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Old 06-02-2017, 04:20 PM   #1
harbak
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Default Producer's job or mine?

So I have a script that tells the story of a sports team over the course of one season. All the people in it are dead, and it's not based on any author's source material. All my own research.

Here's the question. A producer is interested, but says he wants me to get someone from one of the main characters families to sign off on the story so to speak. I told him it's not a life's rights bio pic, its a whole team story. Does this sound like anything a writer should have to worry about tracking down?

It seems to me like A) I don't need any rights as it's all public domain, everyone is long since dead B) if it makes the script more "sellable" the producer should get those agreements.

Am I crazy here?
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Old 06-02-2017, 08:57 PM   #2
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Default Re: Producer's job or mine?

Quote:
Originally Posted by harbak View Post
So I have a script that tells the story of a sports team over the course of one season. All the people in it are dead, and it's not based on any author's source material. All my own research.

Here's the question. A producer is interested, but says he wants me to get someone from one of the main characters families to sign off on the story so to speak. I told him it's not a life's rights bio pic, its a whole team story. Does this sound like anything a writer should have to worry about tracking down?

It seems to me like A) I don't need any rights as it's all public domain, everyone is long since dead B) if it makes the script more "sellable" the producer should get those agreements.

Am I crazy here?
It's your responsibility to get permission.

The only way it would be the producer's job is if he/she hired you to write the story. But if that was the case, then he/she would have already obtained the rights before hiring a writer.

I don't know your story, or if it's public domain, but if the producer is concerned enough to want the family's permission, then I can pretty much guarantee that any other producer you approach will feel the same.

And if they don't, then it's not a producer you want to work with.

Just my two cents. I work in independent film, not Hollywood.
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Old 06-02-2017, 09:20 PM   #3
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Default Re: Producer's job or mine?

I appreciate the reply, but what I'm getting at is there are no rights to obtain. There is no one person in the story to get life rights from. Lets just say hypothetically it was a script covering the infamous, early 1900's, Chicago "Black" Sox. Do I have to track down relatives of long dead baseball players to sell the script?
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Old 06-02-2017, 09:34 PM   #4
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Default Re: Producer's job or mine?

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I appreciate the reply, but what I'm getting at is there are no rights to obtain. There is no one person in the story to get life rights from. Lets just say hypothetically it was a script covering the infamous, early 1900's, Chicago "Black" Sox. Do I have to track down relatives of long dead baseball players to sell the script?
Wish I had a helpful response for you but I don't. I wouldn't think you would have to track down relatives, but I honestly don't know. Sorry!
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Old 06-02-2017, 09:47 PM   #5
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Default Re: Producer's job or mine?

I consulted my attorney when I had a similar concern on an action/fantasy that made use of past people, in the vein of Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (but hopefully not as silly).

"You do need to be careful about defamation and privacy rights with living people and rights of publicity with living and sometimes deceased people."

He said I might avoid defamation by claiming free speech and parody, but there's still risk. The estates can file actions, and defense can get prohibitively expensive as such claims can come from various jurisdictions/countries. My story deals with international personalities; I don't know if yours involves any more than Americans, though.

I did try to get the rights of the survivors of six individuals. I received 3 responses. One said "Approved!", which was nice, but one said a soft "no", which was probably due to my muddled email request, but the other was a firm "no", even after a follow-up.

One positive of six certainly wasn't enough to proceed with the project. I mean, the script was already written/drafted, but I can't go anywhere with it without rewriting it with new personalities after obtaining the rights, and nobody will touch it till then. Frankly, I don't have the time to further it.

Overall lesson? There's nothing like getting the opinion of a lawyer as early in the process as possible.
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Old 06-02-2017, 11:20 PM   #6
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Default Re: Producer's job or mine?

Quote:
Originally Posted by harbak View Post
So I have a script that tells the story of a sports team over the course of one season. All the people in it are dead, and it's not based on any author's source material. All my own research.

Here's the question. A producer is interested, but says he wants me to get someone from one of the main characters families to sign off on the story so to speak. I told him it's not a life's rights bio pic, its a whole team story. Does this sound like anything a writer should have to worry about tracking down?

