Screenwriting : "Dear Abby" by James David Sullivan

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James David Sullivan

"Dear Abby"

I'm looking for some advice. An up-and-coming producer/director/etc. has contacted me about doing a spec rewrite. He was introduced to me by a legitimate source (outside Stage 32, just in case you are wondering). Any advice on how to protect my revisions to the script? I know if the script is not sold, we all make nothing. But how do I keep one producer from taking my revisions of someone else's script and using them without paying me? I doubt that would happen, but "an ounce of prevention".... PS: No! It ain't Spielberg! ;-)

Mark Souza

First it's not your script if he's bringing it to you - even after the rewrite. There is one way to protect yourself. Get a contract in place defining how much and when you'll be paid for your work as well as whether you'll be credited. You're in kind of a spot doing rewrites on someone else's script. You are probably not going to be paid, firstly because the script is unlikely to sell - it's just the odds. Second, if it goes through more rewrites after yours with other writers, it may be impossible to show what your contribution was. A contract, or the guy's inherent honesty, is your only hope.

David-Graham Parker

What you could do is have your alterations in a different coloured txt and using Adobe Professional use 'notes' down the side of the page explaining what you did. You can also digitally sign the document when you export it as a PDF. For added protection you could always password protect the document. As Mark Souza says though - get a contract on paper before you make even one key stroke. This is just my opinion though. Friendship is friendship but business is business.

James David Sullivan

@Bruce - we know you have!

James David Sullivan

Thanks to all of you (even Bruce!) for the advice!

James David Sullivan

Extracting text from even a pass-worded PDF is a trivial matter. However, different colored- text shows the contributions very quickly.

Janet Clarke

Bruce is right - what you're describing is a somewhat dicey situation to be in - and one that I'm familiar with. Part of it depends on how much you trust this guy, his word and his ability to actually get quality work produced - as opposed to just talk about it. Money up front is the best way to protect yourself. But if that's not an option, and you really feel this is something you should try, you need to at minimum seal the deal with a contract, expliciting explaining the time frame and how many rewrites you're negotiating for, expecting credit situation, etc. Because if he's not willing to do that - it's a red flag. And then keep EVERY EMAIL and document every correspondence you have, regarding ideas, etc. It's not iron clad protection, but its a start. (Oh - and pick up an old copy of 'The Writer Got Screwed.' if you haven't read it yet. It's dated, but a good primer re: contracts, etc.)

Graham Giddy

Play it safe and ask for an up front payment however small it may be.

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