How much money can a writer expect to make from selling their first script?

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  • #46
    Originally posted by JS90 View Post

    As you continue working on your features I wouldn't discount TV. A lot of writer's dabble in both worlds as a way to (slightly) increase their odds of getting work. Maybe step back now and work on an original pilot so you have a TV sample?
    When I read this, it triggered something inside me, kindling some old ideas for TV shows that have been dormant in me for years. I do indeed have some ideas for a few different TV series based on some popular video game series. I won't be coy... I'm talking about The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, perhaps others. I'm not sure which of these I'd choose, but all of them have built-in fan bases and all are dear to me, something I'd enjoy writing a pilot for just for the sake of writing it and having it as a writing sample, if nothing else.

    The main concern I have with writing such a TV pilot based on an existing video game IP is, as you might imagine, if I would have any legal write to sell such a script in the first place. I know there would be no issue using it as a writing sample, but ultimately my goal would of course be to sell it and have it be produced. Does anyone have any advice for writing a TV pilot based on an existing IP (when it comes to legal issues, or anything else of importance)? Thanks.

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    • #47
      Originally posted by RKOwens View Post
      When I read this, it triggered something inside me, kindling some old ideas for TV shows that have been dormant in me for years. I do indeed have some ideas for a few different TV series based on some popular video game series. I won't be coy... I'm talking about The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, perhaps others. I'm not sure which of these I'd choose, but all of them have built-in fan bases and all are dear to me, something I'd enjoy writing a pilot for just for the sake of writing it and having it as a writing sample, if nothing else.

      The main concern I have with writing such a TV pilot based on an existing video game IP is, as you might imagine, if I would have any legal write to sell such a script in the first place. I know there would be no issue using it as a writing sample, but ultimately my goal would of course be to sell it and have it be produced. Does anyone have any advice for writing a TV pilot based on an existing IP (when it comes to legal issues, or anything else of importance)? Thanks.
      Yeah, not really how spec pilots (or features, really) work. Reps will want to see that potential clients can write something wholly original -- though adapting something that's in the public domain, or based on historical facts, can get that job done. Even in those cases, gatekeepers will still want to see the writer's ability to do something transformative with the source material to really sell them on the writer his/herself. The scenario you're describing is more akin to fanfic in script form

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      • #48
        Originally posted by RKOwens View Post

        When I read this, it triggered something inside me, kindling some old ideas for TV shows that have been dormant in me for years. I do indeed have some ideas for a few different TV series based on some popular video game series. I won't be coy... I'm talking about The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, perhaps others. I'm not sure which of these I'd choose, but all of them have built-in fan bases and all are dear to me, something I'd enjoy writing a pilot for just for the sake of writing it and having it as a writing sample, if nothing else.

        The main concern I have with writing such a TV pilot based on an existing video game IP is, as you might imagine, if I would have any legal write to sell such a script in the first place. I know there would be no issue using it as a writing sample, but ultimately my goal would of course be to sell it and have it be produced. Does anyone have any advice for writing a TV pilot based on an existing IP (when it comes to legal issues, or anything else of importance)? Thanks.
        First, the Nicholl Fellowship doesn't accept scripts based on existing properties or using the names of existing characters.

        You understand that "The Legend of Zelda" was written by someone, and they're still around? Why would you think you can use their Intellectual Property without asking them?

        Writing is hard. If you can start a Treatment using characters you've seen, over the years they've been developed to be more appealing, they have distinctive voices... you're stealing. That's how the industry sees it.

        The easy thing to do... using someone else's property without asking and getting permission first... will eventually get you into all kinds of trouble.


        https://www.slashfilm.com/579187/leg...action-series/

        LINK: Back in 2015, word started going around that Netflix was planning a Legend of Zelda live-action series. However, as soon as we learned of the series, it was reported that Nintendo had pulled the plug. So what happened? Publicly, Netflix head honchos have never batted an eye at their streaming competition like Disney+ or HBOMax, but they have shown concern about one thing dragging attention away from their service: video games.

