View Full Version : Can I take a pitch and write my own spec?

Kermet Key
08-27-2012, 12:33 PM
I got pitched an idea to write for a friend to direct for a "no budget" feature. He wasn't blown away by my take, but I really like it. Can I write/produce my take without his permission? Do I need to credit him?

08-27-2012, 12:43 PM
I got pitched an idea to write for a friend to direct for a "no budget" feature. He wasn't blown away by my take, but I really like it. Can I write/produce my take without his permission? Do I need to credit him?

There are really two issues here. On the one hand, there's what you can do legally. Ideas cannot be copyrighted, so if he verbally told you about an idea (and only an idea) he has and it inspires you to write a different take on the same idea, it's not infringement. (If he already had a script or something in fixed form, that would be different.) However, on the other hand, you mentioned that this guy was a friend. Do you really want to risk the friendship over this idea? Saying that you want to write and produce something without his permission is a pretty strong statement. Is there no way to work out an arrangement whereby you can both benefit from it? Maybe you can offer him partial credit and/or a percentage of anything you earn in order to get his blessing. Not because you *have* to, but because it's in the best interests of your friendship to keep everyone happy and not feeling like they're getting screwed over.

If it were me and this were a good friend of mine, I'd have to seriously weigh the benefits of taking this idea versus the benefits of the friendship. At the very least, I'd want to figure out some way that we can both benefit from it or go our separate ways over this with no hard feelings.

When it comes to finding new ones, I've found that good ideas are much easier to come by than good friends.

Kermet Key
08-27-2012, 01:03 PM

08-27-2012, 01:47 PM
SoCalScribe, IMO that sounds about right. But I would add this for consideration.

It's one thing when someone mentions a mere idea to you for a script. It may be another thing when someone pitches you a (mere) idea for a script. When a pitch is involved, it may involve more than copyright concerns; it may involve an implied contract. In effect, as if a formal NDA were in place. Maybe. Depending on a number of factors/facts/the location. Maybe.

But again, as a practical matter, I think your answer's good.

08-27-2012, 02:44 PM
Couple of comments.

Legally, you're worried about implied contracts and standard business practices. eg, if I pitch a studio, there's the standard business practice is that if they like my pitch, they're hiring me to write it. While there almost certainly isn't a copyright issue, that doesn't mean you're in the clear.

Creatively, there's another issue, as well: this idea may be a good idea, but you're not the only fish in that pond. Presumedly, the director is talking to other writers. And while it's true your idea may be different in the execution, at the logline stage the scripts will probably sound pretty similar. So basically setting yourself up to enter a market where there's another similar project going around, and that one has an attachment. (If the director's name is small, that attachment might not matter that much. But it might. It's hard to say). Even if he's a small name he's in a good position to get there first.

So you know how sometimes you can write a script and then see a trailer and say, "Damn, that looks exactly like the script I've been working on for the past three months?" or "Damn, I just heard about a big spec going around that's exactly like my idea?" You're basically asking to be in that situation.

I think this sort of thing comes up more often than most people think, for example, when you're asked to pitch on a project which doesn't have a lot of supporting material. (I was once asked to pitch on a newpaper article that was all about statistics, no individual's story). I worked up a story relating to the core concept, pitched it - the prodco (big name on a studio lot) passed. We later got a sense of what they wanted and it was really different from out take. Legally, we probably would have been in the clear, but professionally it would have been really dicey with a prodco who really liked us and could have made a big difference in our career long-term. Our agent strongly suggested we move on and we did.

08-27-2012, 04:22 PM
I got pitched an idea to write for a friend to direct for a "no budget" feature. He wasn't blown away by my take, but I really like it. Can I write/produce my take without his permission? Do I need to credit him?

I can't really add anything to all of what's been said about copyrights and implied contracts above (I guess when this shows up, it'll all be above this post).

What I can say is this. Presumably, you want to be in this business for the long haul and, being in this business, you are going to establish a reputation of some kind.

So the real question you have to ask yourself is what kind of reputation do you want to have?

Because, let's face it -- there are some people in this business that have good reputations -- people who's word you can trust. And there are other people (a lot of people) who have a reputation of being back-stabbing sk*mbags.

If you achieve any kind of success in this business you will come to know who has what kind of reputation.

The solution to your problem, really, is quite simple.

Call up the producer in question and ask him. If the take you're pursuing is sufficiently different and he didn't like it anyway, maybe he'll simply say -- sure, go ahead.

Or (and I think it's far more likely) he'll say -- no, this is my idea, we had an implied contract and I don't want you to go out with another version of this project that originated with me -- in competition with mine.

Then you will know where the other party in this matter stands. And isn't he the person you should be talking to, instead of coming to us?

Then, at least, you're going to have a good idea what you're going to be facing at the other end of this process, if you elect to pursue it -- a script that's free and clear, or a potential lawsuit.

Or at any rate, a former friend who is going to be very unhappy with you.

Part of the problem, of course, is that people enter into things like pitches without both sides being clear as to what the deal is -- as to who owns what, as to who has the right to do what with the material under discussion.

And this isn't simply a matter of copyright, but of contract law, which in this case, is implied by standard business practice.

There have been cases when producers have come to me with ideas that have been very similar to ideas in my own idea file and I've simply said, hey, this is a lot like this idea of mine -- and I've pitched that idea. My own idea.

And they've never gone for those ideas.

And as far as I'm concerned, whatever they've gone with, whether those movies ever get made or not -- my ideas, irrespective of some underlying similarity to what those producers pitched me -- are still mine. They were mine before the pitch and they're still mine.

But there have been other cases where a producer has an idea that I'd never heard of, I've pitched on it. No dice. I like my pitch. They don't. End of story. They go their way. I go mine. My pitch goes nowhere.

Maybe it would work out differently if it was a friend, but it would never occur to me that any producer would sign off on my writing my own pitch into a spec and going out into the market in competition with their project.

I know it seems reasonable from your perspective, but just for a moment, put yourself in their shoes and imagine how it would seem to you.

You ask me to come up with a take on your "corruption in the world of dog-racing" idea -- and you don't like my take. Next thing you know, just as you're about close the financing on your dog-racing movie, you hear that I'm going around town with my own "corruption in the world of dog-racing" spec.

Irrespective of whether you could do anything about it legally -- how would you feel about it? How would you feel about me who went out and did this behind your back?

Thus I circle back to my initial question about what kind of reputation do you want to have in this business?


Kermet Key
08-27-2012, 06:38 PM
Thanks for the feedback, every body. Sometimes you need to check yourself.

08-27-2012, 07:12 PM
KK - we've all thought it at one time or another. the consensus is correct, and, i dont know if this has been said, but the stuff you really love about your take? the truly original stuff, that scene, that character? they'll show up in other scripts one day, scripts that bare no resemblance to the big idea that started you off with this producer. that work was not wasted.

Kermet Key
08-28-2012, 09:23 AM
Thanks for the advice guys. Just got the blessing to move forward with my version on my own. In writing!