Read these 17 Marketing Your Screenplay Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Screenplay tips and hundreds of other topics.
Most screenwriters concentrate their efforts on selling to the studios. But what about checking out the indie market? Independent filmmakers need scripts, too, and it just might be an easier market to break into.
"The indie scene offers opportunities for stories that aren't mainline, happy ending, franchise constructed, star vehicles," says entertainment lawyer Judith Merians. "If you have such a story, focus on pitching to producers or production companies who have succeeded with independent films and who have access to money. Look up which companies have deals with the majors and can knock at the doors of their home studios and pitch your project. Also look to directors who like offbeat stories and actors who like stretching their range (Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Toni Collette, and the like). Do your homework. Sometimes talent has its own production shingle."
When you have a mainstream high concept that is strong enough to attract stars and carry the movie based on the idea alone, you may have some wiggle room in your writing. In the indie market, it's not the idea that rules, it's the execution. Your character-driven script lives or dies based on its quality. Be prepared to show a writing sample, and to work on spec and do rewrites. Deliver the script they want. Remember, you're looking for your big break, so keep your nose to the grindstone and your inner prima donna in check.
How to Find Independent Filmmakers:
• Look up housekeeping deals in The Hollywood Directory.
• The International Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com) is a great resource. Look up your favorite indie films. At the bottom of the cast list, click "more." Scroll down to "produced by," and you'll know exactly who produced the movie—and might be interested in your story.
• Check out http://hollywoodlitsales.com.
• Attend film festivals.
• Contact your local film association.
Writing for television is different from writing feature films. "TV is a writer's medium," says producer Harry Waterson (Soap, Benson, The Golden Girls). "In episodic television, the writers run the production and the director is mostly just a hired hand. Features are a director's medium and the writer is the hired hand. Witness how many feature writers want to direct so they can have a say in how their script is produced."
Besides talent, what does an aspiring TV writer need? "Speed, smarts, a thick hide, and the ability to write and rewrite as part of a group," says Waterson. He explains further:
Speed: Episodic television is a constant stream of deadlines generating rewrite after rewrite. Locking the script is usually an unfulfilled dream.
Smarts: The episodic TV writer works on as many as half a dozen scripts at a time in various stages of prep or production. He needs to keep all of this straight in his head and to foresee the production traps his writing will generate.
A thick hide: The episodic TV writer has to accept that nothing is written in stone. The rewrite he has just slaved over is immediately given to another staff writer to fix. Or the actor who reads his dialogue doesn't understand it and therefore hates it and wants it rewritten. This has to be done for a run-through two hours from now.
Writing and rewriting as part of a group: Writing is normally a solitary game. Not in episodic television. Talent is very scarce. Writers who can do it all are even rarer. So there are writers who are good at dialogue, good at joke, good at plot construction, good at springboards, or just good at keeping everybody in the room happy. It's the head writer and/or show runner who keeps all these writers on his staff rubbing along together and getting shows done.
How does a new writer break in?
"When a series first goes on the air, there is no backlog of material and the writers are still finding their way," says Waterson. "They're living from hand to mouth. The head writer is going nuts with writers who aren't delivering his vision. He's on the phone daily to his agent looking for help. Should the agent get a spec script for that new series that conforms to the head writer's vision, he'll surely share it with his client, the aforementioned frantic head writer. Speed is of the essence here."
Competition for TV writing gigs is fierce, the pace is grueling, and the culture takes some getting used to. But if you thrive on pressure and love the creative exchange of collaboration, TV might be your medium.
Screenplay, Writing the Picture by Robin U. Russin and William Missouri Downs
What if, like me, you not only don't live in L.A., you don't even live in the United States?
The film industry is becoming ever more global. Many countries have thriving movie cultures, such as France, India, and upstarts like New Zealand, where Peter Jackson's success (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong) has anchored a burgeoning industry. If you're broadminded and proactive, you may well find riches far from L.A.
