Do You Know Your Rights from Your Lefts? - Complications Ensue
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Friday, September 25, 2009

Q. I wrote for a producer a while ago on an indie film. It was unorthodox, the idea being that a bunch of unknowns write it (5 of us in total) for no money. Shares would then be distributed to the writers for the film's company, thus profits going to them as well as other independent investors. The producer himself was principal writer.

Now this producer has become power-hungry. Bigger names have been brought in, rewrites have been done to the script etc. I'm now down on the script as an "associate writer". I wondered if you ever came across this term before and if you know exaclty what this means? I understand that I have no 'rights' as such but I'm considering requesting some form of payment (other than film shares) and wondered what your personal opinion was on the matter.
a. There's no such thing as an "associate writer." The WGA and WGC allow credits of "Written by," "Story by" and "Screenplay by". If you were involved in creating the original story, you would normally be entitled to a shared "Story by" credit at a minimum.

The exception would be if you guys served really as story consultants. Did you and the other guys actually produce written script materials? Or did you just kick ideas around? In that case you wouldn't necessarily be entitled to a story credit, just a script or story consultant credit.

b. It is not true that you have no rights. Did you sign a contract? If so, you have whatever rights your contract gives you.

If you did NOT sign a contract, then you still own the copyright to your work, and you can prevent its being used. The producers do not own your work unless they paid you something. You can potentially stop production or distribution of the picture if they use your work without your contractual agreement.

In your case, there seems to have been some vague kind of promise. Promises are an oral contract, but no bank or completion guarantor is going to accept a producer's word for it. If you kick up a fuss, then the producers will have to get something on paper with you, because they have to sign all kinds of documents saying they own all the rights to the script, and if they don't, in fact, own all the rights to the script, they'll be in trouble.

c. I wouldn't be too excited about receiving film "shares" in a script. Most films never go into profit, even if they make money for the production company and studio. Production companies have weird definitions of profit that mostly amount to "no profit." Net profits are commonly referred to as "monkey points."

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2 Comments:

There's the famous incident of Forrest Gump apparently never having made a profit, according to the studio, which is why the writer or author (can't remember which), never got any extra money despite it being one of the highest grossing movies of all time.

By Blogger Tim W., at 5:15 PM  

Another well known case:

Many Australians once invested in a rather expensive movie to be made by two young unknown brothers.

The movie never made any profit and therefore their investment was not deemed eligible for a tax write-off.

Because that deduction had already occurred, all those poor investors had to pay it back to Taxation.

The failed movie in question? The Matrix.

By Blogger Karel, at 6:24 AM  

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