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How to Prep for an OWA

Tripper Clancy shares the crucial steps you should take before pitching for an OWA.

Photo by J.W. Hendricks

Your agent calls and tells you that a studio exec loved your sample and has invited you to pitch on a piece of IP they’ve acquired. If this is your first time pitching for an open writing assignment or OWA, what’s the best way to prepare for it? Tripper Clancy (Stuber, Die Hart) lists the questions to ask and steps to take before you enter the room that will give you the best shot at landing the gig.

Question: “What’s an OWA? What’s the best way to prepare for one?”

Tripper Clancy: An open writing assignment (“OWA” for short) is essentially a paid studio gig in search of a writer. These come in many forms, though the most common are adaptations of existing IP (books, articles, plays, podcasts, toys, video games, etc.) and rewrites of scripts that are already in development at the studio. When you hear about a studio buying the rights to an obscure 1980s board game and looking to hire a writer to adapt it into a movie...that’s an OWA. And if it’s in your wheelhouse, then it’s up to your reps to try to put you in position to pitch on—and hopefully land—the job. Typically, there’s a producer who will start the writer search, and then when that producer has a writer (or often multiple writers) with a good take, the writer will get the opportunity to pitch the studio and potentially get hired to write the script.

Before throwing your name in the hat for an OWA, do your homework. Ask your reps what they know about the project and its history. Find out how many other writers are up for this same gig. If it’s a “bake-off” (i.e. there are 20 writers all pitching on the OWA), do the math and determine if it’s a good use of your time and energy. Ideally, you’ll be one of only a small handful of writers taking meetings on it and putting together a take.

So much of “winning” an OWA is about communication and being on the same page as the producers and studio. It gives them confidence that you can deliver and help them get to a greenlit movie.

So much of “winning” an OWA is about communication and being on the same page as the producers and studio. It gives them confidence that you can deliver and help them get to a greenlit movie. So if you’re in the mix on one, ask your reps to set a preliminary Zoom or call with the producers before you’ve developed your take. This is not only a chance to show your general enthusiasm for the project, but also to do more reconnaissance. Why do THEY like the project? Who do THEY think the audience is? Or in the case of a rewrite job, find out where they think the wheels went off the tracks. If you see this as a page-one rewrite on a script, but you find out the producers and studio love everything except the third act, then you’ll want to cater your take appropriately.

Alternatively, use this preliminary conversation to figure out if you even like this project. I have a decent batting average with landing OWAs, but I also only engage when I know I can bring something unique to the table. If this project is solely a paycheck for you and it doesn’t excite you creatively, you have two options: find a way to make it excite you, or decide if it’s still worth pursuing. There’s nothing worse than landing an OWA you have no interest in actually writing.

As you put together your take in preparation of pitching the producers, and eventually the studio, try to strike a balance that meets their expectations, but also feels uniquely your own. You’re in the mix on this because they like you. They like your voice. It’s going to be your name on the title page—not theirs—so don’t just pitch stuff you think they want to hear. Use their expectations and guidance as guard rails, and then pitch what you think is best. It’ll feel authentic and even if you don’t ultimately land the job, you’ll put your best creative self forward, which could lead to other job opportunities down the line with these same execs. You’re playing the long game here and any face time you’ve got with execs is an opportunity to prove to people you’ve got the chops.

Lastly, set realistic expectations. OWAs are really hard to land. They consume a lot of your time putting together a pitch for the producers, addressing notes to that pitch, and then pitching the studio. Even if you’re one of just three writers up for the job, the producers or studio exec may already have existing relationships with one of the other two. Or they may feel one of the other writers is better suited for this specific project even if their take isn’t as strong. The OWA process is not exactly a meritocracy and you might be an underdog without even knowing it. All you can do is put together the best pitch possible, try to win fans in the room—not just of your take, but of you as a person—and then hope for the best.

Send us your questions about the craft, job hunting, your career, or Guild service (under 100 words, please) with the subject “Mentor,” and we’ll send them to an established screen or TV writer to answer. Questions might be edited for space or clarity and will be published anonymously. WGAW mentors provide informal career advice and are not expected to read scripts, give notes, hear pitches, or help find representation or work.

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

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