Monday, October 28, 2013

Jeff Willis's Creative Rights advice for Screenwriters

If you follow me on Twitter, you've probably seen me retweet quite a bit lately from Jeff Willis.  Jeff is an executive currently working at the Weinstein Company in business affairs, but he's also a screenwriter/producer who co-written a feature due to start production next year, as well has having finished two commissioned rewrite assignments.

Jeff has recently begun doing long Twitter lectures of DOs AND DON'Ts.  There's some very useful information there and I hate the thought that the ephemeral nature of Twitter means that it will quickly be difficult to find without doing much legwork.  So I reached out to Jeff and asked if he'd allow me to post his advice to writers about knowing their creative rights.  He was more than willing, so I'm reprinting them here, with the only difference being that I have reformatted them into paragraphs.

Jeff also did a fantastic Q and A over at the The Black Board forums.  It's worth a look.  Follow him on Twitter. You won't want to miss out on other great advice like this.


Writers, are you a member of the WGA? If so, know your creative rights.

Such as:

A prodco can’t distribute critiques/synopses of your script to outside companies w/out permission unless they already optioned/bought it. (Except for companies with whom they have a business relationship… first look deal, financing arrangement, etc.) Don’t waive this right lightly, and definitely don’t do it unless you’ve seen and approve of the coverage they’re sending. You have the right to restrict how much a company can shop your material around by providing the prodco with written notice.

It’s a $750 penalty for each party the prodco submits to outside of your written instructions. That said, don’t be a jerk about it. No prodco is going to deal with a writer who wants approval over every submission they make. Find the middle ground. Know that you can prevent them from blanketing the town, but also give them freedom to do their job. And once a prodco options or buys your script, they can send it to whomever they please.

If you option/sell your work, you have the 1st opportunity to rewrite. DO NOT WAIVE THIS RIGHT. A. It’s money. B. Your fringes depend on it. If a prodco wants to replace you, they’re supposed to meet with you first to discuss whether you can find a way to stay on the project. If a prodco changes an element (hires a director, attaches an actor, etc.), they have to give you 1st opportunity to address script notes. In other words, a director can’t come on board the project and hire their own writer to address their notes without first giving you a shot. This right expires three years from the date you turn in your final set of revisions, unless you negotiate for longer/no expiration.

If you’re asked to pitch something, you are allowed to ask the prodco approx. how many other writers are also being asked to pitch on it. Prodcos are supposed to notify you if a writer is hired to rewrite you. Prodcos are also supposed to provide you with a list of previous writers on a project before you start your revisions.

A title page should include ALL writers on a project. Don’t take off the names of previous writers even if you’re starting from scratch. Not all companies abide by all these rules all the time. Some are inadvertent omissions and some are deliberate avoidance of responsibility. And what the guild doesn’t know, it can’t enforce.

That said, choose your battles wisely. Don’t be that inflexible/difficult writer who runs to the guild every time there’s a problem. But don’t let a prodco walk all over you. Know your rights, know what you’re entitled to. Stand firm on things that are important to you. Remember that the threat of guild action can often be more impactful than actually taking guild action.

Everything I’ve posted  is free and  available on the WGA website: 

Don’t be ignorant of your rights. If you’re a WGA writer, the guild has worked hard to negotiate an MBA that gives you certain rights. Know those rights. They give you power and they give you leverage. They keep you from being taken advantage of (more than usual).

Even if your deal is not a guild deal, understand what’s standard. If what you’re getting is not standard, ask why not. Call the WGA w/ any questions. The WGAw Contracts Department phone # is 323-782-4501. If you have questions, ASK THEM. They will help you. You don’t even have to be a member of the guild to ask questions. Anyone can call and ask them any MBA-related questions.

Don’t let ignorance prevent you from getting what’s fair. Don’t just go with the flow. If you’re uncertain about something, GET AN ANSWER. The guild isn't perfect, but it is there to help you. USE IT FOR THE RESOURCE THAT IT IS.

You don't have to be a WGA writer to start thinking about this stuff. Non-guild prodcos are mostly about the money and the fringes. There's no reason non-guild prodcos can't give you some of the basic MBA rights or use the guild MBA as a template for their deal.

Don't be afraid to ask for this stuff. Screenwriters SELL THEIR COPYRIGHT when they sell a script. You need to benefit from the deal somehow Guild, non-guild, professional, aspiring... wherever you are in your career, FIGHT FOR YOUR CREATIVE RIGHTS.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing that up and linking to the Black Board. It was a fantastic few hours in Jeff's company with some great questions being asked. Very generous with his time and some really useful info. It is definitely worth a read through for anyone who didn't make it on Friday.

    Jeff also took the time to tweet all the questions and these are also indexed at the Black Board link.

    Thanks again!

    Mark Walker (Black Board moderator)