Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Writing for a Living Sucks Part V: The Third World Writer

Hahaha! Sucks to be you fuckers!

One thing that never fails to amaze me is how much our entertainment industry loathes us television writers. Think of Pharaoh and the Hebrew slaves around the time Moses was born. Yep, Jews under the terrible yoke of slavery, that’s exactly what we are compared to other workers in this biz.

Take talent fee, for instance.

I don’t know how it is in other networks but in the company I work for-- one of the only two major television networks in the Philippines, mind you-- an executive producer can only give an episode writer up to ten percent of the episode’s entire budget as talent fee. Let’s say you’re a writer for Show X, a program that runs for an hour every Saturday. It has a modest production budget of 200,000 Pesos per episode. Ten percent of that would be 20,000 Pesos. Not exactly chump change compared to other jobs, right? Considering that a writer isn’t required to show his mug around the office every single day, that’s not bad. Of course, you won’t get 20,000 Pesos every week since there are other writers in the stable. Most probably you’ll get an episode a month. Still, 20K a month isn’t bad at all.

That is, if your executive producer will actually give you ten percent of his show’s budget. Here’s a clue: he won’t.

He’ll probably give you five percent. Oh, hey, let’s not give the writer ten percent. Let the dumb fuck settle for five percent so I can utilize the other five percent for the director’s fee, or to hire a bigger star for the lead role, or for more special effects, or maybe put it in as savings. Oh yeah, the bosses love savings.

And Pharaoh said: Man, these fucking Jews are multiplying like rabbits! Maybe if we screw them up by doubling their daily quota in brick production they’ll have less time to do the nasty fandango.

Five percent. That’s 10,000 Pesos. Papa Jesus Christ coming out of Satan’s Perky Little Asshole. We’re talking about a script here, the backbone of a television show that aims to generate hundreds of thousands of Pesos worth in revenue for the company every week.

Maybe you’re thinking it’s not that bad. You’ll spend what, two days writing a script? Two days for 10K isn’t bad, you greedy little fuck. Except, of course, you won’t spend two days writing it. What with all the revisions, you’ll probably be screwing with that damn thing for a week if you’re lucky. And each draft you produce will feel like an icepick in your eyesocket slowly lobotomizing your artistic sensibilities.

Oh, it gets worse.

I remember how back in 2000 a one-hour primetime show script was worth 20K. For an hour and a half a writer gets 25K. Circa 2001 a one-hour script was worth 15K. A year later it was 12K. By 2003 it was 10K.

And Pharaoh said: Oh shit, the Jews are still multiplying exponentially. Okay, let’s double their quota again. This time, though, let’s forget the hay. Hohoho, that’ll school them fuckers.

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Let me tell you about my current project. I won’t get into details though because the network war is a nasty bitch. Suffice to say I’m working on a soap slated for next year. Now in soaps we don’t write per episode. Instead we write per week. That’s five thirty-minute episodes. About a hundred sequences, give or take. Compare that to the twenty to thirty sequences a one-hour show takes to tell.

Now let me tell you what they’re offering us writers. Fifteen thousand Pesos. And they’re calling this show the company’s next megabrand. Someone call Animal Control because, man, we’re about to experience a plague of locusts. And toads. And lice. Scratch that-- call the coroner. Water is about to turn into blood and Uriel is on the road tonight with a sword and a pornstar-sized erection.

Not really.

It’s unjust and the universe hates writers, especially the television whore sort, but there won’t be a reckoning anytime soon. Writers are an unorganized lot. Sure there’s a union somewhere but no one bothers to sign up because it’s largely ineffectual anyway. What can we do? Boycott networks that refuse to pay us what we’re worth? For every grizzled writer that leaves a show in disgust fifty snot-nosed Padawans are slitting their grandmothers’ throats to get a shoe into the biz.

Writing for a living Sucks Parts I to IV


  1. that's sad... a lot of writers have this romantic notion that writing for TV will earn them big bucks...i guess that's how it is in the US, but not here...

    anyway, with your credentials you can easily get freelance writing gigs... most full-time writers say that there's a lot more money and stability in writing non-fiction, unless of course you're a King or a Rowling...

  2. In the US, writers have agents, man. I for one wouldn't mind giving an agent thirty percent of my talent fee if he can get me regular writing gigs and fight for me so I can get paid what I deserve.

    Okay, there's still big bucks in television writing here in the Philippines. That is, if you can shine just enough to have more than one TV show. But every year they're paying writers less and less. Whereas back in Y2K I could get by with only one program, now I have to juggle three (plus one more in the works). The head writer's fee isn't much higher than an episode writer's. The only consolation is that I get paid every week whilst an episode writer gets paid only for episodes he's written (which averages about once a month).

    One thing that exacerbates this problem is the yearly deluge of new writers fresh out of college. These noobs will understandably take any show they can get, however low the talent fee. And so producers get it into their shrewd heads to offer ridiculously low script fees knowing that new writers will grab anything just to get into the biz.

    Add to that the fact that there's no union to protect writers. Well, there's a union but it just sits there examining the lint in its goddam ugly navel.

    Lastly: I got into the TV gig because I enjoyed (and still do, God have mercy on my soul) bullshitting to entertain people. In this country, TV is still the most profitable avenue to do that, the vicious problems regarding talent fee notwithstanding. Non-fiction? I'll pass.

    Thanks for visiting these parts, dude.

  3. tough job,:) itshardto-earn-money.