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Old 01-11-2012, 10:22 AM   #31
BattleDolphinZero
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Default Re: Working with a production company on spec?

The problem is, everything is going the opposite direction. It's a buyer's market. The competition for so few jobs has gotten so fierce that writers are being asked to do sh!t like beat out every scene for the movie just to get a job...and of course you do all that work and 9-10 you don't get the gig.

Agents damn near won't consider a new writer so situations like the OP's are becoming a standard way to break in. It's not awesome but it is what it is...and what it is is getting worse.
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Old 01-11-2012, 10:23 AM   #32
JeffLowell
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Default Re: Working with a production company on spec?

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Originally Posted by gregbeal View Post
While it's a rarity, I know of a case in which the WGA went after a producer for not paying a writer for rewrites done at the direction of the producer and a director in a situation that sounds similar to this. The WGA won but the producer threatened to go into bankruptcy and so a minimal settlement was agreed to.
The WGA can't get involved unless it's a WGA deal. First off, producers aren't signatories, and second, in the kind of situation the OP describes, there's no contract. It's impossible for the guild to get involved.

My guess is that the situation you heard about is a script sale to a studio where the producer and director kept putting the writer through steps, and the writer had reason to believe that the studio was giving notes through the producer/director.

This is just my opinion, and certainly not a WGA rule, but I would MUCH rather do this work without an option or money changing hands. Look at the OP - if he's unhappy with the notes or progress, he can walk. With an option, he's giving the script up for probably three years... and once a producer has optioned and developed material, it becomes near impossible to dislodge them from the project, even if the option lapses.

Options are giving up your leverage for (usually) a minimal fee. I'd rather bet on myself.
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Old 01-11-2012, 01:30 PM   #33
mlongton
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Default Re: Working with a production company on spec?

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Originally Posted by JeffLowell View Post
I would MUCH rather do this work without an option or money changing hands. Look at the OP - if he's unhappy with the notes or progress, he can walk.
But this raises that other question: without anything on paper is it safe for the writer to walk away assuming that he/she still has clear title to the script? How likely is it that the producer would claim to have "part ownership" because he contributed notes?
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Old 01-11-2012, 03:22 PM   #34
JeffLowell
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Default Re: Working with a production company on spec?

As I said, it's a risk. It doesn't usually happen, but it has happened. If you collaborate, it's always a danger.
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Old 01-11-2012, 03:24 PM   #35
gregbeal
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Default Re: Working with a production company on spec?

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Originally Posted by JeffLowell View Post
The WGA can't get involved unless it's a WGA deal. First off, producers aren't signatories, and second, in the kind of situation the OP describes, there's no contract. It's impossible for the guild to get involved.

My guess is that the situation you heard about is a script sale to a studio where the producer and director kept putting the writer through steps, and the writer had reason to believe that the studio was giving notes through the producer/director.
The producer in my example had optioned the script through one of his production companies - so there was money involved unlike the OP's situation. The producer tended to set up a shell company for each production and I guess it must have been a signatory since there was a hearing in a WGA conference room.

The writer met with the producer and director regularly over a number of months. No studio was involved.
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Old 01-11-2012, 03:57 PM   #36
JeffLowell
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Default Re: Working with a production company on spec?

Got it. Totally makes sense.
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Old 01-11-2012, 06:42 PM   #37
Mac H.
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Default Re: Working with a production company on spec?

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Ah, the good old days. Of course, whenever those were, producers were still claiming to many writers that they had no money. One question I like to ask when I hear of cases such as this: where do the producers live and where does the writer live? Often, it's a big house in the Hollywood Hills ....
Just adding some international perspective - I wish that were true here in Australia.

According to the very comprehensive Australian 2010 Screen Producer Survey here:

Personal Income from producing:
$0k - $25k : 24%
$25k - $50k: 18%
$50k - $75k: 15%
$75k - $100k: 18%
$100k - $125k: 7%

With Sydney house prices - none of those are enough to service the mortgage on a big house in fancy area. In fact - more than 50% are earning less than the average income for Sydney.

