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Old 01-21-2011, 10:09 AM   #7
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Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Default Re: Basic Terms of Sale

Originally Posted by iDV8 View Post
I have a screenplay that has garnered some interest from several producers in London. The negotiations are going to start soon and I need to get my understanding and expectations in order. I do not have a manager and have never sold a feature screenplay before. Because the script has the interest of a few producers should I look for an agent to represent me? My main concern is the writing credit. Can I negotiate soul credit as screenwriter or is it out of my hands? Is there a good list for "terms of sale" to know about going into the negotiations?
Whew. That's a big topic. They have entire departments at studios - with hundreds of attorneys - to deal with the various "terms of a sale" and the process of negotiating a contract. And the advice you've been given is spot on; you really need an attorney to negotiate for you... legal affairs is one of those areas where even if you know a lot, unless you're a bar-certified attorney with direct experience in the field of entertainment law, you don't know enough to avoid all the pitfalls of contract negotiation.

You should look for an entertainment attorney if you want someone to directly negotiate a contract for you. Otherwise, large agencies have business and legal affairs departments, so an agent - if he isn't an attorney himself - has experienced legal advice at his disposal.

If the producers are signatory to the Writers Guild, you don't have a say in the credit; the determination is made by the guild, based on how many writers are involved and how much work it was determined that they each did on the final screenplay... although historically the original writer of a purchased screenplay gets at least "Story by" credit, even when the script is completely rewritten. If the producers are not signatory to the Writers Guild, you should have a credit provision in your agreement that stipulates what kind of credit you will receive and how it will appear.

In terms of a very, very, very general list of issues that are important to a writer when negotiating a contract, they include (but are not limited to):

1. Option price, duration, and terms of any extensions.
2. Purchase price (and when it's payable).
3. Up front compensation vs. contingent compensation (bonuses, etc.).
4. Profit participation (usually part of contingent comp).
5. Credit.
6. Guaranteed and/or optional additional writing steps.
7. Writing and reading schedule for any additional steps.
8. Passive payments and royalties.
9. Turnaround.

As I said, there are a lot of others, but those are the "big issues" that a writer should be concerned with when selling a screenplay. And if you aren't fully versed in these issues (what they are, what the guild provides for, standard studio terms for each - including customary gives, etc.)... that's a sign you need an attorney.
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