It seems to me like A) I don't need any rights as it's all public domain, everyone is long since dead B) if it makes the script more "sellable" the producer should get those agreements.

Am I crazy here?
You are not crazy. The producer really isn't interested. This is blowing you off with an impossible task. As you stated, it's all in the public domain, everyone is dead, and it's not a biopic with any one dominant central character. What rights are you supposed to obtain?
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Old 06-03-2017, 11:36 AM   #7
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Default Re: Producer's job or mine?

TY Limama,

I normally would agree but he tracked me down to option the script after another producer referred the project to him. So I'm just going to chalk it up to him being overzealous in trying to protect his possible investment.

The way I figure it, if I went out and got all these approvals and attachments I don't really need a small time producer, lol.
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Old 06-03-2017, 02:27 PM   #8
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Default Re: Producer's job or mine?

People lose a lot of their rights when they're dead... unfortunately it's the way the law reads. You just can't write or state facts that you know to be untrue. For example, you can't say that Lincoln was gay if you're writing a biopic of Abraham Lincoln. If the producer doesn't know about rights and life rights he's probably not the right producer for the project.
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Old 06-03-2017, 11:12 PM   #9
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Default Re: Producer's job or mine?

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People lose a lot of their rights when they're dead... unfortunately it's the way the law reads. You just can't write or state facts that you know to be untrue. For example, you can't say that Lincoln was gay if you're writing a biopic of Abraham Lincoln. If the producer doesn't know about rights and life rights he's probably not the right producer for the project.
There's what legal and there's things people sue for. If you write facts that someone famous was an alcoholic and a wife beater, even if true, chances are someone is going to get sued.

But I agree, it's probably impossible to completely protect yourself from those kind of legal actions.
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Old 06-04-2017, 07:18 AM   #10
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Default Re: Producer's job or mine?

What an incautious group we have here, but that's true of any public forum when the discussion of others' rights and responsibilities come up.

Just put yourself in the others' shoes: How would you feel if somebody wrote about you and yours, before or after your death, whether complimentary or not?

The people who are the subject of these stories tend to have lots of money, and money and the law are unofficial partners, whether or not that's ethical. And even if they don't have lots of money, they probably have power, which can be almost as bad, or can probably move public sympathy to their side - unless of course we're talking about serial killers as the subject matter.

As for the examples provided in responses here, it's interesting that they've mostly concerned your writing something defamatory. Well, of course that would be red meat to anyone who's named.

But in my own example, I was making the characters out to be action heroes in addition to what they were known for in real life, humanitarians, and 5 of the 6 were Nobel winners.

Yet still, my lawyer warned me that a big legal fight could be ahead.

As for the producer that the OP is referring to, they're trying to at least obtain some upfront evidence of due diligence before the producer probably does it on their own anyway - based on what their attorneys will advise and their E&O insurers will demand.

Without such guarantees, such a project just isn't worth it to them.

So, talk to a lawyer if you're going to proceed, rather than depending on answers in a public forum. It'll be a business write-off, and shows a measure of professionalism.

But if not, hey, go for it. Rack it up as another "great writing sample"!

I know OPs of these discussions are really just looking for some sort of affirmation in what they've decided anyway, and what I'm writing isn't what you want to hear.

So okay, why not do what we often see at the conclusion of these threads: Rename everyone and everything, and juggle chronologies and locations around, and put it out as a grounded fantasy. As a storyteller you'll probably appreciate the fact that you can then change (ie. improve) things that otherwise you couldn't, and while you're at it you can add some satire or social or political commentary to the events and characters and aim for the award circuit.

Oh, and by the way ... do you mention "story based on..." on such a script?

Not a chance. Don't say anything!!! Everyone may know, but you can't admit it.

The proof? Read up on Orson Welles' "Citizen Hearst" ... whoops, I mean "Citizen Kane". Yes, that story was a knock-off of a living person, and Welles eventually won his fight, but his career lost its tailwind.
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