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Jeff Willis Q&A at The Black Board

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This topic contains 124 replies, has 20 voices, and was last updated by  Shaula Evans 1 year, 4 months ago.

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    Shaula Evans

    Many of you will recognize the name of motion picture executive and writer Jeff Willis because he has been extraordinarily generous about sharing his business insights on Twitter. (You can follow him on Twitter here: @jwillis81.) But some questions and answers require more than 140 characters and Jeff has kindly offered to hold an exclusive live Q&A for us here at the Black Board!

    More about Jeff:

    Jeff Willis has worked on the production company side of the industry for more than eight years. After graduating from CSU Long Beach with a degree in Film & Electronic Media, he got his first industry job at Beacon Pictures as an assistant in the business and legal affairs department. He left Beacon to pursue an opportunity at Our Stories Films (WHO’S YOUR CADDY?), a start-up production company from BET-founder Robert L. Johnson. While at Our Stories Films, Jeff was promoted to an executive position and transitioned from business affairs to creative development, operations, and production management. After three years with Our Stories, he moved on to work with another start-up, Troika Pictures (THE CALL), as a consulting production and operations executive. A year later, Jeff accepted a position at The Weinstein Company, coming full circle and returning to his roots in business affairs. Today (10/25) marks his three year anniversary at TWC, where he currently serves as their Director of Business Affairs Administration.
    In his spare time, Jeff pursues a writing and producing career. To date, he has completed two commissioned rewrite assignments and sold a feature screenplay that he co-wrote with a partner, which is currently scheduled to begin production early next year.

    Jeff Willis will be here answering your questions live on Friday, October 25, from noon to 4 pm PST (20:00 to 24:00 GMT).

    If you can’t attend the Q&A session at that time you’re welcome to post your questions in advance. (That’s why we’ve got this thread up for you early.)

    I hope you’ll take advantage of this great opportunity to ask questions about the business of screenwriting.

    Update If you’d like help to find a specific topic in the Q&A, click here to go to this handy Jeff Willis Q&A topical index.

    Related discussions

    PS If you’re new to the Black Board and joining us especially for this Q&A, welcome! Here are some links to help you out:



    Yaaay! I’ll be there. Are we doing Twitter? Or here?


    Martin Coles

    It will be in here Sabina, but no doubt we will involve twitter in one way or another, so watch this space!


    Shaula Evans

    Fair question, Sabina. Martin’s right: it will be live, right here, accessible to everyone. Jeff is willing to spend FOUR HOURS hanging out on the Board taking your questions in real time.



    I might not be able to make it so here are some questions:

    1. 2.5% of budget is standard as a fee for writers, often paid in increments, can a first timer expect the same? 
    2. Is a small / boutique lit shop better for a new writer than aiming for representation at a bigger agency?
    3. Any “how to break in” advice for writers not in LA / based overseas?
    4. What can/should a writer ask for from a Producer in return for a free option on a script?
    5. Does a first time writer-director need anything more than a killer script and a decent short to get a shot at directing the feature?
    6. How are production budgets decided? Based on the material itself or the genre the material is in?
    7. Can Exec Producers expect any of the back-end?
    8. Can writers waive an up front / incrementally paid fee for a % of the back end?
    9. If, when you die, you go to Heaven and meet God, what would you say?!



    Shaula Evans

    Sutinder, thanks for getting us off to a great start! (My fingers are crossed that you may manage to be here anyway.)


    Jeff Willis

    Just checking in to make sure everything works okay before tomorrow. Thanks for the questions, Sutinder! I’ll be back tomorrow at noon to start answering them. :-)



    You’re welcome Jeff!

    I’ll do my best to be logged in for you, I just got a new job this week so a Friday celebration might be in order but I’ll be with you in spirit on my iPhone from  central London. ;-)

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 5 months ago by  sutinderbola.

    Mark Walker

    Thanks for giving up your time for the Board Jeff. Will definitely try and drop in sometime before midnight UK time tomorrow, looking forward to it!


    Kevin T. Morales

    I’m going to try and be here but I’ve got a question that I’m thinking on presently:

    I’ve got a pilot that is generating interest with talent, that I haven’t yet taken to Networks, though I’ve got a couple scheduled. An actor’s manager has offered to put $25k into helping me and her actor to shoot the pilot. Is this of actual benefit to me? I can see the Manager’s angle of trying to get the actor in on the ground floor. I directed a feature in 2003, and some shorts since and I like the idea of getting a chance to demonstrate the tone of the series, and prove I can handle production, but is it better to try to get networks interested in the script before I shoot something, or does having a sample pilot help? What will give me more leverage in your experience/opinion? Sub question is making the pilot attaching the actor? Would shoot it under the SAG New Media agreement, is my preference if I do go that way.



    Traci Nell Peterson


    So excited for your Q&A tomorrow.

    1. Spec sales are down from last year. Naysayers predict impending doom for the spec. What’s your take?

    2. Killjoys (cousins to the Naysayers) also claim the Rom-Com genre is dead. Any thoughts? (I’m really hoping for something like, “Killjoys suck!”)

    Thank you so much for fielding these questions. *tosses a virtual box of Junior Mints your way*




    John Connor

    I might not be awake during the Q&A so if it’s okay I’m going to drop in a couple of questions ahead of time.

    • Apart from writing great scripts (obviously), what else can/should neophyte writers do to help their chances? Solicit recommendations from industry figures? Try and get made some low-budget/short projects? Learn to tap-dance? I’ll do anything!
    • If interest from prodcos comes before interest from agents/managers, is it a good idea to hold off from signing and use the prodco interest as a carrot to get representation, so that professionals will be negotiating the deal with the prodco, not me?
    • How necessary is Guild membership? Are there successful, professional screenwriters who aren’t members?

    And most important:

    • What are your favourite movies?

    Cheers for this Jeff, hopefully I’ll be able to drag myself out of bed for this (Australia sucks, timezone wise), but if not, thanks very much for taking the time.


    Jeff Willis

    Hey Everyone,

    First of all, I’d like to thank Shaula and the other moderators for having me here; it’ll be nice to be able to respond in more detail to your questions than Twitter typically allows. I’ll start by responding to the questions that have already been posted and then will tackle new ones as they come up. Feel free to post questions, ask for clarification, etc. I’ll do my best to answer everything I can!



    Shaula Evans

    Welcome, Jeff. Thank you for joining us today. And congratulations on your three-year anniversary with TWC. We’re a little boggled that you’re celebrating it with us rather than going out on the town (I hope that’s in the cards for you later tonight.)

    We’ve all been looking forward to this Q&A with you so thank you again!



    david joyner

    Thank you for your time on the BB, Jeff.

    My question: You said in a twitter post “DON’T: Ask to retain copyright on your script. …” Can you ask for permission to redistribute your script (eg, allowing,, etc, to post your script legally)?

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