Obviously, studio script readers are sworn to silence on drafts of potential studio blockbusters. Spielberg reportedly numbered all copies of the drafts of his scripts even during production to help keep the details under wraps. But, today, leaked scripts are common-place, leading to the inevitable so-called “script reviews”. For example, here is a review of a draft script for the close-to-production Judge Dredd and here is a review of an early draft of the not-even-near-production contemplated remake of Forbidden Planet. Both of these reviews are for scripts that may never be shot. Are these types of reviews fair game?
I ran into a writer acquaintance today. We are not exactly friends, but we share mutual friends and run into each other every six months or so. He has written a number of successful movies for A-list stars and has assignments for the next several years already booked, so I always listen when he talks. This time, I ran into he, his wife and their little boy at a coffee shop in a part of town I do not usually frequent. He asked why I was there and, more importantly, where I usually have coffee. I told him about a little coffee shop by the beach. He asked more about it. “Does it have outside tables?” “What is the crowd like?” “Does it get the beach breeze?” I finally asked why he wanted to know. He said, “I’m always looking for a better place to write.”
I abandoned coffee shops several years ago, believing myself to be too professional. But this conversation served as a reality check. I used to get an incredible amount of highly focused work done in the coffee shops. In fact, thinking back, I believe it was easier to focus in those days than it is today in my current office, with the phone, the fax, the kid and all the other distractions of life all around. There’s something about the din of conversation that acts as a buffer between writing and the world. There’s also something about being alone in a crowd. And, there’s definitely something about having good coffee, bagels, muffins and, eventually, lunch, all handy just for the asking.
Maybe I’m not too good for the coffee shops. Maybe its time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Writer and screenwriter – “On The Waterfront”; “What Makes Sammy Run”. See his obituary here.
Chris from Victoria, Canada asks:
I am working as an associate producer for a company wishing to produce their first movie project. We have identified the content and now working with a writer to develop the script. We are looking into various types of option agreements in order to secure rights and ownership of this project. Do you have any suggestions and or website links that would explain the best way to make this relationship with the writer win/win and make sure we have everything covered. I am using “The Producer’s Handbook” as a bible at this time.
Your question leaves unclear whether the material you have identified is a draft script you wish to option and ask the writer to rewrite or whether you are assigning the writer material to write at your direction. In either case, the best way to make the relationship win/win with the writer is:
(a) make sure you have a writer you strongly believe in, and
(b) pay the writer a reasonable sum for his or her services.
If you are hiring the writer to prepare a screenplay based on material you are assigning, you will need a writing contract, not an option. You also need rights to the underlying material. An option may not be the best way to secure the underlying material since you are paying to have a screenplay prepared which will be worthless if you do not exercise the option. Usually, if you are moving forward with preparing screenplays based on underlying material, you want to own the underlying material rather than merely option it.
This is also true if you want a writer to rewrite his or her own screenplay for you. Whether you option it or own it, you should pay the writer for his or her services rewriting it. Often, if that is your intention, you would rather own it than pay for rewrites and lose the right to the material because your option lapses and you are not ready to move forward.
Occasionally, you will want to simply work with the writer to make the script better without any ownership in the material other than, perhaps, an informal agreement that if the writer gets the material up to the level you wish, you can present it to specific sources for consideration with you attached as a producer. This kind of agreement is sometimes appropriate for a beginning writer who is willing to do rewrites at your direction without pay. From the writer’s perspective, the writer should not agree to this unless: (i) the writer really believes in your notes, (ii) you have a proven track record, and (iii) the writer retains all rights to the screenplay including any improvements made by your contribution. If you want anything beyond that, you should pay the writer a reasonable fee for any writing services.
You can find forms for screenwriter agreements, including options, in the book “Contracts for the Film & Television Industry (2nd Edition)” by Mark Litwak, available through most major books stores and Amazon.com. The WGA’s website also has contract forms if you are a WGA signatory.