        Specifically, they've named Fortnite as dragging more eyeballs away from Netflix content than any other streaming programming. So they're doing something about it, Netflix COO and Chief Product Officer Greg Peters said this will be a multi-year effort and will start relatively small, but promises it will grow. (end)

        Netflix subscribers prefer playing video games to watching movies... who knew? Call that a mine field you enter at considerable risk.

        Let's talk about 'Fair Use". If you're discussing a movie on a message board, you're not trying to make a profit from it.

        The Grant of Copyright says, "The author has the right to publish and obtain payment for their work."

        Video games have authors. Layers of them.

        Create your own Intellectual Property. If you're a writer, what could be easier?

        Basically, if you ever try to make money from your script... like winning a prize in a contest... you're in violation of someone's Copyright. The original author has the right to all sources of revenue derived from his IP.

        Writing a script based on a popular, widely-known video game is no different from writing a script based on "Schindler's List." They WILL send you a Cease-and-Desist letter to preserve their rights under Copyright.

        Originally posted by RKOwens View Post
        Does anyone have any advice for writing a TV pilot based on an existing IP (when it comes to legal issues, or anything else of importance)? Thanks.
        Don't do it without a signed release from the Copyright holders.

        A TV pilot is not "Fair Use". There are sites devoted to sharing "Fan Fiction" that make it clear the writers get no money. But the argument is, they might be depriving the rightful authors of sales. If I can get fan fiction for free, why pay $30 for a hardcover.

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        • #49
          Originally posted by VoltarReturns View Post
          Don't do it without a signed release from the Copyright holders.

          A TV pilot is not "Fair Use".
          This all seems fair and reasonable and pretty much what I expected. I never expected to have any right to enter it into a screenwriting competition, but do none of the existing TV series based on existing IP's originate as spec scripts, which then undergo the process by the studio of collecting the rights to the IP before making any subsequent payments to the writer and development of the series?

          I know Game of Thrones originated with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss getting the books' author on board before writing the scripts, but I'm also aware of cases like Saving Mr. Banks which someone on here pointed out to me once where it was sort of the other way around (the writers finished a script with scores of uses of Mary Poppins and Disney characters without acquiring any rights whatsoever to any of them, but still managed to sell the script to Disney, which then went about acquiring the necessary rights from the Mary Poppins copyright holders). Is there no path of a TV show being developed in the manner of the latter, where the studio simply takes it upon themselves to acquire the rights?

          It seems like it would be cheaper for them to acquire the rights themselves, since, if hypothetically I acquired the rights to The Legend of Zelda for $1,000,000, obviously I'm not going to just sell my TV pilot for $10,000 and hand over the legal rights valued at $1,000,000 free of charge... thereby losing $990,000. I (or any other writer) would obviously only agree to sell the script with the condition that the studio buys the IP rights from me, likely with interest to recoup the legal fees for acquiring the rights, etc. At the end of the day, whether the studio were to have to buy the rights from the screenwriter him/herself or from the original IP copyright holders, they're the ones who would ultimately need to pay whoever possesses the rights for them. So it would seem an odd mandate to require the writer to possess the rights from the get-go before even reading the pilot script.

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          • #50
            Originally posted by RKOwens View Post

            This all seems fair and reasonable and pretty much what I expected. I never expected to have any right to enter it into a screenwriting competition, but do none of the existing TV series based on existing IP's originate as spec scripts, which then undergo the process by the studio of collecting the rights to the IP before making any subsequent payments to the writer and development of the series?

            I know Game of Thrones originated with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss getting the books' author on board before writing the scripts, but I'm also aware of cases like Saving Mr. Banks which someone on here pointed out to me once where it was sort of the other way around (the writers finished a script with scores of uses of Mary Poppins and Disney characters without acquiring any rights whatsoever to any of them, but still managed to sell the script to Disney, which then went about acquiring the necessary rights from the Mary Poppins copyright holders). Is there no path of a TV show being developed in the manner of the latter, where the studio simply takes it upon themselves to acquire the rights?

