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.
So it’s not about the form so much as it is about the basic terms of your attachment deal. The key element of an attachment deal is, not shockingly, attachment. Of course, attachment means different things to different people. What you really want is a contractual agreement by whoever owns the rights to the project that if the project is made you will be engaged to produce it.
Sometimes an attachment agreement will require a producer to actually do something. For example, the producer will have to actually bring at least some financing or a key actor. But sometimes it’s based on a producer’s creative contributions to the script. For example, let’s say you read the first draft of this “great script” before it was so great. It wasn’t only not great, it was worse than bad — it was mediocre. But your creative genius sprung to action, you suggested (and belligerently insisted on) brilliant changes that even the hack’s mediocre writing couldn’t completely ruin. If this were the case, your attachment should be based on your invaluable creative contributions.
Often, an attachment agreement is for a finite period of time, mostly when it’s based on a producer actually doing something. But if the attachment is based on a producer’s creative contributions, there is typically no time limit.
Your producing deal should be fleshed out. At the very least, your producing fee and credit should be agreed. If it’s hard to come up with the fee amount before the financing is in place and the other key elements are known, you can express the fee as a percentage of the budget with a certain “floor” (i.e., whatever the percentage of the budget actually amounts to, the fee will not be lower than the amount of the “floor”) or you can tie it to other producers (also with a “floor”). Credit should also be agreed. You will obviously want “produced by.” That’s the only credit that means anything in film. Even an extra can get “associate producer” or “co-producer” credit. And the credit position should be agreed — first, second, second only to someone else, and so on.
There are other bells and whistles, but these are the key terms. And you would want all of this in writing. Not that you can’t trust anyone’s word anymore, it’s just that people’s memories aren’t what they used to be. It’s probably caused by cell phone radiation or global warming. As desperately as people want to keep their words these days, it’s as difficult to remember what these words were.
An important note. Some of you may misread this blog and come away with a warped interpretation that my view of producers is not entirely positive. Not true. Producers, especially budding ones like yourself, are some of the most upstanding members of the community — they pay sales taxes and drive on the right side of the street. I have more nice things to say, but I thought I’d just mention the top two.
This blog was originally published as part of Legal Ease, Film Independent’s weekly column on legal matters pertaining to the entertainment industry. To see other LEGAL EASE columns please click here.