I'm a member of a wonderful organization called DreamAgo. Run by screenwriter/consultant Pascale Rey, DreamAgo's mission is to help nurture screenwriters and develop their projects for the screen. Founded in France in 2005, DreamAgo is a nonprofit organization with branches in Paris, Los Angeles, Madrid, and Lausanne. "The cornerstone of each and every movie is the script," says Rey, DreamAgo's president. "Our goal is to help writers turn their scripts into strong, personal, emotional movies with wide and diverse audience appeal. Our mission is to bring screenwriters, directors, producers and distributors of all nationalities together."
DreamAgo offers an international forum for professional networking and exchange through monthly luncheons and other events such as screenings and meetings. In addition, DreamAgo organizes screenwriting master classes and workshops (including a one-week retreat in Switzerland), and offers a script translation service.
DreamAgo works at building contacts with respected artists from all over the world. To date, its patrons, who act as artistic references and advisors and provide moral support, include Stephen Frears (UK), Alain Corneau (France), Jose F. Lacaba (Philippines), Jorge Perugorria (Cuba), and Guillermo Arriaga (Mexico).
If you're interested in applying for membership, visit DreamAgo's Web site: http://www.dreamago.com.
Alternatively, check out film and screenwriting organizations in your country, as well as the home page of the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds (http://www.iawg.org), where you'll find links to guilds all over the world. Go to each site and explore its links in turn, and you'll begin to get a sense of what's happening globally.
Do you have to live in L.A. to make it as a screenwriter?
If you're writing for TV, living in L.A. is not an option, it's a must. But feature writers have some leeway. "You don't have to be in N.Y. or L.A. to sell a script if you understand the importance of targeting the buyers make the kinds of films that you're writing," says entertainment lawyer Judith Merians.
Certainly, there are advantages to living in L.A. On the one hand, you're in the thick of things. You can get an industry job. If you're lucky enough to land an agent, you can take meetings at a moment's notice. On the other hand, all that networking might distract you from your writing, which isn't a good thing. The decision to move to L.A. or not boils down to your personality. Move to L.A. and you may go crazy with the city's demands; don't move there and you may have to work twice as hard to get a career going.
"Even if you don't live in Hollywood, get out to L.A. once in a while. Meeting other writers and attending industry events give you a chance to make new contacts," says screenwriter/director Mary V. Dunkerly.
If you decide to make the big move, prepare well in advance. Arrive with a handful of polished scripts and a budget. Make a realistic strategy, akin to a business plan, for what you want to accomplish during your first year.
"If you come to Hollywood, expect to work harder than you ever have before," says screenwriter Andrew Bennett. "Prepare yourself to be a lonely grain of sand in a sea of others just like you. Stay positive. Network and cultivate contacts. Above all, don't quit. I'd like to tell you it gets easier, but I don't want to lie. But it gets easier to tell yourself that it'll get easier soon."
Michael Lent's book, Breakfast with Sharks, is a thorough study of becoming a working writer in L.A.
Screenwriting contests can be a good way to get exposure, but you need to be smart about how you go about it. Contest entry fees are expensive. Take the time to do your research, be selective, and watch out for scams.
The two granddaddies of screenwriting contests are the Walt Disney Screenwriting Fellowship and the Nicholl Fellowship. Winning Disney will get you a $50,000 stipend and a year working and learning at Disney. Placing or winning Nicholl also lands you a large cash prize and plenty of attention from agents. Other contests, no matter how large the payout, pale in comparison.
Winning a less prestigious contest can be a good thing on your resume—if you know how to exploit it. "If you win first place, shout it from the mountaintops," says screenwriter Andrew Bennett. Industry pros will be more willing to look at a winning script, but be ready to strike while the iron is hot and before the next contest announces a fresh batch of winners. "If you placed second in a competition, you still 'won.' If you were a quarterfinalist, you 'placed highly.' The issue is building credibility," says Bennett.
There are three strategies to entering contests.
1. Enter to get industry recognition. Seek out contests with industry players as judges, or ones that announce the winners in Variety or The Hollywood Reporter. If this is your aim, write high-concept scripts.
