Getting your start as a screenwriter is incredibly exciting. After searching far and wide for an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and make the thrilling world in your head come to life, you’ve finally found the perfect outlet to express your passion for writing. However, that likely means the legal aspects of screenwriting aren’t high on your priority list, although they certainly should be.
All screenwriters, especially newer ones, must launch their careers with legal agreements to protect themselves. They often work with friends or acquaintances without any agreements, which frequently leads to complicated disputes. Still, screenwriting is a business, and all businesses must operate on contracts. Here are six legal agreements that every screenwriter should be familiar with:
1. Option/Purchase Agreement
This kind of contract is used by two parties to sell or obtain the motion picture and television rights to existing screenplays. It is also helpful for getting the motion picture and television rights to creative content like novels, comic books, theatrical works, and even film remakes. Recently, screenwriters have used such pre-existing intellectual properties as the foundation of their work.
However, if you’ve created an original screenplay or pilot and someone wants to turn your work into a movie or TV show, you’ll be asked to sign an option/purchase agreement. The purpose of this agreement is to allow the acquirer to govern the rights to your script exclusively at a lower cost and for an agreed period. This is an opportunity for your story to reach the public, although you’ll get less money in the process. However, if the acquirer finds the funding to produce the script, the purchase part of the agreement outlines the terms for the purchases.
2. Shopping Agreement
The shopping agreement is a shorter, quicker alternative to the option/purchase agreement, having one or two pages. It allows the producer to shop the writer’s screenplay, assuring that they’ll commit to the project if it receives support from a financier under a formal agreement. This agreement doesn’t have the same transfer of rights as the option/purchase agreement, making it easier for the screenwriter to negotiate when getting their script made.
3. Writer Agreement
This agreement is an employment agreement that a screenwriter will sign if they are engaged to write or rewrite a script. It is a labor agreement specifying details like the screenwriter’s services, payment schedule, screen credit, and timeline. Sometimes, this will be part of the option/purchase agreement if the party requires more paid rewriting services. You can also add a “work made for hire” provision in your writer agreement, allowing the company hiring you to own the work you are writing.
4. Representation Agreement
A representation agreement is a contract between an agent or manager and their client, allowing the representative to act on the client’s behalf in specific ways and receive payment accordingly. If the agreement is between an agent and the client, the contract’s terms must comply with state laws and union agreements that regulate agents and their dynamics with their clients.
5. Collaboration Agreement
A collab agreement is when two or more parties cooperate to achieve a shared goal, like co-write a script. It’s a straightforward agreement that details the goals, responsibilities, ownership, and other related aspects that all parties agree upon. If you plan to write a script with another screenwriter, a collaboration agreement is the first contract you should sign.
6. Submission Release Form
Lastly, unrepresented screenwriters and some represented ones may have to sign a submission release before submitting their screenplays for the review of managers, production companies, agents, or events such as festivals and workshops. Once a writer signs it, they lose the right to sue if they think the other party ripped off their work in the agreement.
Navigating the world of legal contracts for creatives can be tricky, especially for screenwriters. However, by familiarizing yourself with these six contracts, you can protect yourself and your work while making your mark as a screenwriter.
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