Q. I am the owner of a film company based in [non-coastal state]. I have a chance to present ideas to the producers of the X franchise, and maybe have one picked that they will produce with me, funded by the Y agency.
My attorney (who isn't familiar with this industry) has crafted an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] regarding this, but the agent at Y isn't willing to sign it, citing that it's not customary for agents to sign them and that our material is protected by default in California law because agents can't do anything with the ideas anyway. Is this true? Is there a way to protect the treatments we are going to send them? What law is he speaking of?
By California law, agents can't produce. Therefore there is no incentive for agents to steal ideas. What would they do with them?
Agents don't sign NDA's. In fact, no one you want to send your script to will sign an NDA. They will likely ask you to sign a release form that works in the exact opposite direction. The release form protects them if they wind up later being involved in a movie similar to yours.
Mostly, people in showbiz don't steal work. It's so easy to option a screenplay; why let yourself in for a lawsuit? There are occasional high-level cases, often involving stars who think they wrote stuff they didn't write, but they're rare at most levels.
That's not to say that all agents and producers are saints and none of them ever screws* anybody or lies. But even the naughty ones rarely steal. It's just not worth the trouble.
UPDATE: Robin R points out that the whole reason you have an agent is so they'll tell people about your stuff. If you don't want them to tell people about your stuff, why are you hiring an agent?
* As the old joke goes, two producers are walking along Rodeo Drive when they see a hot chick. One says, "Boy, I'd like to screw her!" The other one says, "Out of what?"