Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ten Reasons Screenwriters Need Lawyers

I share this link (and the example below) because a producer tried to do this very thing to a TS writer. My advice to him was – get a lawyer.

In any case, (thanks to
Legal Fixation for sharing this) Robert L. Seigel at the law firm Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard put together a list of ten scenarios in which a screenwriter most finds him or herself in need of an attorney. Here’s one:

8. WHEN A PRODUCER WANTS TO OPTION YOUR SCRIPT FOR THREE YEARS WITH A "NO MONEY" OPTION.

If a writer has already written a script and has found someone who is interested in further developing the script with a view towards producing a film or television program based on the script, that person who is taking on the producer role will want the motion picture and/or television rights in and to the script. Since most producers have no or very limited funds to develop their projects, those producers will want to option the rights to the script rather than purchasing the rights to the script outright. By optioning the rights to the script, the producer is taking the script "off the market" so that he or she shall have the exclusive right to further develop the script and to seek possible cast and funding for the project. The producer may offer the writer a "no money" option even if the agreement states the option price is one dollar or some nominal amount. In an ideal world or one where the rules of the Writers Guild of America ("WGA") apply, the option price would be ten percent of the purchase price for the script's rights for a period of time ranging from six months to a year and a half with the possibility of such term being extended with another payment to the writer. In the non-studio world, a producer may option a script's rights for some nominal amount for a year the right to extend such option by paying a nominal amount to the writer.

Producers generally need an initial one year option period with at least a possible renewal term of another year since it takes time for script rewrites and getting responses from possible cast representatives and funding sources. Why would a writer take his or her script out of the marketplace for no money for as long as three years? A writer has to judge whether a producer has the passion or belief in the property to work on it for what may be years to have a project produced and the experience and/or contacts to take the script to those sources that can finance the project. At best, it is a judgment call for a writer to make and will serve as the basis of any negotiations between a producer and the writer.

4 comments:

Mim said...

Reading through these suggestions makes me realize why the AMPTP has assumed that the WGA will cave. Production companies obviously have a long history of taking advantage of writers.

With websites like TS, and blogs like yours, Billy's, and Unk's, writers now have a network in which to share information. I think in the future, producers will be very surprised at how little they can get away with that they used to be able to.

In fact, I think that future might be happening now, and that the strike might be the first harbinger.

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