2. Use contests as a sounding board, just to see what kind of resonance you get. Choose contests that offer feedback, so at least this way you get something back for your entry fee. This is especially useful if you're still learning the craft.
3. Enter contests with big cash prizes and enter to win. It's a long shot, but if you enjoy that sort of thing, why not? Motivation is the name of the game.
The biggest problem with contests is that too often, the winning scripts don't accurately reflect projects that Hollywood actually wants. Contest judges aren't investing cold, hard cash in the projects they select, so they can allow themselves the freedom of choosing a script they love, no matter how unmarketable. Take contest wins and placements for what they are: confirmation that your writing talent has placed you somewhere in the ballpark. It doesn't necessarily mean you're home free.
Walt Disney Screenwriting Fellowship:
Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting:
Find other contest listings at http://www.moviebytes.com
You might want to attend a pitch fest, an organized event that brings aspiring writers face-to-face with industry executives. A pitch fest can be a wonderful experience, especially if it allows you to give multiple pitches. Okay, so it may not feel wonderful the first time around, but the more you practice your pitch, the better you'll get at it—and that does feel pretty good. You'll be exposed to industry professionals, and there may even be workshops for you to attend. Before you sign up for one, however, think through the following:
Pitch fests can be expensive, especially if you have to travel to L.A., so confirm what you're getting for your money before you go. Some pitch fests make you pay every time you pitch. Others offer package deals. Set your budget in advance.
Ask about the schedule. How often will you have the opportunity to pitch? Whom will you be pitching to? Will there be pitching workshops where you can get feedback on how you're doing?
Pitch fests attract huge crowds. The experience has been likened to speed dating, and can be hectic and overwhelming—or exciting and energizing, depending on your personality. Be sure to ask how many attendees are expected.
Don't get scammed. Check credentials before you sign up for anything. How long has the pitch fest been around? Who will be there? Be wary of pitch fests that keep changing dates or organizers who don't e-mail you back. If in doubt, don't sign up.
Don't worry about the results. If you attend a pitch fest, don't go expecting to sell your script. Instead, concentrate on gaining pitching experience and building relationships. Maybe a producer didn't request your script, but if you made a good impression, he might be happy to read your next query letter. Look at pitch fests as a networking opportunity and a necessary part of your education, and you won't be disappointed.
Great American Pitch Fest (http://www.pitchfest.com)
Hollywood Pitch Festival (http://www.fadeinonline.com/events)
Screenwriting Expo (http://www.screenwritingexpo.com)
A pitch is a brief, verbal summary of your story. Like the synopsis, a pitch should focus on selling rather than telling the story. Your goal is to excite the producer about your story and inspire him to request the script.
Start with your logline, and continue with the most original and interesting aspects of your script. Give a clear picture of the beginning, middle, and end. The producer needs to understand your story, so don't be cagy. Know your story and characters inside and out, and be ready with detailed answers to any questions the producer may have. But don't give more away than he asks for. If the producer requests the script after the logline, stop talking! The pitch has done its job, so quit while you're ahead.
You may be stopped after your logline with a polite, "thanks but it's not for us," or you may be asked to continue, so practice talking about your story for two minutes, five minutes, and longer. Rehearse until you can rattle it off in a relaxed and clear manner. Pitch to family and friends and ask for feedback. Was anything confusing? Were they bored? Hone your pitch based on their comments.
Pitching is a performance requiring enthusiasm and humor. Be passionate about your story. Maintain eye contact, engage your listener, and be aware of your body language. Screenwriter/director Mary V. Dunkerly says the best advice she ever got was to reveal the inspiration for her story before going into the pitch. People love an entertaining behind-the-creative-process story. "During one pitch, I had the listener in stitches telling him about my older friend's first wedding and the Las Vegas-type nuptials she was planning, and how that inspired the story I wrote. Needless to say, he requested the script," says Dunkerly.
At the end of the meeting, don't overstay your welcome. Even if the producer isn't interested, remember you're selling yourself as much as your script, so be friendly, thank him for his time, and get out of there. Leave him with the impression that you're cool, composed, and professional, and he'll be more willing to meet with you again.
