Screenwriters die, too. Ernest Lehman passed this weekend. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, he’s one of the names you should know.
When interviewing a subject for a screenplay do you need to take any legal precautions like having the subject sign a waiver before you start that process to protect yourself from any future litigation?
Generally, if you are telling the life story of the person you are interviewing (or his/her story is part of the story you are telling), you need to obtain a release for material he or she shares with you. This is true even if you plan to use only a few of the person’s experiences. Rights to someone’s life story and experiences can be protected by a number of legal principles including right to privacy and right to publicity. These protections are made stronger by the fact that you are actually interviewing the subject.
On the other hand, if you are interviewing the subject about public facts that are not personal, you usually do not need a release. For example, if you interview a physics professor about general time theory to do a story on time travel, you normally do not need a release. However, even in this case, you need to be careful. If the physics professor has some reasonable expectation that she will be compensated for her contribution to your story, she may have some legal rights even if the information itself is public and not legally protected.
To protect yourself when you plan to interview someone for background information, let him or her know you are a screenwriter and looking for general background information. If you do not expect to pay someone for providing information to you, always be clear about that before you get the information. Most people are happy to share information of this nature for free. If you wish for more personal information or experiences or if you plan to use the person as a character in your story, always get a release.
I am publishing this entire question from Jack of Oklahoma despite its length because his experience is unique only in his perseverance, not in the difficulty he is having getting a break.
Hi. This is a combination question/remark/plea. I have been writing since the 1980s and have had my share of agents representing me. As of now, I have given up. I have written 30+ original screenplays and 6 (completed) novels. I need help. Lately, I have been posting my scripts on InkTip.com. They are legit, because I’ve seen and read about the results they are receiving. To attempt to make a long story short, is there anyone out there who can lead me to a site that can help me in gaining “real” representation for my scripts? Two years ago, I had two of my scripts pushed all the way to the top of Hallmark Hall of Fame and HBO, by my then-agent, only to be shot down from the top after the scripts being okayed by everyone between here and the words ‘the check is in the mail’ being spoken. Anyway, I have, in the past year, on my own, since my agent and I parted ways, been asked to write a script for an Indie Co. They found me on InkTip.com, liked what I had posted (the entire script) and then asked me to sign a contract to write a script using one of their ideas. I did so, and now I am waiting for word…any word, from them. So, still trying to make a long story short here, I am desperate, to say the least, in my search for a reputable agency to represent me. I used to have those thoughts running in my head, like I’m a hack, and can’t write my name, etc., but now that I know people like HBO and Hallmark, and Indie Co’s., believe my writing doesn’t suck wind, I know now I can send out my original scripts and not be embarrassed by them. So, to end, can someone give me any ideas as where to go to find reputable representation? What to do?I read the previous page from this site and looked over the “paying agents” article. Believe me, I’ve been there…and just recently, paid $79 for a critique of one of my novels, and being asked for another $79 for each and every critique rendered…(I know, I’m stupid for doing this, but desperation doesn’t exactly bring out the best in me)..and these are the same scripts and novels I already have had edited by reputable outfits. So, if this letter is answered, thank you, because I believe I have what it takes to make it, going by what little track record I have, but I need help getting to a WGAw signatory agent. I don’t mind paying for copies of my scripts to be sent out, it is just I don’t like paying for something I am not getting, as in deeper in debt. I can’t afford to be paying for critiques by someone who won’t do anything with it after the job is done…I have two daughters, a wife, a dog, and a bird to feed…besides trying to write while working two jobs. So, if there is anyone out there who can point me in a somewhat right direction, I would truly be grateful. Thank you.
I can’t refer you to an agent, Jack, but I can tell you that many, many writers get their first breaks without an agent. You obviously have a great deal of experience and probably have at least a reasonable personality if you’ve gotten as far as you have. You may want to change tactics and take to the phones yourself to contact producers directly. It will take regular efforts and many, many rejections, but when isn’t that the case in entertainment. A good place to start would be to call the people who liked your writing in the past – the folks at HBO, Hallmark, etc. Writing careers are all about making fans in the industry and you have already made some. Capitalize on it. When you call, pay attention to sounding professional, not desperate. Remember, you are talking your way through receptionists who get yelled at if they waste their boss’s time. Know what you want to say and be ready to pitch your ideas. No matter what you do, do not let lack of an agent stop you.
If anyone out there has any concrete suggestions for Jack, now’s the time to speak up.
S. Pettyway of Connecticut asks:
What’s the deal with that writing program “Dramatica Pro” and is it really worth it? Or Should an inspiring screenwriter such as myself stick with the old tools of the trade, my heart and mind.
After having played with many programs over many years, my feeling about software and technology in general is that the best thing it can do for you as a screenwriter is get out of your way. Screenplay formatting software (Final Draft and others) is terrific when it is not buggy because it just sits there and lets you write. Some outlining software is pretty good this way, too, but it does not seem to be much better than a legal pad or index cards.
Programs like Dramatica Pro seek to impose a particular story philosophy on you. In fact, that is their whole reason for being – to shape your ideas to fit their story philosophy and thereby make your task easier and make the result better. The problem is, part of being a writer is developing your own story philosophy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard to understand as many well thought out ideas about story as you can, but I find any software that tries to marshal me into its story structure and concepts quickly becomes extremely frustrating.
There is no shortcut.
You are the creator of the story; you are not merely a scribe filling in blanks. This is not a moral position, but a statement of fact. Filling in the blanks simply does not work. Ideas about story structure are all imperfect – mostly after the fact analysis (even the old Aristotle). That means you need to invent each story you write – struggle through the issues the same as every writer, even the best of them, reinvent your personal story philosophy as you go, and no software, no book, no video tape, no CD will ever give you the answer. You must find it for yourself.
With all that said, there may be some successful screenwriter somewhere who made a sale using some story crafting software, but I guarantee it wasn’t because of the software. If you enjoy tinkering with new software (I know I do) and have a couple hundred bucks to spare – go ahead and play with it. Play is good and it might inspire you to create something. But don’t spend your food money or your school money or your mortgage money on it. Writing software is just a toy.