            It seems like it would be cheaper for them to acquire the rights themselves, since, if hypothetically I acquired the rights to The Legend of Zelda for $1,000,000, obviously I'm not going to just sell my TV pilot for $10,000 and hand over the legal rights valued at $1,000,000 free of charge... thereby losing $990,000. I (or any other writer) would obviously only agree to sell the script with the condition that the studio buys the IP rights from me, likely with interest to recoup the legal fees for acquiring the rights, etc. At the end of the day, whether the studio were to have to buy the rights from the screenwriter him/herself or from the original IP copyright holders, they're the ones who would ultimately need to pay whoever possesses the rights for them. So it would seem an odd mandate to require the writer to possess the rights from the get-go before even reading the pilot script.
            You don't "get the rights" -- you get a letter of intent from the rights holder that if you do x, y and z, they intend to participate.

            I did this with some music from the Grateful Dead. I had to get letters from the man that negotiates on the part of three entities -- the band, the company that holds the rights to the recorded songs and the company who holds the publishing rights (like if you cover a song and want to use). I got a letter from the guy authorized to rep those three entities saying the entities would participate if I had x actor and y budget, and then people would read what I wrote. It's hard to do, but not impossible.

            I think getting a letter of intent from the people who own Legend of Zelda would be pretty hard, because they would want to work with a known writer. Not having permission in the form an "intent to play" from the rights holder would probably make any script you have unreadable for legal reasons.

            You are better off developing your own work that doesn't involve rights for right now, until you've sold something and become a known entity.

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            • #51
              Originally posted by RKOwens View Post

              do none of the existing TV series based on existing IP's originate as spec scripts, which then undergo the process by the studio of collecting the rights to the IP before making any subsequent payments to the writer and development of the series?

              I know Game of Thrones originated with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss getting the books' author on board before writing the scripts, butAt the end of the day, whether the studio were to have to buy the rights from the screenwriter him/herself or from the original IP copyright holders, they're the ones who would ultimately need to pay whoever possesses the rights for them. So it would seem an odd mandate to require the writer to possess the rights from the get-go before even reading the pilot script.
              Think about it the other way. You've written a great script, filmed it using your relatives as actors and posted it on YouTube. When you learn a writer is trying to sell it as a TV pilot, what would you do?

              Right now, the video game developers... they'll sue you. It's not a slightly used property like "Mary Poppins." Video game rights are a wild card in the deck. They MIGHT be worth millions someday.

              So, yes, there are OTHER cases, but NOT video games. Especially not the ones you named.

              Our Copyright Law is based on a phrase in a Constitution written about 1796, based on much older British laws about Copyright.

              Are you surprised it really doesn't make sense when talking about Fan Fiction or spec scripts?

              There's a Band-Aid on Copyright Law called "Fair Use." In schools, classrooms, teachers can hand out pages copied from books, free of copyright. For Educational Purposes. Now, you want to stretch that, saying we can discuss movies and screenplays on message boards. "Fair Use" implies we have to see the exact words to learn screenwriting.

              What you're suggesting is pushing "Fair Use" farther than the courts will go. The alternative is, contact the Copyright Holder and ask. Be very specific about the rights you need. If they want to see your spec script or your take on THEIR property, they'll send you a release. That's the best way to stay out of trouble. If you just want to use the script as a calling card, tell them.





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              • #52
                Originally posted by lostfootage View Post