An agent only makes money AFTER he's procured work for you—through a sale, option, or writing assignment. Then, and only then, is he allowed to charge you a 10% fee. Legitimate agents who are looking for new clients will never ask you for money. It's against the WGA signatory rules—another good reason to stick with WGA signatory agents. There are unscrupulous people who use the Internet to seduce inexperienced writers with promises of representation, and then try to charge a reading fee or sell script doctoring services. Don't fall for this.
Bottom line: never, ever pay an agent to read your script or to represent you.
These days, writers are often told they need an agent AND a manager AND an entertainment lawyer. What do each of these professionals do? And when do you need whom? For answers, I turned to entertainment lawyer Judith Merians:
An agent gets your material to buyers. He can also try to get you hired for writing assignments. An agent is only as good as his belief in you and his contacts in the industry. He has to be able to get your material read by the people who can get projects developed and financed. Most companies will only take submissions from agents or entertainment attorneys because unsolicited scripts often lead to lawsuits. Agents only make money if you make money since they work on commission. If you're unknown, they'll have to work very hard to get your material read. Most would rather spend their time with clients whose material they can sell more easily. Getting your first agent is a challenge. If you can get a recommendation from a client or friend of theirs, they might represent you on a single project. If it sells, then they may take you on as a client.
A manager sets up meetings for you, gets you known, even helps you find an agent. Managers are prohibited by law from making deals and sales, although this is often ignored. A manager has to be well connected because their fundamental job is to get you well connected. Many managers also help you hone your writing and steer your career. Like agents, managers will only take you on if they feel they can make money from you. If you've won awards or have been recognized in some significant way, use your success to interest an agent or manager.
An entertainment lawyer makes your deal, gets you the best terms, and protects you. A good attorney will know what deals are being made, how much to ask for, and what other rights you should secure—like the right to do one or two rewrites, sequels, or spin-offs. Writers should never negotiate deals themselves. They may overlook lots of important points and cause antagonism with the person hiring them. Negotiating is an adversarial process. As a writer, you want to maintain a good relationship with your producer at all times. Let your attorney or agent act like a tough cookie on your behalf.
Once you have representation, continue marketing yourself. Your agent probably has dozens of clients. If you really want your career to move forward, you'll have to prove you're worth his time. Be proactive. Keep networking. Send him leads. Be grateful for every commission he earns while working for you—including on leads you've initiated yourself. Remember, he works very hard at building his reputation and establishing connections. A phone call from him gets you in the very doors you couldn't open by yourself. Concentrate on being a good client. Do quality work and be reliable.
Hundreds of thousands of scripts are written and shopped around, but only about 400 feature films are produced in Hollywood each year. The competition is fierce, so how does a novice screenwriter break in?
According to producer/manager Hal Croasmun, there are numerous routes into Hollywood. "Too many screenwriters give up after trying only the traditional strategies," says Croasmun of ScriptForSale.com. "We didn't want to see any more dreams die over a lack of options." That's why Croasmun, who is also a writer, developed the free program "33 Ways to Break Into Hollywood." Every other day, a new strategy pops up on your desktop until you've read all 33 strategies. It's designed to give you time to consider each tip carefully. Once you've read a strategy, you can review it again at any time.
You'll learn how to win contests with industry recognition (strategy #5), approach indie filmmakers (strategy #17), and build your Web site (strategy #10). By the time you've finished, you'll be able to put together an amazing marketing campaign that will get you noticed by Hollywood.
This tool is one of my favorites. No writer should be without it. 33 Strategies can be downloaded for free at http://www.scriptforsale.com/33ways/signup33.htm
A one-page query letter sums up your project and asks (queries) the recipient, usually an agent or producer, if he'd like to see the script. Some writers believe query letters are too hit-and-miss and usually thrown away unread, and therefore a waste of time. They prefer to concentrate on getting referrals and making connections. There's a great deal of validity to this point of view. Other writers, however, have had success with queries. It's still good to know how to write one for when you do eventually make a contact.
