Archive for June, 2010
I’ll be speaking at The Great American PitchFest, June 26th!
Monday, June 21st, 2010
I’m honored to have been asked to speak about the law and business of screenwriting at The Great American PitchFest in Los Angeles, this Saturday, June 26th.
I’ll be covering screenwriting topics that include: what is copyright protectable material, WGA versus U.S. Copyright registration, when a writer needs life rights or story rights, pre-pitch/pre-submission hold harmless agreements and a discussion of option/sale agreements.
Beyond my presentation, the PitchFest has a host of excellent lectures for screenwriters, as well as the opportunity to pitch to established production companies, managers and agents. An excellent opportunity for aspiring screenwriters.
I hope to see you there!
Six Steps to Protect Your Script or Story
Sunday, June 13th, 2010
As I write this I have a client that is planning an assault on the film industry. His assault? A multimedia blitzkrieg to get two comedy scripts noticed by the industry – and hopefully optioned and sold.
This prompts me to review six steps useful in protecting scripts and stories from theft by unscrupulous, plagiarizing Hollywood neerdowells (yes Virginia, they do exist).
1. Register your project with the U.S. Copyright office.
Remember that an “idea” cannot be copyright protected – it’s too general. Rather it is the “execution” of the idea – the detailed expansion of the idea into characters and plot and story – that is capable of being registered with the copyright office (as well as other types of artistic works – but for now we’re talking a script or story). Therefore, a script, and even a sufficiently detailed treatment or synopsis can be – and should be – registered with the Copyright Office before it is communicated to those that can use it.
Why not register with the WGA? In short, you get far more bang for your buck with the U.S. Copyright office registration (see the blog Archive for a more detailed discussion). By all means register with the WGA to support their excellent work. But register first and foremost with the U.S. Copyright Office. Online registration is relatively simple and quick: http://www.copyright.gov/eco/
2. Keep a submission log.
Let’s put copyright infringement in perspective – it is unlikely that your script, treatment or story will be stolen. Most people in the entertainment industry are honest, hardworking folks that want to reward you for your hard work and talent. But not all.
So in the unlikely event your story and characters are misappropriated (stolen), it will be incumbent on you to prove (a) that it was your story to begin with (through copyright registration), and (b) that the thief had access to your unique material. So a detailed log demonstrating who received what project, when, and by what means (fax, hand delivery, email, etc.) may be the difference between winning a case of copyright infringement and being left a bitter victim.
3. Submit only to those you know (let’s put this in the “aspirational” category).
Admittedly this is a bit of a wish – not quite realistic. One of the best ways to avoid the theft of your story is to only submit to those whose reputations proceed them – in a good way. People and companies that come to you as recommended and professional. But that’s extremely difficult because it limits your potential targets to those you know; or those that are known by those that you know.
Particularly for fledgling writers, sticking to known or recommended recipients is just too limiting. Clearly an agent or manager familiar with the entertainment landscape can help. But then most fledgling writers are looking for an agent or manager as feverishly as they’re looking for an option or sale.
Still, try to research the people and companies to whom you’re submitting your material. Stay away from those that have bad stories attached to them. And trust your instincts – if you get the impression a person or company cannot be trusted, don’t let ambition cloud your judgment. Instincts are there for a reason – so listen.
4. In this context, a release is rarely a good thing.
These days many of those in the film and TV industry will simply not accept unsolicited scripts or ideas, or will not accept anything that doesn’t come through an agent, manager or perhaps an attorney.
Similarly, often no submissions or pitches will be accepted without a signed release.
These releases are usually terrible for the writer – often saying “even if I – the unscrupulous producer – steal your idea, you – the writer – agree to waive any right to sue me.” Given this “license to steal,” the only recommendation is to NEVER sign such releases. Unfortunately that may mean losing the opportunity to pitch or submit to that potential sale.
The decision whether to sign and proceed can only be made by the writer, weighing the reputation of the person or company, how the writer found the person or company, and of course those “instincts” mentioned above.
5. Some “reservation” language in the submission letter.
In the letter communicating the submission, include language that the submission is being made confidentially, and that if the recipient is interested, to please contact the writer to discuss the terms of an option or purchase of the story.
