5 Reasons Why Screenwriters’ Should Work On-Set!

By on August 27, 2013

Don’t let this title fool you. Screenwriters’ should NOT work on-set when their script is being produced. Early spring of this year, I was hired to direct a 6 episode web-series in Dallas. The series already had investors and 2 stations awaiting the footage. To my utter disbelief, the screenwriter was “allowed” in casting, props, and most absurdly, on-set! Obviously, it was a disaster. The screenwriter would tell the actors how to read their lines, what to wear, and which actors should be in camera frame. Not only was her lack of professionalism ridiculous, but it was also her first time on-set. It should be noted, we only shot the pilot, and the rest is history…. A HUGE failure!

So what do you mean, “Screenwriters’ should work on-set?”

This business is forever changing, to extremes we can’t even imagine. Pure creativity and story has been washed away somewhere in the Pacific; technology and “attractive” actors are what drives Hollywood now.

As a Screenwriter, Director, Producer, and previous Film School Graduate (where most of my training, unfortunately, was on the technical side), I have come to the conclusion that there are 5 STRONG theories on why screenwriters’ need to be on-set… not as a writer, but as a crew member.

1)      I find that most screenwriters’ tend to write for the BIG SCREEN. Blockbuster’s that even James Cameron couldn’t afford. High-flying spacecraft, missile-shooting boats, 18-foot dinosaurs playing poker, and dangerous hiking scenes in Tibet.  I have to sit and wonder, have you ever been on-set, or worked in production? Do you realize how hard it is to lock locations like that, build sets, and transport a whole film crew across the ocean? Of course, specific screenwriters’ are hired to write these “epic” pictures by large studios, but “ask” is the key word. For those trying to sell their first spec script, this is a bad way to go.

2)      This day in age, people have to work. And you will find 30 year-old production assistants, grips, and craft service junkies on-set, who, at least in their minds, are directors. This side gig is just to compensate their short films they are shooting next week, that they are advertising the “shit” out of on Indiegogo. Many of these crewmembers have access to high-dollar editing software, cameras, lights, and more. The only thing they don’t have is a SCRIPT! Follow me? Network! Pass out your business card! Add them on Facebook and shoot over a link to your work!

3)      Script Supervising is a trade I picked up during Film School, when I though it meant I would be the Supervisor of my Script! No lie. But I quickly found out it was a tedious and important job, which has nothing to do with screenwriting (look up job title if not familiar).  Script Supervising can, however, be beneficial for a screenwriter. Why? It puts you in front of a script, studying it, dissecting it. You also work directly with the Director, Cinematographer, and Editor. This is one of the only on-set jobs where you aren’t a “department head” but you rub shoulders with them. But I always found it rewarding to see how actors deliver dialog when I had the script in front of me. It gives you a nice feel on what works and doesn’t.

4)      Understanding everything from pre-production to post-production can come in handy. Knowing basic job titles and functions, like how to operate a camera, where to place a light and a boom pole, may be your way into the industry. Many screenwriters’ are so frustrated because their script isn’t being produced, that they produce it. Sometimes this turns out awful, but if you understand the work that’s incorporated on-set, you might have a fighting chance to see your script come to life!

5)      Lastly, you wouldn’t find a top Chef cooking in his living room, and then bringing his gourmet meals to the 5-star restaurant he works at, would you? The same goes with scriptwriting. Yes, as a screenwriter, I know how important seclusion is, but you have to know how a script is made before turning your story into a script. It’s not like writing a book. There is a formula that has to be incorporated for your script to ever be considered by producers. So understand, producers aren’t just looking at your story… but your locations, picture vehicles, extras, page-length, and much more!


About Jacob N. Stuart

Jacob N. Stuart is an award-winning, produced, and represented screenwriter. He owns and operates the FIRST and ONLY Screenwriting Staffing Agency in the world: ScreenwritingStaffing.com