June 15

UNWINDING PRODUCER DEALS

QUESTION

I have a script, which my agent had us attach a producer to. My agent and the producer are very good friends, and in our initial talks he had some good ideas. Well, after 3+ months of back and forth rewriting (the producer changed his mind on several points 3-4 times over) we finally had what he considered a final draft. The thing is my co-writer and I thought it was much better 3+ months before.

So, after it went out wide, no one picked it up, but we got meetings, we had several people (producers, execs., etc.) tell us what they loved about the story. Of course, it was the stuff we now only hinted at, as the producer attached had us cut lots of it out.

Anyway, I’m rambling. We now have our draft that went out, and our draft before the producer came on board. We’d like to revert back to our original draft and part ways with the producer, as his ideas, thoughts, and plans are all not at all onboard with ours.

So, what is the proper way of parting ways with the producer, who was attached via our agent, but NOTHING was ever signed, and no money ever exchanged hands. So how do we do it?

Chris from Los Angeles

The big question is, revert back to the original script for what purpose? It went out wide and was passed on by everyone. Who will you shop it to? Most specs end up as calling cards for their writers. This one was a calling card for you. Focus on the people you met as a result, nurture those relationships and get the next script in front of your new fans as soon as possible.

The next big question is, why now? How is the fact that this producer may or may not be attached for certain purposes stopping you from doing whatever you have in mind? If you find a buyer for the old draft, have your agent work it out with the producer and the buyer at that time. Chances are, one way or another, they’ll be able to work it out. Unless there is a compelling reason to create a problem now, I wouldn’t do it.

I could tell you about your legal rights, but you are building a writing career, not a legal career. You don’t want to get bogged down in legal disputes. Be happy for the opportunities the script brought and move forward.

The real lesson is, don’t turn in drafts that you think are lousy. If a producer gives you notes you don’t believe in, try to solve his concerns with solutions you do believe in, whether your solutions meet his notes or not. It’s always better to turn in a draft you believe in and get rejected than turn in one you don’t believe in and get rejected.



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Posted June 15, 2005 by TW in category "The Business

4 COMMENTS :

  1. By Joshua on

    The other possibility, down the line (and after you’ve written another script) is to rewrite the first script BACK to the way you had previously (when it was, in your opinion, better) change the title and then resubmit it out – if enough time has gone by, new people will be reading it in development and it may get a more favorable response.

    But this isn’t something that should be done right away – you should work on a new script as well and use the contacts you’ve established with the producer.

  2. By alan on

    one time i got notes from this la producer. he’s got lots of credits – all minor, no wide releases. the implication was that if i incorporated his ideas we would work together and possibly a movie would result. problem was two-fold – there was no money on the table, and the guy’s notes were shit

    i did not do business with this guy and my career is just fine. if i had gotten involved the compromise may have hurt me for a long time – in fact, i may never have recovered.

    talent is fragile – don’t put it at risk

  3. By Alex Epstein on

    The producer has NO rights in this case. He has no rights, obviously, in the earlier draft. And he has no rights to the later draft, either, no matter what he may claim. You can’t copyright an idea, and all he has given you is ideas.

    Absent a written deal, any “attachment” he can claim can be terminated by a simple letter saying thank you, but we’ve decided to part ways. Given that he has paid no money and you’ve done a lot of writing for nothing, he really has no further entitlement.

    (If you really want to be snippy, and protect yourself, imply a deal in your letter. Say “since you have not been able to set this project up, as we had hoped, we are going to pursue other avenues now. Thanks for your efforts, and we hope to work with you again in the future.”)

    In the biz, people give notes all the time. It doesn’t give them rights over the project, whether they’re producers or actors or directors.

  4. By TW (Post author) on

    Alex:

    The issue is not copyright. In California, at least, there are a number of cases enforcing “oral agreements” between screenwriters and producers. If a producer who helped you develop a script and take it all over town for you asserts that you agreed that he would be attached, you do have a cloud on the project. I’m not saying that this producer would assert such rights or that, even if he did, he could ever prove it. I’m just saying, unless there’s a real reason to do it, the writers don’t need to get into a fight with a producer at this point. They can ask their agent to work it out; that’s what they have an agent for. In the meantime, they should feel free to do whatever they want with the script. These kinds of complications come up all the time and just get ironed out in the mix. The writers need to focus on writing and moving forward. Why burn a bridge with a producer that likes them for nothing?

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