Arbitration win for screenwriter on original, unproduced script paves the way for more similar rulings.
The Guild recently won an important arbitration case concerning a feature film writer’s right to reacquire (i.e., buy back) an original, unproduced script. Not only is the award a win for the screenwriter, but the ruling is helpful to all screenwriters seeking to reacquire an unproduced script by clarifying that certain actions by the company simply aren’t enough to put a script in “active development” in order to avoid the reacquisition process.
The MBA includes a reacquisition process for screenwriters of unproduced, original scripts. As the creators of valuable intellectual property, screenwriters can often find a new buyer for a script that the original studio has failed to produce.
In April of 2020, screenwriter Eric Warren Singer contacted the Guild to initiate the reacquisition process on his feature screenplay, God Bless the Damned. When the Guild served the reacquisition notice, the company, Indian Paintbrush, claimed the material was in “active development” and therefore couldn’t be reacquired.
The company claimed the script was in “active development” because it had hired another writer to rewrite the material more than two years earlier—but without any real timeline for delivery, and with no indication that the company was taking other significant steps to develop the script. In addition to the drawn-out rewrite, the company said the material was being actively developed because of periodic “creative meetings” and “lunches with agents.”
None of this met the standard for active development under the MBA, which contemplates the company expending substantial resources in order to move the project along toward production. Therefore, the Guild took the case to arbitration.
The arbitrator agreed with the Guild’s position that in order for a script to be in “active development,” there must be a significant and ongoing financial commitment made by the company to develop the project, and ordered that the writer be provided the opportunity to reacquire his script.
This is Singer’s second reacquisition of his script and he is currently seeking to set the project up with a new company. He explains that over a lifetime of work, “there are maybe a handful of scripts that you just love; like old buddies. This is one of those scripts for me. I love the story, the script, the characters; I have been so close to getting it made so many times.
“I hope the movie gets made, but even if it doesn’t, I’m still proud that we have the clarity of this decision to challenge the games companies play when trying to deny us of our rights under the MBA.”
Members who are interested in reacquiring an unproduced, original theatrical screenplay can reach out to the Contracts Department.
The Guild will host an educational webinar about reacquisition later in the fall. An invitation with details for the event will be emailed to the membership in the near future. If you are interested in the event, please email Member Organizing.