Q. Recently, a friend of mine came to me with a draft of her indie feature screenplay. I told her I was gonna rewrite it and she agreed to it. I basically had to re-type the entire thing into final draft because she only had a pdf copy of the screenplay and it was a picture image. Anyway, I retyped the screenplay, edited action lines, and changed a bit of the dialogue to give the characters a better sense of who they are. I basically rewrote the screenplay.
Originally, I was thinking this would be a co-writing 50/50 endeavor. But she's now thinking more like her 70 and me 30. I know we should've laid out a contract before we started. Grant it, she came up with the story, the characters and the concept. But I came in and rewrote it, edited it and punched up dialogue quite a bit.
Basically I just need help in understanding what is the correct percentage on ownership for this sorta situation.
What you've done isn't considered a "rewrite" under WGA or WGC rules. What you've done would be considered a "polish." "Rewrite" and "polish" are both terms of art under the Guild agreements. To do a "rewrite" would entail introducing new characters and new plot elements. You'd have to write completely new scenes or at least move scenes around a lot. Under WGA rules, I believe you could replace every single bit of dialog and not be entitled to an onscreen credit.
I think 70-30 might be appropriate where you're actually doing a rewrite. 50-50 might apply where you're talking about a page one rewrite -- throwing out virtually everything and starting from scratch. But if you're only doing a polish, I think you ought to be happy with 10%. Maybe, maybe 12.5%.
It takes me about a month to come up with a coherent beat sheet for a script and another month to come up with a first draft from that. I can do it a lot faster if I have to, but that's how long I spend on a typical spec. If you brought me a feature and all you wanted was snappier dialog and action lines, I would probably spend about a week on that. (More and it wouldn't be a polish any more.) Suggesting about 10%.
Basically, there is a strong presumption in favor of the original writer. It's easy to come in and tweak dialog and edit action lines. It's hard to come up with something out of nothing. Just ask God.
But next time, definitely specify who's getting what before anyone does any work.
Labels: contracts, rights, story consulting