Screenwriting : Similar ideas by Regina Lee

Regina Lee

Similar ideas

We see so many posts by writers who are afraid someone will "steal their ideas." To give another example of how common it is to have a similar idea, of the last 10 feature scripts I've read over the past month, 3 of the 10 feature an experimental medical/therapeutic procedure/surgery. All of these scripts are represented (not unsolicited). Similar ideas pop up every single day. Chances are, no one will "steal your idea." People just have similar ideas. We all live in the same world, after all. Yet the reason that most producers, myself included, cannot accept unsolicited submissions is because an inexperienced person out there may think that just because a producer is doing a medical project, maybe that producer has "stolen their idea."

Anthony Moore

It happens outside of the production circles also. I've been in a few writers group or just met people who write and claim to have an idea so great that they can't tell anybody because they'll steal it. Of the ones who finally confided in me, I've yet to hear an original story worth stealing. Half the time they babbled incoherently about minutia in the background that has little to do with the actual story. The other half had stuff that was similar to stories I've seen on TV/in movies with new names and one or two minor differences. Plus they never had any follow up. Another story idea that wasn't a sequel to the one they already had.

Tony Cella

There's a big difference between having similar themes, plot devices or even characters and stealing an idea, Waiting and Clerks for example.

Regina Lee

True, Tony. I'm keeping the story details vague because I don't want to post specifics about their scripts in a public space. That said, I know of a frivolous complaint being filed just because a studio is doing a "time travel" project after an unsolicited time travel project was submitted.

William Martell

Most of the people who worry about idea theft have crappy ideas, anyway. You need a great idea and great execution. Both. If someone "steals your idea" what good is it without great execution?

M L.

If scripts are coming across your desk are they all from major agencies that just send them regularly or are you requesting specific materials from said agencies?

Regina Lee

Michael L - For me, it depends on the situation.

Conrad Ekeke

I brought up a similar issue and what I've learned is that though two or more writers may well have similar ideas, their methods and maybe story lines cannot be too exact. Then also the implementation of the idea matters too.

M L.

This is the stated industry logic not to take scripts but the "potential litigation for similarity" issue is easily solved with waivers signed by the writer. I suspect the real reason behind not taking them is the same reason casting directors don't take scripts. They just don't want them from everyone and their butler which is the filmmaking scene nowadays. But it's also just so "matter of course" in the gatekeeper playbook that everyone connected has to hold up that sign to be taken seriously themselves.

Frances Macaulay Forde

As word-smiths, we are manipulators of story and characters. Although we may have the same idea for a story, the words we choose to expand on that idea will be totally different (unless you are looking over my shoulder and copying me) making, therefore totally different stories. No two people will interpolate individual experiences in the same way - not even twins, standing on the same spot and looking in the same direction. Our previous experiences will colour our new experiences and the stories we write. So no... don't worry, just write your best and don't let it leave your hands, until it is your best.

Regina Lee

Hi Michael, I think you're right. However, in addition to what you're saying, it should also be said that a waiver does not prevent a frivolous lawsuit. Anyone can file a complaint for anything. Even if there is a signed waiver in place, the producer/agency/financier would still have to spend a lot of money in attorney fees, and this potential of paying attorneys is enough to keep many people from risking accepting an unsolicited script. If you have the signed waiver, hopefully it will stop the suit from progressing too far, but it cannot prevent a suit from being filed and it cannot prevent the fact that everyone will have to pay legal fees to deal with the frivolous lawsuit.

M L.

I saw a disclaimer on one company's site stating anything sent to them is automatically subject for use and the sender gives up all rights etc. The point was designed to scare people by saying they'll lose all rights to any material they send. Haha. I think that might be the most effective method I've seen of discouraging submissions.

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