The tips below come from screenwriter Andrew Bennett, who credits the writer Paul Lawrence with them. They can be used for e-mail, fax, and snail mail queries. They showcase your professionalism and increase the likelihood of a positive response.
• Start with a quote about yourself from someone who matters—contest judge, producer, working writer, director.
• Always find the exact name, spelled correctly, of the person you're contacting.
• Open with a brief introduction.
• Follow with your highest element of credibility. This could be a contest win, good coverage, a script of yours that was optioned or is in production, or even any special expertise that you may have. If your script is about the first brain transplant and you're a brain surgeon, you'll come across as credible.
• Deliver the logline for your script. If it's a great high concept, all the better.
• Follow it with a very brief synopsis containing the bare-bones elements of your story: two or three short paragraphs delivering the essentials about your protagonist, his conflict, and each of the major plot points (Act I and II breaks).
• Tell or at least imply the ending in a way that is compelling and inspires a producer to want to read the script.
• Be clear about what you want. I simply ask "May I send you the script?"
• Include contact info.
• Paste a resume at the end.
• For e-mails, use the subject line: From the Office of (Your Name).
"Wow! You're either brilliant or totally insane. Or both!" (Matt Calcara of the 20/20 Screenwriting Contest)
Attention Johnny Producer:
My name is Andrew Bennett and I'm an up-and-coming screenwriter in the Hollywood area. I'm currently in rewrites on my script The Grandmother, optioned by Scott Schneid with Lorne Cameron attached to produce. I'm looking for opportunities for several of my spec scripts.
My latest script is entitled Unscripting the Apocalypse. It's a comedy in which God hires an alcoholic writer to script the end of the world.
May I send you the script?
Thanks for your time,
Resume (pasted in e-mail or attached as separate sheet to fax or letter)
A synopsis is a brief summary of your story. Depending on whom you talk to, the length of a synopsis might range from a single paragraph to two or three pages, so if you're asked for a synopsis, clarify exactly what the person is looking for. For our purposes here, we'll discuss a very brief synopsis of three to five short paragraphs that you can include in query letters.
A synopsis is a selling tool. "Telling your story is different from selling your story," says producer Hal Croasmun. "Take off the 'screenwriting' hat and put on the 'marketing' hat. Your objective is to hook producers into demanding your script."
Here are some tips for writing a persuasive synopsis:
Place your logline at the top of the page. Then skip a line or two and begin the synopsis.
Be brief. Limit yourself to a line or two of introduction, one paragraph of three to five lines per act, and one line of conclusion.
Find the hook. What makes your story different? Build your synopsis around the most original aspect of your story.
Tell your story chronologically from start to finish. Define the protagonist, the problem, the antagonist, and hint at a conclusion. Skip any details that don't directly contribute to the central conflict, but include all major characters and events, important twists, and the ending.
Lead with a catchy or provocative opening. The same principles that apply to screenwriting apply here as well: Grab 'em early. And keep grabbing 'em every step of the way.
Echo the genre and tone of your script. Don't tell us "This is a comedy about…," or "In this action-packed thriller… ." Instead, write the synopsis itself in a way that is funny or thrilling. A synopsis reflects your ability as a writer. Take the opportunity to impress the reader with your writing style.
Write visually. Use image-specific words ("hut" instead of "house"). Help the reader see the movie as you see it.
Use present tense, strong verbs and nouns, and limit your adjectives and adverbs.
Be precise. Don't confuse lack of clarity with mystique. Instead of writing "John discovers something that will change his life forever," tell us "John discovers the time-travel machine." Precision keeps the reader involved.
Get feedback on your synopsis from friends and especially other writers. Write as many drafts as you need to until you get it right. A cohesive, well-written synopsis will get your script requested. A mediocre one will only land in the garbage.
