Posts In "Writers"


Q&A: Why Are Unsolicited Submissions Policies So Brutal?

Q:  For some 10 years now, I’ve been trying to penetrate the 10 foot thick wall called “unsolicited.”  How do I get through it? I have no agent.

A:  We can answer your question, but frankly, you may not like what we’re going to say.  Unfortunately, that 10 foot thick wall is probably as old as the Great Wall of China and is equally as impenetrable.  For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of submitting a script to an individual, production company, studio or, god forbid, law firm only to have it returned to you with a letter classifying it as an “unsolicited submission,” we can give you a little background. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Q&A: How Do I Protect Myself From a Producer Flipping My Script?

 Q: A producer has offered to option my script.  I’m just starting out so the numbers are pretty low (it’s a 12 month option for $1,000 with a purchase price of the WGA scale).  I’m cool with that but have one problem with it:  what happens if she turns around and sells the option to a studio for a lot of money?  I think that’s what she plans to do.

A:  Pat yourself on the back, my friend.  You just spotted an issue that is often overlooked in standard option agreements.  To answer this, let’s talk a little background. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Q&A: What’s the Difference Between a Screenplay Option and a Book Option?

Q:  Is there a big difference between an option for a screenplay and an option for a book?

A:  Did you ever get the magazine Highlights when you were a kid? The one they had in dentists’ offices which had Goofus and Gallant and the hidden pictures game?  If so, you probably played the other game in the magazine where you’d be shown two similar pictures side by side and you’d have to spot the differences.  If there were a Highlights for lawyers, we could play the game with a screenplay option and a book option because the two do appear so similar on the surface.  On closer inspection, however, you’d find a few subtle differences and one major one:  the book option would include a section referring to the author’s “Reserved Rights.” Continue reading the full story . . . »

Why a High-Concept Idea Makes for a Low-Grade Lawsuit

At some point — probably during a conversation with one of your insufferable film school friends — you may have heard a movie described as “high concept.”  Although the phrase sounds like it should describe something terribly sophisticated and respectable (like Downton Abbey with a twist of Kenneth Branagh), it usually actually refers to the opposite, i.e., any artistic work that can be easily described by a simple premise.  A movie pitch from 30,000 feet.

A good high concept project can be summed up in a short “what if?”  (What if dinosaurs could be clonedWhat if the world was all one big virtual reality lieWhat if a man had to live the same day over and over?)  The best (and worst) high concept projects can be understood by their names alone.  (Planet of the Apes [best].  Planet of the Apes [worst].  Jaws [best].  Snakes on a Plane [worst].  Ace Ventura:  Pet Detective [best].  Hobo With a Shotgun [best of the worst].)  And while some high concept projects can be elevated by good storytelling and universal themes, usually we aren’t talking about great works of art.

Audiences and studio marketing executives both love high concept fare.  But from a lawyer’s perspective, when a dispute arises and you’re worried that someone may have stolen your work, the higher your concept, the lower your chances in court.  That lesson may soon be learned the hard way by comic book artist Steven John Busti, whose 1995 9-page comic, Cowboys and Aliens, is (at least in title) just an AP style guide edit away from the 2011 film, Cowboys & Aliens (and the 2006 graphic novel series on which it was based). Continue reading the full story . . . »

Q&A: What’s the Deal with These “Short Form” Option Documents?

Q:  I was recently presented with an option agreement.  At the end of the agreement there are two more short agreements.  One is a “Short Form Option.”  The other is a “Short Form Assignment.”  Why am I signing two options?  And why would I agree to sign a short assignment agreement which says they own all the rights when they haven’t exercised the option yet?

A:  Option Agreements are like rap stars.  They usually travel with a posse, albeit their posses are much shorter than the posses accompanying rap stars.  Rap stars hang with posses for two purposes: they want protection and they want to put the world on notice that they’ve arrived.  The Short Form posses that hang with Option Agreements accomplish a similar goal:  they are used to protect the optioning party due to the fact that they put the world on notice. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Q&A: Does This Rights Agreement Let Me Make a Feature Remake of a Short Student Film?

Q:  I saw a really cool short at a film school festival, and I acquired the right to remake it as a feature from the guys who made it.  I later found out that the short film was based on a 1990 short story written by an obscure writer from Georgia.  The filmmakers showed me a one-page agreement with the writer.  The agreement gives them permission to make “one short film based on the Story” and the writer of the short story keeps all other rights.  Since the filmmakers had the right to make their short and gave me the right to remake it, I should be ok without anything from the short story writer, shouldn’t I?

A:  Unfortunately, no.  While the filmmakers appear to have had the rights necessary to make their short film, it sounds like their right was limited to only making that one short.  They did not have the right to make, or authorize others to make, a feature film.  While you are indeed using the short primarily as the basis for your feature, because that short is based on the writer’s story, your feature will also be based on the writer’s story.  Therefore, in order to make your feature, you need two sets of rights:  (1) remake rights from the owners of the short film and (2) feature film rights from the author of the short story.  It looks like you’ve already accomplished number one (but see below for possible bad news).  Now it appears that you’ll have to scour the Georgia countryside looking for the obscure writer. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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