While words to this effect do not guarantee your material may not be stolen, and do not guarantee a winning case if the matter were to proceed to a copyright infringement lawsuit, it does put the recipient on notice that this is a submission to the recipient alone, and is not a gift, but instead a submission in the hopes of a sale or option.
6. Don’t skimp on professional advice.
Particularly if you’re approaching an option or sale, get professional advice – from an entertainment attorney, an agent or a manager.
Recognize that an option or sale agreement can have many moving parts that affect legal rights and compensation many years into the future, and beyond the single movie represented by the script at issue.
A simple, easily understood option/sale agreement may mean the writer loses net points, sequel payments and other significant compensations. And once rights are relinquished by contract, there is usually nothing that can be done to get them back.
Quite simply, trying to save a few hundred dollars on good advice may cost you – or even cost your heirs – tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future.
Producers & Founders of The Great American Pitchfest, June 11 & 12.
Monday, June 7th, 2010
Writers, Directors and Producers in the Seattle Area – if you “pitch” story ideas, take note of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild upcoming guests, founders of The Great American PitchFest and film producers, Signe Olynyk and Bob Schultz. Friday, June 11-Saturday, June 12.
From the NWSG website – www.nwsg.org :
Learn to pitch to Hollywood from the pros! From the creators of The Great American PitchFest comes a unique opportunity to hone your pitching skills. The television and film industries are constantly looking for great new material, so why not yours? Bring your best ideas to this two-part workshop and learn how to sell yourself and your work.
On Friday, June 11, fresh from the set of their latest feature, BELOW ZERO, producers Olynyk and Schultz will discuss the challenging and rewarding process of creating an independent movie on a shoestring budget.
On Saturday, June 12, Olynyk and Schultz, also founders of the Great American PitchFest, will offer a two-part workshop detailing the ins and outs of successful pitching.
Friday, June 11: Discussion and Q&A
Doors Open: 6:30 pm
Discussion, Q&A: 7 pm to 9 pm
Demaray Hall 150
Seattle Pacific University
3307 Third Ave. West
NWSG Members: FREE
Student Rate: $10
Partner Film Org Members: $15
General Public/Non-Members: $15
Saturday, June 12: Two-Part Workshop
Doors Open: 9:30 am
Workshop: 10 am to 4 pm
Demaray Hall 150
Seattle Pacific University
3307 Third Ave. West
NWSG Members: $25
General Public/Non-Members: $40
Seating is limited. You can register today at www.nwsg.org/events.php
About Signe Olynyk
Signe Olynyk is President/CEO of Protagonist Pictures, Inc. (Los Angeles) as well as the Canadian-based Twilight Pictures, Inc. As an associate producer of two feature films, Signe is well-acquainted with both the creative and production facets of the industry, having written and produced several documentaries, one hour specials, TV pilots, as well as a six-part television series. With professional credits on more than 120 productions in the United States and Canada, Signe’s work has appeared on the CBC, Discovery Channel, FOX, and the BBC.
Signe recently wrapped shooting her latest film, which she wrote and produced. Below Zero, a psychological thriller, stars Edward Furlong (Terminator II, American History X, The Green Hornet,) Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes, Scooby Doo, Weird Science, The Devil’s Rejects,) and Kristin Booth (Young People Fucking, The Kennedys, Crackie.) Her next film project, The Middle Child, is currently in development with Apatow Productions and slated for release in 2011.
About Bob Schultz
Bob Schultz knows a good pitch when he hears one. Serving as Executive Director of PitchFest since 2004, Bob regularly judges the Austin Film Festival’s pitch contest, alongside such Hollywood heavy-hitters as Terry Rossio (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean.) A freelance screenwriter and die-hard movie buff, Bob is involved in the operation of Cinemapolis, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the art of filmmaking by exposing the community at large to independent, foreign, and documentary films.
As a script reader for Sharon Stone, Bob honed his coverage skills — working closely with Pilar Alessandra and other renown script consultants before turning his focus to writing and producing. His latest project, Below Zero, produced with Signe Olynyk, just wrapped in Vancouver.