How do I sell a freelance script? Well, my friend, you don’t. When a show gets picked up to series the Writers Guild of America mandates that the show fhas to farm out like one or two episodes per season to freelancers. And this is a way of helping people break into the business in theory. Right? But in reality, the first-year show is almost always struggling to find their footing. They need to figure out the tone and what kind of stories to tell the character dynamics. And so the staff writers, the people who are working full-time on the show often will work nights and weekends and even around the clock to try to figure this out. To farm out an episode to an outsider, someone who’s not even on this show, you’re setting everyone up for failure. It’s a recipe for disaster. 

They’re going to turn the script. That’s going to be a disaster, right? So more often than not. Well, I should say often, often a first-year show will just eat the penalty. They’ll pay the Writer’s Guild of America, a penalty not to have freelancers. Second year of the show, this is what often happens. The showrunner will farm out the freelance episodes to the writer’s assistant. That person probably has been on the show for like a year and they’ve paid their dues and they’ve struggled and they’ve worked long hours. And this is like a bone you’re giving this person and it’s a big break and they’re always very grateful because this is their shot. Now they’re getting into the business. Almost always that script will come and require a heavy rewrite, maybe a page one rewrite. This is how it works in the business. 

When you’re on staff, the high-level writers, they’re getting paid to turn in a script that is almost like ready to shoot. It might require a light Polish and maybe a scene or two, just an easy rewrite. But the mid to low-level writers, when they turn the script more often than not, it requires a heavy rewrite, like a page one rewrite. And that’s because they don’t yet understand story structure, which is why I’m always yelling, you got to understand story structure. And half of you were like, I already understand story. And I’m like, no, you don’t. You’re like, yeah, I do. And I’m like, no, you don’t. Because I see this from professional young professional writers, they think they understand the story structure, but they don’t yet because it takes a long time to learn, which is why I say I have this course that you have to learn it. That’s how you keep your job. If you, if you know the story structure.

What happens when a script doesn’t come in that’s ready to shoot, but that requires a big rewrite? Well, the showrunner has to rewrite it usually at night or on the weekends, and they already have a ton on their plate, right? The job is it’s very stressful. It’s high pressure. They got tons to do. They don’t need this added burden. And so what they’ll often do is if they can’t write it, they farm it off to a co-executive producer who may or may not have time. They may have their own script, they have to write. And so a poor script really can put the show behind the eight ball because you know, you have too many of those. You’ve got all these rewrites. Now, you can’t do the writing that you’re supposed to do. 

And very often too, the show will have freelancers that are like, high-level writers. People who have already succeeded, but they’re just in between jobs. And they’ll find those people to freelance an episode because. So in theory, you’re supposed to be helping people break in, but in reality, that’s not really what happens because the showrunner doesn’t want to jeopardize the quality of the show. If the show doesn’t get picked up for another year, because the trains aren’t running on time, everyone suffers. Everyone’s going to lose their job. So to protect those people, you really don’t think about the freelancers. You’ve got to protect your own people. And so, as I said, more often than not, the freelance will go to a writer who is experienced. 

So all I say over and over again is if you want to break into the business and you want to keep your job, you really need to understand story structure, which is what I teach in the course. Anyway, for more tips on how to be a better writer and how to break into the business, you can follow me here. So comment, like, subscribe, tell me how you feel. Tell me what’s going on in your life. You can also find me on Instagram @MichaelJaminwriter.

Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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