View Full Version : Advice from Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott

11-10-2004, 04:45 PM
Just got back from the Screenwriting Expo in LA where a highlight was a panel with Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott ("Shrek," "Pirates," etc.). They gave 2 bits of great legal advice to writers and I'm wondering if anyone has had any experience with either.

According to my (possibly totally misleading) notes, they suggested asking for the following in contracts:
1) A "proceed to production" clause and 2) No rewrites not under the supervision of a director.

The first stops studios from babysitting a script by establishing a timeline (e.g. 1 yr) for them to begin production, or else the rights revert to you. It’s a way to gauge their commitment to actually making the movie rather than having your baby endlessly rewritten, etc. Along the same lines, they said you might not want to sell your script to the highest bidder, but to the prodco that is most likely to make it into a movie.

The second means you don’t end up doing tons of rewrites under the supervision of an exec who has never made a movie.

Rossio and Elliot suggested writers lobby for these clauses in contracts, even if it's a long shot for new writers. Heck, you can only ask: “If they haven’t said no, you haven’t asked for enough.”

Has anyone had experience/success/failure with either of these?

11-10-2004, 05:54 PM
As useful as these gems may be, you shouldn't even be thinking about them.

It's like saying "Well, when you build your $10 million mansion, make sure that the bathroom flooring is Grecian marble. And make sure the curtains are from Egyptian cotton" when most of us cannot even get a house. Terry and Ted are so far above us in the Hollywood pecking order that these are what weigh their mind. But if we worry about these things, we are adding needless clutter at this stage.

Focus on writing compelling stories with characters that actors want to play, audience will want to see, etc.

11-10-2004, 08:55 PM
They also said something about making happy, innocent fun movies. I liked that.

11-11-2004, 10:34 AM
As useful as these gems may be, you shouldn't even be thinking about them.

It doesn't hurt to learn useful information and file it away for use at a time when it's more relevant.

Thanks for posting zasque, after all Rossio and Elliot must have had some reason for sharing this type of info with fledgling writers.

11-12-2004, 07:47 AM
The second means you don’t end up doing tons of rewrites under the supervision of an exec who has never made a movie.

This raises one obvious problem. What if the director has never a made a movie? What if he just cut his last commercial and is brought in to cut his teeth on your script? What if the director's replaced by someone who just shot a fantastic Blink 182 video? You made your bed and now you have to sleep in it baby!

I am reminded of the chapter "Your Basic @#%$ Storm" in Joe Eszterhas's bio Hollywood Animal -- one explosive example of where things could have gone wrong had the screenwriter not stood ground against the director's initial instincts.

There's probably a line to be drawn between confidence in your own writing and hubris, but it sounds dicey to me to ask that your own contract tacitly acknowledges the director as "auteur".

I suppose the point of this would be to prevent notes from being given in a vacuum and reduce the need for needless rewrites by deferring to the director early on.

On first impression, that seems to be quite a utilitarian clause, designed to expedite the inevitable -- good for the writer's sanity, perhaps, but not necessarily good for the script. It would only help protect the integrity of the script if you were an A-list writer and had some guarantees that you would be dealing with directors whom you could trust. Isn't everyone else just as likely to be saddled with a bad director as they are a bad exec? What's to say your script won't need to be protected by an exec from the whims of the director?

Just my two pence.

11-16-2004, 12:02 AM
Good point, Broughcut. Have to admit I don't know much about the second item Rossio and Elliott mentioned.