help develop the film script to attract key talent. The development to production ratio is about 30-50 to 1. How does a screenwriter get onto a film producer’s development slate, let alone a project into production?


This is usually a fifteen minute oral pitch describing the overall concept, genre, plot and market of your screenplay. If it’s adapted from a graphic novel or other highly visual source, it may be appropriate to bring in some artwork. Only do so if it will help convey the overall film to the movie producer.

Be prepared to elaborate and answer extended questions if the producer is interested in either you or your work.

At this point, the producer may option the script and offer you a step deal, purchase the script outright, or hire you for a writing assignment.


Open writing assignments are offered to screenwriters to write one or more drafts of projects production companies have in development. I must warn you, newer screenwriters rarely get the choice assignments. On the plus side, newer screenwriters are cheaper to hire, so their quote is lower.

They may or may not come with notes, based on the producer’s tastes or the changing marketplace. Some pet projects stay in developments for years, sometimes decades, but generally they lose momentum fairly quickly. Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” was in development for nearly 20 years until he figured out the final act. If a company decides it no longer wishes to pursue a project, they sell it to another studio during turnaround.

Screenwriters should note they are writers for hire and generally fo not acquire any rights after working on a screenplay.


Established producers may prefer spec scripts with some attached elements such as a name director or actor. Newer ones may opt for “naked” scripts so they can attach talent to them and establish a name for themselves. It makes sense to approach production companies which specialize in a particular genre. This makes sense since these movie producers are most familiar with the genre from a screenwriter’s perspective. They understand the types of stories that work, rhythms, tones, audiences and ways to distribute and market the film.

I’ve heard mutterings from some film producers that they’re being contacted by financiers for spec scripts from newer writers since they are cheaper to option and subsequently purchase. This is always an encouraging sign.


These are the days of taking control of your own screenwriting career. Granted, you will unlikely have access the film studio system. However, you can become a hyphenate and produce your own trailer, web series or short film. This can be proof of concept for a feature film project or it can stand on its own.

At the very least, it demonstrates that you understand the filmmaking process. This already puts you one step ahead of other screenwriters.

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