Here's cheery news: I just got back the rights to a script I wrote on commission in 2002. Should the script be produced, I have to pay the original producers what they paid me, and certain costs, but essentially I have a brand new old script to sell.
The script needs a rewrite -- it was only a second draft comedy script, and I'm a much better writer five years later. But perhaps I can persuade a producer to find funding to hire me to rewrite it. People are always looking for romantic comedies, because they can feel big budget on a low budget, and everyone likes to work on them.
When you agree to write a script for money, try to get a reversion clause. The WGC contract mandates an automatic reversion after 7 years, but the WGA contract does not, so far as I know. A typical reversion clause would say that if the producer fails to produce a film based on the script within X years, the rights revert to you, subject to repayment of any script fees you were paid, plus "direct, out-of-pocket development costs," payable "on the first day of principal photography." You won't have to pay these yourself; they'll go into your option contract should you option the script, and then into the budget of any film based on the script.
Producers may balk at a reversion clause. Studios will rarely give you one. Their shelves are full of scripts they won't let anyone touch short of paying the full "turnaround" costs. These are all script fees plus any kind of overhead or marketing costs they can conceivably associate with the project. I can add up to millions of dollars. One of my old scripts is tied up at Disney; the full turnaround, which includes scripts by much fancier writers, and the cost of a pre-production office, plus visits to Cannes, etc., adds up to $2.6 mil. Turnaround usually kills the script, unless there's a mondo director who can convince another studio to pay the full turnaround. No exec wants to let a project go even if they don't like it any more. What if they're wrong, and it becomes a hit film for someone else? That would be embarrassing.
However, a decent producer will often give you a reversion clause, especially if they'll get their money back. I like to ask for a 5 year reversion. In this particular case, the producers were gracious enough to acknowledge that they had no intentions of doing anything with the project, and simply let me have it back before it reverted. Thank you!
This great advice, nobody ever really talks about this. What if the Producer has the project setup at a studio and the studio has it in turn-a-around, can the studio give the rights back to the producer or do the rights go back to the writer? What is the typical scenario on that. I would think they would give it back to the producer and he would try to shop around again or give it back to you if he/she is not interested. And if so, does the producer have to pay you, the writer fees?
Angie: I answered this on August 21, 2008:
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