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Old 07-08-2018, 11:59 AM   #1
GI_Jeep
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Default Option Agreement for Short

Do the same rules apply when optioning a short film? I've recently gained traction with a short which will be shot in October with a 20k budget, however, I cant seem to get the director to sign any kind of legal agreement over it. The director told me that optioning for short stories is normal but not short scripts. I've optioned plenty of other short scripts and never had any pushback. Any advice here is appreciated.

Oh, and I haven't been here in a while - so, hello everyone!
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Old 07-08-2018, 04:44 PM   #2
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Default Re: Option Agreement for Short

Oh man, if the producers never legally option the script, then you'll forever control the copyright and you'll have them over a barrel in perpetuity. You could prevent any and all screenings of the film, public and private, unless they accede to your demands-- final cut, $10k, whatever.

Options are something PRODUCERS need FROM writers in order to proceed; if they don't make a deal, they could find themselves up a creek.

In other words, don't worry about this. It's definitely their problem rather than yours (unless you were hoping for some sort of payout from a short film script, which would be unusual and, in any case, paltry).
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Old 07-09-2018, 02:17 PM   #3
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Default Re: Option Agreement for Short

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Originally Posted by AnyOtherName View Post
Oh man, if the producers never legally option the script, then you'll forever control the copyright and you'll have them over a barrel in perpetuity. You could prevent any and all screenings of the film, public and private, unless they accede to your demands-- final cut, $10k, whatever.

Options are something PRODUCERS need FROM writers in order to proceed; if they don't make a deal, they could find themselves up a creek.

In other words, don't worry about this. It's definitely their problem rather than yours (unless you were hoping for some sort of payout from a short film script, which would be unusual and, in any case, paltry).

great, thank for the advice!!
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Old 07-10-2018, 04:58 AM   #4
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Default Re: Option Agreement for Short

Don't assume everyone plays by the rules. The director/producer is over a barrel only if you can put them there. If you do not have a signed agreement and they ignore your attempt to control the copyright, what are you going to do? Say unkind things about them online? That would endear you to other producers. Or maybe hire an attorney if you have enough cash to waste, as they say they got the material from someone else. Any person who will not sign a legal document in this situation is someone you should be wary of, in my opinion.
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Old 07-10-2018, 09:58 AM   #5
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Default Re: Option Agreement for Short

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Don't assume everyone plays by the rules. The director/producer is over a barrel only if you can put them there. If you do not have a signed agreement and they ignore your attempt to control the copyright, what are you going to do? Say unkind things about them online? That would endear you to other producers. Or maybe hire an attorney if you have enough cash to waste, as they say they got the material from someone else.
Well no, if the short got into a festival, OP would email the festival and say that the filmmaker doesn't have the rights; if the filmmaker posted it on Youtube, OP would file a DMCA claim. It's easy and free and he'd win.

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Any person who will not sign a legal document in this situation is someone you should be wary of, in my opinion.
But all the "legal document" would say is that GI_Jeep is giving up his underlying rights to the material essentially for nothing. The only thing OP would probably gain via said "legal document" would be things like credit guarantees, festival invitations, etc., which don't much matter in the end. To reiterate: the "legal document" isn't primarily for his benefit; it's for the producers'. If they move forward without paperwork, they may be sloppy producers, but they're only hurting themselves.
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Old 07-10-2018, 10:40 AM   #6
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Default Re: Option Agreement for Short

I will not argue about it, and I graciously defer to your experience. My main point is that in the real world things do not always work out as expected and can turn quickly unpleasant if legal claims are involved.
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Old 07-10-2018, 11:10 AM   #7
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Default Re: Option Agreement for Short

You need two legal "agreements":

1) something with the producer (yes, mostly to keep him/her honest and to tell him/her that you're a serious businessperson)
2) copyright registration on your material; not WGA registration - a copyright.

And another problem with no agreement - "but that's okay, you can just sue him/her if they make the movie without you' - is that you do have to catch them. It can be hard to keep up with what all of your contacts do over the years, and all the different places they can make money off your stuff.

It's a big mess, without a legal paper trail.
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Old 07-10-2018, 12:38 PM   #8
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Default Re: Option Agreement for Short

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Another problem with no agreement - "but that's okay, you can just sue him/her if they make the movie without you' - is that you do have to catch them.
But that would be true **with or without a contract.**

Look: I have no problem with anyone asking for a legal agreement (though I've certainly never signed anything for a short film), but this idea that OP needs an "option" seems to have more to do with Amateur Screenwritingland's fetishization of options than it does with any actual protections it would afford (which, in this case, are practically nil).

But everyone, of course, must do what they think is right. Good luck!
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Old 07-10-2018, 02:08 PM   #9
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Default Re: Option Agreement for Short

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In other words, don't worry about this. It's definitely their problem rather than yours
9 times out of 10, I agree. Most likely, no ill will come of this.

But, then again, contracts are really only necessary for that 1-5% of the time that things get messy down the road.

I know a writer who had a network want to develop her short into a series. But then the director of that short stepped in an said that HE was the creative force behind it, and therefore, owned the IP. There was no agreement between the writer and director, and with all the development and script changes that happened, it was a bit of a mess.

Yes, in a trial or arbitration, she, the writer, would surely triumph and get ownership. It never got to that stage, though. The network said, "You two work this out," which essentially was code for "Life's too short. We're not interested in this project anymore."

Would the director still have been able to scuttle the deal if there had been a contract in place? Perhaps.

But it is nice to have that piece of paper that says "Here is the chain of title. It's spelled out and crystal clear."

Getting things in writing is good for both sides.
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