A screenwriter and Guild contracts counsel share their advice for getting the best deal.
Getting the best overscale terms possible starts with understanding your contractual rights and anticipating common pitfalls with the studios. In a panel discussion earlier this month, writer Allison Schroeder, Senior Contracts Counsel Josh Wiser, and Contracts Counsel Brad Schleder discussed best practices for feature deals, from negotiating your contract to delivery.
Here are nine top takeaways from the event:
- Make sure to talk to your reps about what writing services you intend, and are willing, to do. If a step isn’t specifically listed in your contract, the company may allege they don’t have to pay you.
- If you’re being hired to write a script based on assigned material, make sure you are given a copy of that material. If you’re not actually given access to the material, make sure it is not deemed to be “assigned material” in the contract.
- Make sure to negotiate reasonable writing periods. If you need to request an extension, get an agreement from the company in writing; in all cases, the best practice is to deliver on time.
- The MBA requires that your contract name an executive to whom you must deliver the material (and who is authorized to request additional steps). You should only deliver to, and perform additional work for, that executive.
- Remember that you are in control of when your literary material is delivered! The company must use its best efforts to pay you within 48 hours of delivery, but no later than 7 days. If the company fails to pay you on time, interest is owed at the rate of 1.5% per month. Using information provided by agencies, the Guild has pursued late payments across the industry and, recently, collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest owed on late payments.
- When negotiating the purchase of a screenplay, make sure that your contract also provides for employment (i.e., at least a polish of the screenplay). Without at least employment for a polish, the company is not required to make pension, health, and paid parental leave contributions on the purchase price. Also, note that if you sell an original treatment or screenplay to a signatory (and you are a professional writer), the company is required to offer you the first rewrite—don’t waive it!
- An agreement that provides a person or entity with exclusive control over your material for a period of time is an option, not a shopping agreement. Options are subject to certain MBA minimums. Also, unlike an option, a company cannot ask you to perform additional work on a script pursuant to a shopping agreement. If you are asked to perform writing services, the company must be a signatory and pay MBA minimums.
- In most cases, a company cannot use the doctrine of “force majeure” to extend an option without paying. Contact the Guild right away if a company tries to do this.
- If you sell an original treatment or screenplay under WGA jurisdiction and the material has not been produced, you will have the ability to reacquire your material between five years and ten years from the date of purchase or last delivery.
Learn more by watching the full event recording. Other topics covered include best practices in securing production bonuses, theatrical roundtables, and how streaming has changed feature contracts.
For additional resources on feature deal negotiations, see the Guild’s Screen Compensation Guide, Screen Compensation Guide for Streaming Services, and Screen Deal Tips, all part of the Writers' Deal Hub. And stay tuned for the upcoming Screen Bonus Guide!