In my original article “10 Things To Think About When You Option Your Screenplay” I included the passage:
“…negotiate the rights to any changes or alternative versions created by the producer or on behalf of the producer during the option period. In other words, if the script reverts back to you, so should the rights to any changes made to the script while the producer had it. Otherwise, you’ve got your script back, but the producer potentially still has rights to their version… and now you’re in competition with another version of your script that you don’t control. That’s not a place you want to be.”
But was I right?
I recently received some guidance on that point from Adam Levenberg of OfficialScreenwriting.com.
“Technically what you wrote is not correct. In the case of rights reversion, you are not competing with the ‘producer’s draft’ because the producer does not have the rights to shop, sell, or produce their version. But you are correct that without proper language in the contract, the producer does hold on to the rights to those ‘producer drafts’.”
I thought you should hear more from Adam, so I’m turning the blog over to him. Here’s what he’s got to say.
SCRIPT OPTIONS: ANOTHER POINT – Adam Levenberg
Chip brings up twenty-one valid points that should be negotiated as part of a screenplay option. If you don’t already have a lawyer and L.A. based agent who reps other working writers (the only kind that matters if you’re a screenwriter), chances are you’ll be negotiating a free option.
In THE STARTER SCREENPLAY, I lay out many suggestions for unrepresented screenwriters to effectively navigate the industry. Here is one big suggestion to take into account in a low money option:
1) You own the rewrites. Period.
Every producer has notes and whether it’s outlined in your contract or not, you’ll end up revising your script. Any good producer can get a writer excited about re-writing for free — that’s what producers do. And if you like the producer’s notes, there’s no reason not to take the notes and improve your script.
For example, a company I once worked for optioned a script for a few thousand dollars but the script was ten years old and featured hackers using dial-up lines to access the Internet. The writer was happy to address these tech issues and punch up a few other scenes over a long weekend. Luckily, his contract stated that he owned any rewrites done for free. That means if we couldn’t get his script sold or produced during the option period, he was free to re-market his script with the improvements that were generated from our notes.
That’s the deal. If you’re not getting paid at least $25,000-$50,000 to rewrite, polish, or revise, you will own any work done if you and the producer part ways.
If a producer complains about this point, remind them that if the option expires, that means they couldn’t sell your script or get the movie made. So why would they want to hold on to the rights to your revisions anyway?
About Adam Levenberg:
As the USA Films reader who recommended HOLLYWOODLAND and SYLVIA, Adam Levenberg knows his way around a spec script. Later as Creative Executive for Intuition Productions and Development Executive for One Race Films, Adam interacted with every major literary agency, fielding pitches from the industry’s top screenwriters. Now as principal at ENDZONE CONSULTING, Adam’s clients include one of Hollywood’s biggest producers as well as a legendary two time Academy Award winning actor.
You can learn more about interacting with the entertainment industry in Adam’s book THE STARTER SCREENPLAY, now available on Amazon. And check out his consulting service at OfficialScreenwriting.com.
5 thoughts on “Who owns the rights to your screenplay rewrites?”
What if I’m not the writer, but I hired a writer and I own the script?