You can find a lot of opinionated blowhards like me telling you how to write your script, but there aren't many resources for people who need answers for the more business-oriented questions. I'm talking about the legal details of option rights and how spec sales actually work. Well, worry no more. Friend-of-the-blog Jeff Willis has started a new blog devoted to these topics called All Writes Reserved.
If Jeff's name sounds familiar, you've probably seen some of his tweetstorms, some of which I've archived elsewhere on this site, such as Creative Rights Advice for Screenwriters.
His most recent post this week covers the topic of "Sterile Scripts" - drafts written while under contract to a particular entity.
What happens to those drafts written while the work was under option?
Remember that the script is legally not owned by the writer during an option period; it’s owned and under the control of the company. If writing services are included in the deal, those services are most likely in your contract as a work for hire, meaning that in exchange for the money you’re being paid, the results and proceeds of your writing are owned by the company that’s paying you (i.e., you don’t own that draft the way you own a script you wrote on spec).
Think of it like an artist who’s commissioned to do a family portrait. The money is what the artist receives in exchange for the work. He doesn’t then also get to keep the portrait after he’s done; the portrait belongs to the family that paid him to create it.
The same is true of drafts and rewrites and polishes that the company is paying a writer to perform. Even if the rights to the original script are returned to you, those drafts you wrote for the company aren’t. Those drafts then become sterile scripts… a draft of a script that the company owns but cannot produce because they don’t own the rights to the underlying material (your original script).
Among other topics he's covered are:
Power dynamics in negotiations
Script Sale Breakdown
3 weeks ago