When you pitch a busy studio executive, he only want to know two things: "What's your story about?" and "Do I see a movie?" A powerful logline gets your concept across clearly and concisely and answers both questions in a nanosecond. Loglines are an important marketing tool. You can use them on your query letters, at pitch fests, even in social situations. But did you know loglines are also an important writer's tool?
Your logline is your GPS system. Write it before you start your script and tape it up where you can see it. A good logline clarifies your concept and keeps you on track as you write. If you wander off path, a glance at the logline steers you back. It's okay to rewrite your logline as your story evolves, but it's not okay to neglect your logline and follow a story that is derailing.
Your logline's first duty is to hook us in a few words. "The true story about the first female pilot" is a good hook. It gives us what's special about the movie—the first woman pilot—and we can begin to see a movie. But we're not done yet.
Without worrying too much about details at first, sketch out your logline in a hero-goal-obstacle format: "This is a story about ______ (the hero) who wants ______ (the goal) but can't have it / do it because ______(the obstacle)."
"This is the story about a guy who wants to star in Broadway musicals but finds he doesn't have what it takes."
Now turn to the details. The above logline is vague. It doesn't spark the imagination. Who is this guy? What doesn't he have? What kind of movie is this (drama, comedy)? Be specific:
"A guy wants to star in Broadway musicals but he can't sing."
Okay, at least now we know the problem. But it's still not crystal-clear. We still don't really see the hero or know the genre. No producer will plunk down money for this. Let's give the logline some attention-grabbing adjectives and nouns:
"A wanna-be Broadway singer with tons of stage presence but no voice lip-synchs his way through a starring role and becomes an overnight sensation."
Now we can see the hero, the problem, and even the genre (most likely comedy). The questions being generated are story questions: How did he finagle his way into lip-synching? Will he be revealed as a fraud? Will he learn to sing? Don't you want to write the damned thing just to find out? With any luck, the producer will request your script to find out, too.
There's much more to loglines than I can cover here. Begin by reading movie descriptions in TV Guide and writing loglines for movies you've seen. For more guidance, check out the resources listed below.
When you submit your script to a production company, it'll be evaluated by a reader. Readers are usually young people trying to break into the industry. More often than not, they're freelancers working for about $50 a script. They're stressed. They read tons of scripts, and they read them fast. It doesn't take them long to get pretty good at separating the wheat from the chaff.
The reader is the first person to see your script. He acts as a gatekeeper between you and his boss. His job is to "cover" your script by writing a two-page summary, rating the different story elements, and checking one of three essential boxes: PASS, CONSIDER, or RECOMMEND. If he checks PASS, that's it. Your script is rejected. If he checks CONSIDER or RECOMMEND, then your script goes to his boss, who will evaluate it for himself. The majority of scripts rank no better than PASS.
So how do you get an overworked, underpaid reader to recommend your script? By delivering a professional, well-written, original script. Here are some things to keep in mind:
• Turn in a flawlessly formatted script with lots of white space. Respect the page count.
• Deliver a good, lean story and a satisfying emotional experience.
• Be clear in your writing, but never dumb it down. The reader isn't stupid.
• Grab the reader's attention on page one, and keep grabbing it on every page.
• Establish the central conflict by page 10.
• Create characters we care about with goals we root for.
• Keep increasing the stakes throughout the script.
• Deliver a surprising but inevitable ending.
• Wrap up (resolve) loose ends in five pages or less.
• Write with confidence and hone your style.
Adhere to these guidelines and your script will stand out as professional. Even if a reader passes, at least he'll remember you fondly.
People with artistic and creative sensibilities sometimes are handicapped by a lack of business savvy. They love holing up in a turret and writing masterpieces by candlelight, but when it comes to selling their work, they freeze up and die. But marketing is like any other skill: it can be developed over time.
The worst sin you can commit in Hollywood, the world capital of entertainment, is to be boring. Make sure your script is original and entertaining. Give us vivid characters we can love. Give us a conflict we can root for. And then write your marketing materials with the same level of excitement and enthusiasm. If you've written a comedy, your synopsis should be funny. If you've written a thriller, your logline needs to thrill. When pitching, infect your listeners with your passion. If you're not excited by your script, how will anyone else ever be?
