Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reader question - "What sort of deal should I make with an independent filmmaker for my script?"

Liz asks:

I've been talking to two independent directors about writing scripts they can produce themselves. I don't think they'll be able to pay me, which I can live with since it will add something to my resume. Have you ever worked with that sort of thing? What kind of agreement should I make concerning things like copyright, future profits, etc?

Wow.... you might have stumped the band on this one. I've never worked with something like this, though I'm sure it happens all the time.

My legal knowledge in this area is murky. I think the important thing to do is copyright the script. The form and the instructions to do that are available online HERE.

As far as future profits, I admit I wouldn't know where to start with this. I think that you might want to look at some standard WGA contracts and see about using some of those deal points as a starting point. The Independent/Low Budget signatory information is here.

I think whatever agreement you hammer out, it might be smart to get a percentage of the gross (not net!) Even just a single point could be worth a lot if you end up writing something that turns out to be the next Paranormal Activity. True, the odds of that are long, but you have to think that when the filmmakers were shooting Paranormal Activity, no one on that set ever imagined it would make nearly $200 million worldwide.

Yeah, how would you like to own even half a percent of that?!

Beyond that, I have to admit I'm rather ignorant of some of the finer aspects of these buisness deals. Rather than giving bad advice, I think I'll yield the floor to anyone who might have more practical knowledge of such things.

UPDATE: Also if you decide to seek legal representation (always a good idea if the deal is moving forward), this post from Go Into the Story about getting an entertainment lawyer over a regular lawyer might be of interest to you. Just remember, Scott and I aren't lawyers - in case you happened to skim this post and missed the two instances where I said I'm not an expert in this field.


  1. I've written a couple direct-to-DVD, non-union, ultra low budget features. I got paid a flat rate, no points, nothing. It was a terrible deal but it has led to a manager and more paid work.

    I would probably say if you can get something produced, go for it, then parlay that credit into the next one that is hopefully a bigger and better deal.