BUSINESS AND MARKETING: Business and Marketing Forum Business and Marketing Articles

Co-writing a treatment & script...need advice

COW Forums : Business & Marketing

<< PREVIOUS   •   FAQ   •   VIEW ALL   •   PRINT   •   NEXT >>
Al Bergstein
Co-writing a treatment & script...need advice
on May 25, 2011 at 5:03:31 am

So a friend has written a book on a subject, and self published it. It is a historical story, with characters that are currently in vogue. I read it, and really like it, and it has not been done before. I think that the story is capable of being turned into a very good script, either pure documentary, fictional documentary (read History Channel pseudo-history) or a purely fictional treatment of the story. He has no clue as to how to write such a treatment or script. He tried, based on some brief thoughts by me, but it still seems 'wrong' for a salable treatment. I am interested in helping him rewrite it for the screen, and then helping co-pitching it.

How to protect myself? We chatted today, he agreed to work with a lawyer and write up some kind of tentative agreement. I have a lawyer too, but don't want to use him until we are sure that we have something that is agreeable, i.e. a split that might make sense. I've read enough to be dangerous, understanding some of the pitfalls from "The Independent Film Producers Survival Guide". I'm willing to hire a lawyer, but live far from L.A. or 'specialists' in screenwriting law.

Any suggestions about what to do here, other than the obvious which is "see a lawyer"? I'm looking for general guidance rather than case law on this. I assume some of you have done this before, and maybe have some tips. Is there a better forum elsewhere? I don't want to wreck our friendship on this, would rather tell him to hire a independent writer and just keep it on a business relationship, if this kind of arrangement is too tricky.

We agree that we just need to clarify what might happen in a best case or next to best case scenario, where money actually might change hands for rights. Since he wrote the original book, would I just try and negotiate co-screenwriter credits, and what does that roughly mean in terms of split? How do you determine a starting point?

There seems to be a spectrum of possibilities, from an indie thing that pays virtually nothing, and simply provides experience & credits, to something that might be worth significant money. We both want to do 'what's right' for the other, but don't really know what that means. Ultimately, we both want to see this produced, as it would be cool to see this story done.

Thoughts?

Alf


Return to posts index

Richard Herd
Re: Co-writing a treatment & script...need advice
on May 25, 2011 at 5:49:51 pm

Generally speaking, your friend owns the copyright to the work. You'll want to look up stuff on derivative works. Somebody writes a novel. Somebody else writes the screenplay, and that's the derivative work. The novelist also owns the copyright to the screenplay. License Agreements allow one party to use the original work as the derivative work.

My experience here is as a Director/Producer. I have an agreement with a playwright that allowed me to turn a story into a screenplay and a short movie. I spoke with the playwright's agent for several minutes on this and the terms were non-negotiable. I also paid my attorney quite a bit of money to make sure I could keep the copyright to my movie, but it's only marginal at best. If the playwright were to sue me, I'd lose. This would only matter, by the way, if I didn't pay him his money (if it makes money, and it probably won't...but here is to hoping!).

In the agreement we signed, my works are derivative works. The playwright retained copyright to his original work. I retained the copyright to the movie I made. I am restricted from making any other derivative works (like part 2). The agreement lasts for forever.

When I was writing coverage and pitching stories, I signed work for hire agreements and non-disclosure agreements, and retained story by credits and associate producer credits. These contracts expired after 1 year, and the authorship rights returned to me after 5 years.

An artist and I are writing a comic book, and we signed a collaboration agreement. This agreement lasts forever.


Return to posts index

Mark Suszko
Re: Co-writing a treatment & script...need advice
on May 25, 2011 at 6:03:50 pm

Sounds like you, want credit for the adaptation. As far as the Treatment, that's just a page or two or three, not very detailed, but just outlining the beats and anything specific or unusual.


Return to posts index


Al Bergstein
Re: Co-writing a treatment & script...need advice
on May 25, 2011 at 7:07:58 pm

Thanks. VERY useful information. I think the collaborative agreement with non derivitive uses would satisfy us both at this point. COW comes through again. I'll draft up something for us to think about and let you all know how it all comes out later on. If anyone else has thoughts, I'd be glad to entertain them.

Alf


Return to posts index

Richard Herd
Re: Co-writing a treatment & script...need advice
on May 25, 2011 at 9:21:41 pm

Just to be clear: the work you collaborate on IS a derivative work.


Return to posts index

Al Bergstein
Re: Co-writing a treatment & script...need advice
on May 25, 2011 at 10:27:03 pm

Thanks, it's a good distinction to clarify. I would assume so, but...

Alf


Return to posts index


Richard Herd
Re: Co-writing a treatment & script...need advice
on May 25, 2011 at 11:35:37 pm

but...you do not own the copyright (even partially) to a derivative work. He does. He owns it all.

I guess the point is he controls the property.

In your license agreement paragraph it might be wise to include your ability to distribute, what you can and can't do. Can you send it out for coverage or do you need permission from the copyright holder? Can you solicit actor to attach to the property? Or do you have to sit on your hands and wait for the copyright holder to make a move? Let's suppose you send it out for coverage. You spend money on this, so do you split the 50-50 out of the net or the gross? That is, do you get your money first and then you split what's left over 50-50?

One good reason to talk to a lawyer, in my opinion has nothing do with legal expertise. Rather, it is because they pay for legal services like boilerplate contracts, and all the various details and scenarios are in those docs. In effect, they just copy and paste and reword the information relevant to the particular deal structure. It's silly really.


Return to posts index

Al Bergstein
Re: Co-writing a treatment & script...need advice
on May 26, 2011 at 5:05:01 am

thanks very much for the thoughts. I intend to have a lawyer look at all this before hand, but wanted some general directions (which have been given here) on pitfalls and 'local knowledge' as us sailors say.

I will take all this back and ponder it with a lawyer friend, and also discuss this with my possible partner. I think it's important to clarify the ground rules going in, so that in the event of a happy unexpected success we can still pop a cork together at the end and not hate each other. That's the end goal in my opinion. But I know that we need to do this ground work first.

If we can't come to agreement when there is really only ideas at stake, it's likely not worth spending my time on it. I feel I have at least as much to bring to this moving forward as my possible partner. If not, c'est la vie.

Alf


Return to posts index

<< PREVIOUS   •   VIEW ALL   •   PRINT   •   NEXT >>
© 2017 CreativeCOW.net All Rights Reserved
[TOP]