If you don’t mind living with your parents and siblings in one house, fighting with other passengers for trotro seats, borrowing from friends and never being able to pay back, having very little or nothing in your bank account, then being a screenwriter in Ghana is one of the many jobs for you.
I know how great every aspiring screenwriter thinks it will feel to have viewers queued up at the cinemas, tickets sold out, red carpets laid with celebrities walking in to sit through a movie he or she wrote.
And I know how frustrating it is the day after the premiere. Waking up to nothing in your name with respect to the movie. Having nothing to show for it, being paid very little close to nothing because you remember the producer bargained with tears, sweat and blood making you believe it was a low budget film and it just hits you as a screenwriter that you’ve been abused. Relax, there’s nothing you can do, there are hundreds of screenwriters like you out there who will sell a tooth to get a producer to work on their script. To them, it feels like the producer is doing them a favor and most producers believe so too. And a producer will gladly grab their scripts when you demand to be paid what you deserve, and the cycle continues. Putting this paragraph in a sentence; “someone will gladly jump at 2cedis for a 100cedis work”.
I wrote this blog immediately I ended a call with one producer who offered to pay 2000cedis for a script, and he acted like I just read a Bible in Mosque unannounced when I turned it down. In his mind, that is good money for a screenwriter who isn’t big and probably thought of the number of things I could be doing with 2000cedis – the truth is there are no much big screenwriters in Ghana as it stands. I can only mention about five of which most double as Directors. I have had instances where I just have to laugh out when some producers mention an offer they have for me. I laugh not because it’s funny but to keep me from getting angry. It’s quite disrespectful but they don’t think so. And just when you think it’s a bad joke, they hit you up again with the same proposal hoping the few hundreds of cedis they added will make the joke funny. And just last year, one proposed to pay me 500cedis for a script which I felt was a bad joke until a friend of mine called to help him bargain. I am a screenwriter. That isn’t what I do full time but I pray and hope for a day I can fully depend on the money I make from screenwriting. A day my friends who are Lawyers, Doctors and Engineers wouldn’t think Screenwriter is a beautiful word coined by writers for unemployment.
Screenwriting is arguably the most important part of filmmaking and it also is the most overlooked part of filmmaking; in Ghana. The script is the backbone of every film without which there can’t be any. Only a few movie producers in this country understand this and before the rest wake from this slumber of ignorance, they will repeatedly pay directors to yell; “camera rolling, sound, light, action” shooting nothing.
It is pretty depressing being a screenwriter in a country where producers don’t include screenwriters in their budgets. Most producers will shamelessly tell you they are paying you from their own account and I’m sure they feel it’s award winning – No writer cares where the money is coming from.
Basically what producers are offering to pay a screenwriter doesn’t even cut to be on their budget. And those with budgets are quick to tell you; “it’s a low budget production and I have no sponsors”. No screenwriter should fall for this excuse. What these producers refuse to acknowledge is that; a screenwriter shouldn’t be affected no matter how big or small a producer’s budget is. Screenwriters should be paid for their work’s worth. If your production is low budget, you should get a “low budget” writer who will meet your standard if there is any.
Mostly when people think of movies, the only people who come to mind are the actors and producers. They walk down the red carpet at movie premieres with all the glitz and glamour, forcing smiles for the cameras. No one cares about when the movie was just a blank page. I’m not saying screenwriters should be recognized on the red carpets at premieres and other events. All I am asking is for screenwriters to be paid well. If it comes with the fame, the better.
I had a chat with one movie producer in Ghana and the only thing I remember after three hours of sitting in an expensive restaurant over overly priced cocktail was; “There are no screenwriters in Ghana”. I almost choked on whatever I was sipping and interpreted her sentence to; “I have no reason to pay a screenwriter. It’s just writing”.
It is either you write for free or get paid your work’s worth. There’s no in between in this field. You are not expensive, it’s either they can’t afford you or don’t think you deserve what you priced. Just like in every field, you can only get your money’s worth of service or value. You get what you pay for.
Never forget; THEY CAN’T DO WITHOUT YOU. THEY NEED YOU.