Screenwriting : Words of Warning by Bill Lundy

Bill Lundy

Words of Warning

I wanted to share an experience I just went through, as a cautionary tale for all screenwriters. I recently responded to a job posting through the International Screenwriting Association website. It was for a spec writing gig on a genre project that I felt was right up my alley. I sent over a writing sample, and quickly heard back from the producer who posted the gig. Following a short phone interview, he asked me to participate in a "bake-off" - after signing an NDA, I'd write the first 10 pages of the script based on the basic story concept he'd share with me. I agreed and did so, and to my excitement, he selected me to move forward with the project, based on this 10-page sample. Here's where it gets sticky. He sent over a 4-page Writers Agreement to sign so we could get going on the script. I looked it over and didn't see any major red flags (I have a lot of experience reading contracts), but after having been burned in the past, I felt it was in my best interests to have my attorney read over the agreement. The producer agreed to this. Things got a little delayed due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but I finally got the agreement back to the producer with some additions and changes my attorney made. I personally felt they were minor, and mostly to add clarification to certain terms of the deal. Nothing regarding the basic deal was changed, except for an addition to the compensation clause that the producer had already agreed to. Well, no sooner did I send it over than the producer dropped me from the project, saying that my attorney had substantially changed the agreement (not true) and the whole process was taking too long. Now, I figure I probably dodged a bullet here. But the moral I want to share is that we as writers CANNOT be too desperate to work with producers like this. I am a produced screenwriter with valid credits and lots of industry contacts. I was already willing to work with this guy for no upfront money (which is unfortunately becoming more and more common these days), but to assume I would just blindly sign his agreement without having my attorney make a few changes to protect my rights is, in my opinion, ridiculous. I realize we all want to get our names out there and get some movies or TV shows made. But be very wary of the sharks who just want to use and abuse our talents. If a producer balks at letting you have an attorney look over or slightly change an agreement, that probably means they're not very legitimate, and you're likely to get screwed down the road. Bottom line - be careful out there!

Shari D. Frost

Thanks for sharing!

Lisa Molusis

Contracts are designed to protect both party's interests. It is a negotiation and shouldn't be biased more heavily to one side than the other. If you don't adequately protect your interests, what's the point? Seems this producer ended up showing their true colors at exactly the right time-- good call, Bill. Did you sign away your rights to the 10 pages? If you didn't, and he didn't pay you, technically you retain the rights, don't you? After all, it was your specific expression of the idea, right? Thanks for sharing your experience.

Becca-Chris M

Thanks for sharing, Bill. Glad you took the agreement to your attorney first!

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

Wow. Great story.

Lisa Molusis

Oh, and check out this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54l835una7A I've read a lot, but these 12 you tube videos will give you everything you need to know, seriously, and it's free. Watch all 12 vids, they will show you, start to finish, how to craft your own story.

Lynn P. H. Adrian

Nice post. Thank you.

Mark Emeka

Nice, I love this

Anthony Cawood

Bill - clearly a poor experience for you and as others have pointed out... perhaps for the best in the long run. On the flip side I had a relatively unusual one recently where a producer wanted to buy one of my shorts for development into a feature. He suggested one shape of a deal, I asked for a different shape and we negotiated back and forth to a place where we were both comfortable. I admit that I was more than a little scared to try and ask/negotiate as I'm fairly inexperienced and he was afterall buying a short script... I didn't want to sour the deal. But I guess I had the opposite experience, with a thoroughly professional producer who didn't take his bat and ball home just because the writer was asking for certian cosniderations. Polar opposites perhaps, but in both cases I think we did the right thing and tried to protect our interests.

Laurie Ashbourne

I'm happy you dodged a bullet, sites like ISA don't vet the posts so always beware. I have my own boiler plate contract, when someone wants to work with me we start with that, most are happy that they don't have to generate one. Only exception is the majors and then both of us have attorney review set in the timeline.

Mark Sanderson

Good for you, Bill. Yes, one has to watch out for bad experiences like you mentioned. That's why I have my entertainment lawyer look over everything and if they want me to work, they talk to him and he hashes it out. Keep up the good fight!

Marian Cheatham

Good information. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you really did dodge that bullet. Good luck in the future!

K Kalyanaraman

Good thought to share! Thanks, Bill.

Shawn Speake

Thanks, Bill.

Veronica Taylor

That's scary. I hate that happened.

Alan Wood

Thanks for the heads up, Bill!

Linda Perkins

Thanks for the insight. An attorney's input is always the way...

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