Writing synopses, loglines, query letters and e-mails; pitching scripts and concepts verbally, one-on-one or in front of a group; and projecting a glow of confidence and accomplishment are all part of a screenwriter's life. You need to hone these skills with the same care you devote to your storylines and your characters.
Registering with the US Copyright Office and the WGA doesn't give a writer any rights. It only proves he's claiming ownership. Nevertheless, there are advantages to registration as well as some differences between the two offices. Entertainment lawyer Judith Merians explains:
"The US Copyright Office: Registering a script with the US Copyright Office means the registrant is claiming to be the copyright owner and can sue another for copyright violation," says Merians. "Without a registration, there can be no suit. With registration, any proven claimant is entitled to a statutory $50,000 award, and any other damages proven in a copyright violation suit. US Copyright Office records are open to the public. Anyone can ask for a report on a project through a company like Thomson and Thomson.
"Under US law the laws of other countries who have copyright treaties with the US, any buyer of rights in intellectual property is responsible for knowing what is in the US Copyright Office records whether or not the buyer actually has that knowledge or not. Say Joe Green registers his claim as the copyright owner of his script in the US Copyright Office. Subsequently Big Bux Company buys Joe's script from Jane Brown, a fraudulent seller who put her name on it. Big Bux failed to order a copyright report when purchasing from Jane. Joe files a claim against Big Bux for copyright violation. Big Bux cannot successfully mount a defense stating it didn't know about Joe's copyright claim. The courts will rule that because Joe's claim was available in the public records, Bug Bux had 'apparent knowledge.'
"A writer will be asked for chain of title showing legal ownership when selling a script. Many buyers ask for or order a copyright report. If the writer's name appears in US Copyright Office records as the sole claimant of ownership interest, that is considered a clear chain of title. A production company's attorney is required to have done due diligence and found a clear chain of title to the script before Errors and Omissions insurance can be issued."
The Writer's Guild of America (WGA) is a labor union for film, television, and other media writers. The Guild's primary function is to protect members' financial and creative rights by enforcing contracts, setting minimum payment rates, determining writing credits, and monitoring and collecting residuals. More information can be found at http://www.wga.org.
"Registering your script with the WGA gets you a date-stamped card with your filing number, the date of filing, and the name of your script and the writer," says Merians. "This is merely evidence that you were in possession of that script on that date. The WGA registration can be presented as evidence in a dispute, but the writer will still have to prove his ownership claim."
Registration is inexpensive. To be safe, register with both the US Copyright Office and the WGA. Membership is not required to register with the WGA.
A producer or an agent has asked to read your script? Congratulations! You must be thrilled. But wait! What if he steals your idea?
Okay, relax. While plagiarism happens and is therefore a concern, it's a minor one. A legitimate agent or producer won't steal your work. If he's interested in your script, it's easier to pay you than to re-invent it himself. Besides, litigation is expensive, and his reputation is at stake.
There's little reason to become paranoid about this issue, especially since there are precautions you can take. Follow these guidelines to protect both you and the people you pitch to:
• Register your script with the US Copyright Office and the Writers Guild of America (WGA). Reputable agents, producers, and competitions will strongly recommend or even insist you register your script before showing it to them. While registration doesn't prevent plagiarism, it does provide you with legal proof of the material's existence. If you go to court, the WGA can testify to that evidence. http://www.wgawregistry.org
• Be selective of whom you pitch to. Try to find out a little bit about each person seeing your script. Work only with agents who are WGA signatories. A WGA-signatory agent is bound to abide by the WGA's rules, written to protect the writer. You'll find a list at http://www.wga.org.
• Keep all notes, drafts, and correspondence about your script, from scribbles on a napkin to the finished product. Create a paper trail that proves you are the author of the script.
• Establish a clear business relationship. If vague promises are made, follow up in writing ASAP confirming the agreement as you understood it.
• Finally, keep in mind that ideas and storylines can't be protected. Only your script falls under protection.