Well here we are. The first update to my previously blogged-about idea to track a writing assignment from start to finish, comparing the various contracted steps to the reality of what I deliver, both in the number and description of those steps, and in anticipated vs actual delivery dates. Essentially, how accurately can a contract predict the writing journey? Here is the updated chart:
First Draft Treatment
Initial Step Outline
Initial Step Outline client comments
First Draft Treatment
First Draft Treatment client comments
Second Draft Treatment
Second Draft Treatment client comments
First Draft client comments
Revised First Draft
Revised First Draft client comments
Second Draft First Set
Second Draft Second Set
Thoughts on the above.
1. Remarkably, I’ve ended up delivering the ‘First Draft Treatment’ within a day of the anticipated / due date. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s not like I’ve gone away, spent four weeks writing, and come back and delivered on my first contractual obligation.
2. As the chart above also shows, there was an interim step, a relatively detailed beat sheet, delivered after two weeks.
3. Note the very prompt turnaround of the client comments on that first document – only four days, and over a weekend (though the LA time difference helps with that, I think).
4. But even within this, there is a more complicated picture. I am dealing with one person – we’ll call her the Development Executive, although she’s also a lead producer on the project – and I have been sending her documents once or twice a week throughout this process. The early stages of the process started with me writing an eight page document – one page of ‘vision’, three pages of main character biogs, four pages of outline – which, after some back and forth and expansion, became the beat sheet (those character biogs were included at the front of the beat sheet). The DE (as I’ll call her) then collated and, in some cases, pushed back on the notes from the rest of the producing team (two further sets of producers), before emailing them to me and then talking me through them (on the 30th). I then developed the beat sheet into the full treatment and, again, ran it by the DE a couple of times before, collectively, we decided it was ready to go back out to the full team.
5. I’ve also had two further face-to-face meetings with the DE in this time, one of which also encompassed a very enjoyable trip to the V&A Hollywood Costumes exhibition (for reasons which will become clear when and if I’m allowed to mention the project by name) – highly recommended.
6. So I have to conclude that it’s coincidental that all this took almost exactly four weeks. It’s just how long it took.
7. I don’t think the First Draft Treatment is the finished article, by any means, but it has advanced the idea sufficiently that it feels like a new document for the rest of the team to read, and without taking it so far that we have run ahead of ourselves should ‘realignment’ be required.
8. The system appears to be working very well at the moment. The DE’s notes have been prompt and smart, asking all those questions that I wish she wouldn’t ask because I know I don’t have answers for them at the moment. She is helping me to shape the project in a way that (I imagine) a producer does with the musicians in a recording studio, and the work is already infinitely stronger as a result. The lesson here is clear: get yourself a good script editor from the start.
9. The fact that she also collates the notes into one coherent response from the producing stake-holders is also invaluable. I’ve worked in environments before where your role as a writer appears to be that of Israel-Gaza mediator (poor-taste comparison in the light of current events), and somehow to try to satisfy two or more contradictory opinions. I would recommend that you insist on dealing with only one voice from the client side. It’s not your job to help them make their minds up.
10. All this would also go to demonstrate the valuable lesson that taking a writing assignment isn’t just about signing a contract, having a meeting or two, then taking their money and delivering a document at some vague point in the future. It is, like all good business, about managing relationships, putting in however much time is needed to get the job done right, listening to and responding to feedback, and over-delivering wherever possible. This 101 of How To Run A Business applies as much to the airy-fairy world of creative writing as it does to running a fruit and veg stall.
11. We’ll see whether the client takes the full three weeks to respond. I doubt they will, as they like the pace that the DE and I have established and seem keen to keep it going (see this post for the importance of momentum). So I would guess at a week or so. The question is what do I do in the meantime? My head is very much in this project, and the contract states that these clients have ‘first call’ on my time, as and when they choose to get back to me. However, I’m not going to just sit on my bum, and I have of course been pushing other projects forwards as I’ve been writing these early documents. It looks like, in fact, I might be about to dive into the first draft of a totally different project, and so I may be able to make headway on that this week. Then I’ll have to set that to one side to work on the revisions to the treatment. But I may be able to finish that draft while this client is reading my second draft treatment, so that I’ll finish that script just as I’m ready to start the first draft on this one. Should (could) all fit nicely. Self-employment and managing your career as a freelance is all about trying to find these serendipitous synergies in your project management schedule (he says, trying not to sound too much like an efficiency consultant.)
Watch this space for the next exciting instalment.