                I did this with some music from the Grateful Dead. I had to get letters from the man that negotiates on the part of three entities -- the band, the company that holds the rights to the recorded songs and the company who holds the publishing rights (like if you cover a song and want to use). I got a letter from the guy authorized to rep those three entities saying the entities would participate if I had x actor and y budget, and then people would read what I wrote. It's hard to do, but not impossible.
                Got it. So, no TV pilot specs based on video games for now. However, this all leads to questions regarding the main screenplay I mentioned in the original post as planning to start querying for and entering into screenplay competitions soon, which is a biopic of someone who died a couple decades ago. When writing it, I made sure that any biographical details on him I used exist in more than one source, such as more than one book and/or documentaries on and/or interviews with the subject on his life, etc, which as I understand it legally frees those biographical details from being owned by any one source. I know there's then also the matter of the subject's family estate being on board. When I posted a thread on this a couple years ago before starting work on the script, the consensus I got was that it would help to have the subject's family on board, but since he was a public figure, it's technically not legally obligatory to have the family's permission at any stage in the development and release of the film (just as Judy Garland's family didn't participate in or agree to the biopic on her, "Judy", but the film was still able to be made since she was a public figure).

                Does anyone have any further thoughts on anything I need to be aware of when querying this script to agents/managers? And, do screenplay competitions allow biopics?

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                • #53
                  Screenplay contests allow biopics. It feels like you're safe with your script legally. If someone wants to make it, they'll vet it and have you make any changes that need to be made.

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                  • #54
                    Some of my favorite Black List scripts are biopics, like the one titled Frat Boy Genius about SnapChat founder Evan Spiegel. I always wondered how that would work legally, because it's not a flattering portrait but it's not straight up satire/parody, which has more leeway. Quibi bought it and then decided not to make it.

                    I think as long as you stay away from musicians, which can get complicated with the additional step of getting music rights, and as long as you use a variety of public sources, you can get your project read. Taking on a musician biopic would be harder. I looked at the soundtrack for Judy (good comparison) and they had Renee Z sing/perform all of the songs. So it looks like they were able to get around the family not participating by getting the performance rights to songs not controlled by the family. This is different than getting the rights to use the recordings of Judy Garland singing. It's much easier to get performance rights, like a wedding band gets to play Brick House for hire.

                    You may want to check with an entertainment lawyer soon-ish if there is any concern.

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                    • #55
                      Originally posted by lostfootage View Post
                      Some of my favorite Black List scripts are biopics, like the one titled Frat Boy Genius about SnapChat founder Evan Spiegel. I always wondered how that would work legally, because it's not a flattering portrait but it's not straight up satire/parody, which has more leeway. Quibi bought it and then decided not to make it.

                      I think as long as you stay away from musicians, which can get complicated with the additional step of getting music rights, and as long as you use a variety of public sources, you can get your project read. Taking on a musician biopic would be harder. I looked at the soundtrack for Judy (good comparison) and they had Renee Z sing/perform all of the songs. So it looks like they were able to get around the family not participating by getting the performance rights to songs not controlled by the family. This is different than getting the rights to use the recordings of Judy Garland singing. It's much easier to get performance rights, like a wedding band gets to play Brick House for hire.

                      You may want to check with an entertainment lawyer soon-ish if there is any concern.
                      I’d also say in addition to this you may just want to go ahead and write it. Worked for John Zaozirny’s wife with the Madonna script. It’s not getting made but it’s got her work.

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                      • #56
                        https://twitter.com/Scotterybarn/sta...UWr9C-WBQ&s=19

                        My buddy just sent this to me. So don't feel bad when you NEVER make 1 penny from this career.

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                        • #57
                          Originally posted by Satriales View Post

                          I’d also say in addition to this you may just want to go ahead and write it. Worked for John Zaozirny’s wife with the Madonna script. It’s not getting made but it’s got her work.
                          The topic of the thread is how much money they'll make, and my information is to that end: you might not sell this one b/c of rights issues.

                          But your point is a great one, which is sometimes a spec that faces obstacles to production will get you an assignment or other work.

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                          • #58
                            Originally posted by RKOwens View Post
                            Does anyone have any accurate information for how much money a new screenwriter, if they manage to sell their first not-low-budget script, can expect to make? Simply googling it results in wildly varying estimates, and the only threads I could find here are many years old and likely outdated.
                            There is a mid-budget (40M) film being released in a few weeks, where the (first time, non-WGA) writer and producer got into a minor dust-up over writing credits, and as a result the writer's contract was introduced as evidence in the court proceedings.

