Monday, 15 August 2016

Readers’ Qs - When you co-write, do you have to split the pay check?

I’ve done quite enough blogging recently about the state of the industry and Sitcom in general, rather than the business of writing sitcoms. So I asked on Twitter if anyone had any questions. And you did. So I’m working my way through those over the next few weeks.

To get us started, let’s begin with a nice quick one from @JoChallacombe

Readers’ Qs - When you co-write, do you have to split the pay check?

Yes. Unless the person you’re writing is your slave, imaginary or a robot.

Writing partnerships would typically split the money fifty/fifty. Long term, that seems the only sensible way to me, to save arguments.

Sometimes I’ve been hired to co-write a script with someone I didn’t know who was either the star of the show or the creator. In that case, it wasn’t a fifty-fifty split, but weighted in the favour of the other, and I was fine with that. That was the deal.

Money is split all because there is a finite amount of it available for a script. This is not affected by the number of people writing it. If it’s just you, you get all of it. If there are two, you halve it. If you’re an infinity number of monkeys, that will make the maths more complicated, so good luck with that.

When I say ‘finite amount’, it’s not a fixed amount, since what you are paid will depend on your level of experience. But the main point is that you don’t get more, or even slightly more, because there are two of you.

The fact this question has a ‘check’ in it rather than a ‘cheque’ would suggest the person asking is American – where the system is different. In TV comedy, writers probably end up getting paid more money as producers – on a weekly basis – rather than as writers. I don’t really understand it, because it hasn’t really come up for me. (The Children of Tendu podcast explains the American TV writing system really well)

One thing I’ve heard about happening in America via the Scriptnotes podcast is a practice called ‘Paper teaming’ where two writers who don’t know each other are put together as a team so the production gets two writers for the price of one. This is clearly unethical.

All of the above throws up the question about whether or not it’s worth being in a partnership given you are essentially taking a 50% pay cut. But looking at it that way tends not to end well. Two writers can have a great combination of talents and get more work, and then high capacity for that work. And for some, they wouldn’t even have become a writer if it hadn’t been for their partner. It's an alliance that is often forged in a playground or at university and can last for decades.

That said, some partnerships dissolved because they do become unburden, or unworkable. And that’s just the way things go.

If you want to hear more about being comedy writing duo, listen to Andy Riley and Kevin Cecil talk on the Sitcom Geeks podcast here.

Thanks for your question. Keep 'em coming.

SUBSEQUENT CORRECTION: I see from her original tweet that Jo had written 'cheque' and that I had made the error in copying across. Apologies. I thought I'd let it stand rather than rewrite the whole blogpost. Sorry.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if this is still the case but in my stand-up days the double act was always paid one and a half fees. No one objected and that seems like a reasonably sensible approach.