Career & Craft

Pitch It or Ditch It?

Screenwriter captains identify warning signs that an OWA may be a dead end.

When it comes to the question of whether OWAs are worth pursuing, writers have a range of perspectives. To some, OWAs are the devil’s game—stay away!—while others see them as opportunities if you’re smart in your approach. So, when should you say no way to an OWA?

Several screenwriter captains were asked for their cautionary advice. The biggest concern among the writers interviewed were phantom OWAs, fake or highly dubious projects that producers often present as real jobs. Phantom OWAs come in many forms:

  • Projects that were previously in development, but the studio has since given up on. The producer may be attempting to revive interest in the project with a fresh take. Unfortunately, this rarely works and is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
  • Projects that the studio isn’t interested in, but a producer is trying to change their mind. In a way, this is worse than the version above because the studio has never been willing to spend money on the idea, yet the producer is convinced they can get it going. There’s a remote chance the studio will hire a writer if they bring in an amazing take, but, in this situation, the juice is almost never worth the squeeze.
  • Projects that minor producers or low-level studio executives are trying to champion. These might be good for young writers to generate relationships, but they almost never turn into jobs.

Once you’ve weeded out the phantom OWAs, be strategic about how you pursue an OWA.

  • Avoid cattle calls. Find out how many writers are talking to the producers/studio and if there are more than five or six initially, consider bowing out.
  • Limit your exposure. Commit one or two days to cracking the story and developing a 5- to 10-minute big picture pitch. If that intrigues the producer, then agree to build out the pitch if you’re going to the decision-maker next and you’re up against no more than two other writers. (Ideally, you’ll be competing with just one other writer.)
  • Always take a big swing. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure your approach is different from what any other writer might bring in. That’s not always what the producer/studio wants, and that’s fine. What’s important is that your idea is unique, so if the studio loves it, they’ll have to hire you. The last thing you want is to be pitching something pretty similar to other writers, and therefore have the decision come down to a popularity contest. If the best idea is to win, then the best idea needs to be inimitable.

(This article originally appeared in the July 6, 2021 issue of the WGAW Connect newsletter)

Was this article useful?