Q&A: If the production company lets my option expire, do they nevertheless own the rewrite I did for them?

Q: A production company optioned my script. They wanted a few changes, and they paid me to do a rewrite. I liked some of their changes, but many I didn’t. So I only made the changes that I liked. I think the script is much stronger now, but they let the option expire. I thought that I can now sell the script to someone else, but a friend told me that, because I had a separate writing agreement, the production company owns my rewrite. How can that be?

A: Unfortunately for you, your friend could be right. This is easier to discuss around a concrete example. Let’s say your original script was a Raymond Chandler style film noir about a pair of unshaven LA cops named Bill and Bob who have a drinking problem, drive a hugentic SUV, and date two women named Betty and Barbara who smoke and have jealous husbands. The production company loves it but feels the story would work even better if re-imagined as a buddy comedy in which Bill and Bob are clean-shaven security guards at a Cleveland shopping mall who have a drinking problem, drive a tinicious Smart Car, and date two women named Betty and Barbara who don’t smoke but still have jealous husbands. And the best part is the production company will actually pay you to rewrite it this way. So you go to work, and in a few short weeks Bill and Bob wreak hilarious havoc at the mall.

Just as you finish the rewrite, the production company gets a new owner who decides to produce nothing but straight-to-Cinemax “documentaries.” Your Red State buddy comedy doesn’t fit this vision so the production company lets the option on your script expire without exercising it. You think you’re now free to sell your laugh-out-loud Ohio buddy comedy to the highest bidder. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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Attention all Kids: You Better Stock Up on Your M-Rated Video Games While You Still Can

On Monday, June 27, 2011, the United States Supreme Court struck down the California video game law on First Amendment grounds . . . barely.

Most of the news reports about the decision called it a 7-2 decision in favor of the First Amendment rights of minors to purchase whatever violent video game they want. But those reports have it wrong. Yes, the justices voted 7-2 to strike down the law. But while the news reports made it seem like a completely lopsided knockout, they missed the fact that those justices who voted to strike down the law were split 5-2 on the substantive reasons for doing so.

Let’s back up and remember what the case is about and why it is important to the entertainment industry and to anyone who values First Amendment protection for (even bad) artistic expression. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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Q&A: Should I Agree to Give My Actor a Stop Date?

Q: I’m a producer and am doing a small low budget film. I’m wrapping up some of my actor agreements right now, and one of my actors, who’s had a few bit parts in some straight-to-DVD movies, has asked for a “stop date.” I’m pretty sure I know what that means and think I’m okay giving him one but are there any aspects to a stop date I should be wary of?

A: I’ve been on a few “stop dates” in my day. I show up at my date’s door and she says “stop,” turns around and shuts the door. Luckily those days are past because I’m a hotshot entertainment attorney with a popped collar (oh, and I’m married with two kids).

Your stop date, of course, has nothing to do with the preceding terrible joke. It’s a protection that actors may ask for but may not always get. Unfortunately, “stop date” is another term that’s bandied about in the industry as though it means something concrete, when in fact it means whatever it’s defined to mean in an agreement. Therefore, your first lesson, if you decide to give your actor a stop date, is to clearly define exactly what is being stopped on that date. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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Law Law Land’s Rachel Valadez on Barely Legal Radio

Last week, we posted an interview our own Aaron Moss gave to entertainment lawyer/punk bassist/radio host extraordinaire Joe Escalante’s Barely Legal Radio program, about Newegg.com’s recent battle with Best Buy over the Internet retailer’s latest television advertisements. In our post, we made reference to an interview our Rachel Valadez previously gave about the Mike Tyson/Hangover 2face tattoo lawsuit filed early last month. But then we realized: we never actually provided you with the interview…how rude of us!

Plenty has happened in the case since Rachel’s post and interview first went live. In late May, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine D. Perry refused tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill’s request to block the release of The Hangover 2 and its associated advertising — but, in a decision that surprised many legal observers, Judge Perry based her ruling on the harm that an injunction would have caused, and held that Whitmill had shown a “strong likelihood of success” on the merits of the case. Although it had averted the disaster scenario of a release-blocking injunction, Warners was skittish enough about the case to announce, roughly two weeks later, that it would be digitally scrubbing Ed Helms’ Tyson-inspired tattoo from the DVD release of the film. Finally, last week, the parties announced a settlement that would allow the tattoo to remain in place in all future versions and releases of the picture.

Even though the case is now settled, though, Rachel’s interview provides some interesting insights about the quirks of copyright law, the realities of high-stakes litigation, and the craziness that results when parties start arguing over ownership of the content of a person’s skin. We invite you to check it out:

Rachel Valadez

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Q&A: Is There a “Standard Form” I Can Use to “Attach” Myself to a Project?

Q: I’m a budding producer who wants to get a great script off the ground. I’m trying to fundraise, but the writer and potential director are both looking for money at the same time. I want to make sure I don’t get cut out of the package if the director’s rich uncle ponies up the full budget before I can. How can I attach myself as a producer without forcing the writer to option the script to me? Is there a standard “attachment” form?

A: As a producer you must attach yourself to every script, project, idea, concept, and fleeting thought that you come across, read about, or overhear. And if your attachment is not welcome, it’s their problem. Producers aren’t bothered by what others think, and they don’t need an invitation to go to a party. As a budding producer that’s what you should aspire to and hope to become one day. Get up early every day, go out there, and don’t come back until you attach yourself to something, a remake of a prequel to a sequel, a classified ad, an anonymous tweet, anything.

There are many “standard” attachment forms. The only standard thing about them is that they all say different things. Using a form to make a deal is a lot like randomly typing a lot of words on a page and then signing it. In either case, you won’t know what the deal is or even if there is a deal. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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Law Law Land’s Aaron Moss on Barely Legal Radio

Last week, our very own Aaron Moss broke down the recent spat between Best Buy and Newegg.com, which began when Newegg ran a new TV commercial in which, as Best Buy puts it, “a fake Best Buy employee is depicted as being slovenly and uninformed about computer products.” (Scathing!) Aaron’s post caught the eye of radio host Joe Escalante, whose glittering resume also includes entries such as “bassist of punk rock group the Vandals,” “entertainment lawyer,” “network television executive,” “filmmaker,” and — most importantly, of course — “long-time Law Law Land reader.” And Joe kindly invited Aaron to discuss the issue further on last week’s episode of Barely Legal Radio. You can listen to that interview here:

Part 1 of 2:

Part 2 of 2:

If you haven’t checked it out, Barely Legal Radio is Joe’s weekly take on entertainment law issues. The show looks at hot news stories, provides free answers to live and pre-submitted viewer questions, and is the perfect airwave-based complement to the written analysis you find here at Law Law Land. Plus, Joe is clearly a man of distinguished taste and judgment, having previously invited our own Rachel Valadez on his show to discuss her post about the Mike Tyson/Hangover 2 face tattoo lawsuit.

Barely Legal Radio airs on Sundays at 5 pm on KTLK AM 1150 in Los Angeles, Fridays at 11 am PST on Indie1031.com, and Fridays at 2 pm PST on weezer.com. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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