Full results are here - it's a pretty powerful website: http://csb.aftrs.edu.au/survey/

You can filter and so do comparisons - eg: Does having a business degree improve the odds of a producer having a higher producing income?

They also have the full data available on request.

Mac
(They haven't released the 2011 stats yet)

Last edited by Mac H. : 01-12-2012 at 07:12 PM.
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Old 01-12-2012, 08:47 AM   #38
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Default Re: Working with a production company on spec?

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Originally Posted by mlongton View Post
But this raises that other question: without anything on paper is it safe for the writer to walk away assuming that he/she still has clear title to the script? How likely is it that the producer would claim to have "part ownership" because he contributed notes?
Great question. I think the important part of the issue you raise above is 'claim' as opposed to 'successfully claim' .

As I think we have all found out by now, asserting a legal claim can wreak havoc upon the defendant's life, even if the claim is subsequently dismissed.

And our own idea of logic doesn't always help predict when a claim might be made, as bringing a claim is usually based upon the claimant's motivation... and motivation can span the globe from feeling he/she has a ligitimate claim for which they should be compensated, to wanting to fire a warning shot to his/her other clients not to think that sometime in the future they can take a producer's notes without compensating that person.

Without knowing the nature and extent of the notes it is impossible to predict any sort of legal outcome, but sometimes the outcome is irrelevant as a defendant can be so worn down by the process that they may settle just to get it over with (I hope you all know I am not suggesting this is fair - just a reality). And I know we know all this --- I just like stating the obvious to build up my post totals!

That said, my guess (just a guess, not legal advice... or my malpractice carrier will have a claim against me )is that no claim will be made unless the script meets with a certain and undefinable degree of success, and then if the producer remembers the project and cares to engage an attorney to pursue this claim, it is a bit more likely (but not terribly likely) that the writer would get a letter at least threatening litigation unless some sort of settlement is worked out.

A lawyer's life is not an easy one, but sometimes it is pretty predictable
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Last edited by tucsonray : 01-12-2012 at 08:58 AM.
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Old 01-12-2012, 11:27 AM   #39
Geoff Alexander
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Default Re: Working with a production company on spec?

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Originally Posted by mlongton View Post
But this raises that other question: without anything on paper is it safe for the writer to walk away assuming that he/she still has clear title to the script? How likely is it that the producer would claim to have "part ownership" because he contributed notes?
If they fizzle out in the development process and don't feel the script is where they need it to be in order to set it up, why would they want to claim ownership? Not likely. Worst case scenario could be that they would make a claim on the draft that they developed but, without a contract, again, HIGHLY unlikely. The only reason that reputable companies fight over material is if they think they can get it done. The two realistic scenarios are:

1. The writer never manages to get it there, or for some reason the material becomes uninteresting. They walk away.

2. They get it to where they like it and they try to sell it.

Worst possible (reasonably likely) outcome for the writer is #1., and then he still owns the material and can do what he likes with it.

Not that bad.
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Old 01-12-2012, 08:07 PM   #40
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Default Re: Working with a production company on spec?

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If they fizzle out in the development process and don't feel the script is where they need it to be in order to set it up, why would they want to claim ownership? Not likely. Worst case scenario could be that they would make a claim on the draft that they developed but, without a contract, again, HIGHLY unlikely. The only reason that reputable companies fight over material is if they think they can get it done. The two realistic scenarios are:

1. The writer never manages to get it there, or for some reason the material becomes uninteresting. They walk away.

2. They get it to where they like it and they try to sell it.

Worst possible (reasonably likely) outcome for the writer is #1., and then he still owns the material and can do what he likes with it.

Not that bad.
There's another scenario (one among many variations):

Production company works with writer but finally gives up.

Writer sells the project elsewhere, and initial prod co reappears and threatens legal action if they aren't also attached to the project.
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