                            The terms were $500 for a 18 month option, then $1000 for a 12 month renewal, with an agreed upon sales price of 2% of the film's in-going budget, with a 70k floor and a 200k ceiling, and 3% of net proceeds (ie. nothing).

                            The time frame, from option contract to finished-film release date, is 27 months, which is amazingly fast even if there wasn't a global pandemic. I don't believe there were very many "steps" involved here.

                            I would say that this is currently a best case scenario for a first-timer (and it's not really that great).

                            It's just not an aspirational dream career anymore (especially if you remember that back in the early 1990's, when someone sold a spec for 400,000, they could buy a house and a new Corvette and still have money to live off off for a couple of years).

                            The irony is, that same 400k would not have been anywhere near enough money to buy them a media platform (Twitter, YouTube, podcast, Kindle, Audible, etc) where they could build an audience and own their work -- which, I think, should be the goal now.


                            ps - the film is called Blacklight... I didn't want to mention any of the involved parties names.

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                            • #59
                              Originally posted by kintnerboy View Post

                              There is a mid-budget (40M) film being released in a few weeks, where the (first time, non-WGA) writer and producer got into a minor dust-up over writing credits, and as a result the writer's contract was introduced as evidence in the court proceedings.

                              The terms were $500 for a 18 month option, then $1000 for a 12 month renewal, with an agreed upon sales price of 2% of the film's in-going budget, with a 70k floor and a 200k ceiling, and 3% of net proceeds (ie. nothing).

                              The time frame, from option contract to finished-film release date, is 27 months, which is amazingly fast even if there wasn't a global pandemic. I don't believe there were very many "steps" involved here.

                              I would say that this is currently a best case scenario for a first-timer (and it's not really that great).

                              It's just not an aspirational dream career anymore (especially if you remember that back in the early 1990's, when someone sold a spec for 400,000, they could buy a house and a new Corvette and still have money to live off of for a couple of years).

                              The irony is, that same 400k would not have been anywhere near enough money to buy them a media platform (Twitter, YouTube, podcast, Kindle, Audible, etc) where they could build an audience and own their work -- which, I think, should be the goal now.


                              ps - the film is called Blacklight... I didn't want to mention any of the involved parties names.
                              I’m shocked shocked that exec was involved in this situation.

                              And honestly the writer needs a better lawyer at that budget, though I assume he just signed the option agreement with the price baked in.

                              I don't understand how that thing with only one top tier above the line name makes it to 40 million. That's bananaland.

                              edit: and he is lawyer!
                              Last edited by Satriales; 01-17-2022, 09:38 AM.

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                              • #60
                                Originally posted by kintnerboy View Post

                                There is a mid-budget (40M) film being released in a few weeks, where the (first time, non-WGA) writer and producer got into a minor dust-up over writing credits, and as a result the writer's contract was introduced as evidence in the court proceedings.

                                The terms were $500 for a 18 month option, then $1000 for a 12 month renewal, with an agreed upon sales price of 2% of the film's in-going budget, with a 70k floor and a 200k ceiling, and 3% of net proceeds (ie. nothing).

                                The time frame, from option contract to finished-film release date, is 27 months, which is amazingly fast even if there wasn't a global pandemic. I don't believe there were very many "steps" involved here.

                                I would say that this is currently a best case scenario for a first-timer (and it's not really that great).

                                It's just not an aspirational dream career anymore (especially if you remember that back in the early 1990's, when someone sold a spec for 400,000, they could buy a house and a new Corvette and still have money to live off of for a couple of years).

                                The irony is, that same 400k would not have been anywhere near enough money to buy them a media platform (Twitter, YouTube, podcast, Kindle, Audible, etc) where they could build an audience and own their work -- which, I think, should be the goal now.


                                ps - the film is called Blacklight... I didn't want to mention any of the involved parties names.
                                Wow. I just did some reading on this. The writer of the script is an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission and filed a lawsuit. It's interesting. I won't put the details here. Go read up on it.

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