Top 5 DON’TS For Aspiring Screenwriters
- Share your logline
- Adapt a book to screenplay before securing the rights
- Be a jack, not a master
- Option your script too cheaply
1. Sharing Your Logline
There are no copyright protections for ideas. You can, in good faith, share a wonderful logline–your basic premise, vision, theme–with a prodco (production company) and if they really, really like it, they can run with it. Meaning, they will, in effect, steal it, develop it, sell it. And you can’t touch them. Has this happened to me? Yes. Do many people, some not so honest, claim the same thing? Probably. Is there legal recourse? Not much…not for the newbie or outsider (living outside L.A.). Problem is: it is hard to garner someone’s attention without sharing the hot logline. And there are companies that provide services sending writers’ loglines on to the entertainment wheelers and dealers. I think it is best to have a (WGA registered) screenplay in hand, a synopsis, and work with an established expert, whether it be an agent, manager, or even a prodco after you’ve established some reasonable discussion with these fellows.
I’ve even had a full-fledged synopsis stolen and presented by a crook to studios almost verbatim. My manager at the time presented this dilemma to me after speaking with a big name studio exec. I was flabbergasted, stuttered stupidly (if you can do that in print–emails), and was discarded as the studio went on to produce what they had planned to do anyway (after testing the waters and responses with yours truly). This was despite a fairly well adapted book-to-script work that I believe would have done well on screen. But…meh! That was then, this is now.
Bottom line: try not to float your logline out there. Find someone you can trust. Good luck with that.
2. Adapt a work without first securing the rights
This is done by the hungry rookie who just knows he can impress the author of that graphic novel or bestseller by first writing a dynamite adaptation, then talking to that author. You, my friend, will waste much of your time, unless the adaptation itself was an exercise and merely that. The author may not welcome your advances, may not have full movie rights, etc. The author may even die before you get the screenplay done or get it into studio hands.
Learn how to option a book, secure rights, offer the author a decent back-end movie deal etc. Then write your masterpiece.
3. Be a jack, not a master
As in jack-of-all-trades and master of none. This is not a fixed rule for any writer. Stephen King, I understand, mastered the art of washing dishes before flexing his writing muscles. But better to have some expertise in life to draw upon or some passion, whether it be in a specific occupation, social happening, or science discovery. If no expertise, than a passion for a subject that will lead you to become knowledgeable in that field.
4. Option your screenplay too cheaply.
Unless the someone offering to produce your screenplay is very well known and connected in the motion picture industry, a cheap offer (let’s say $10.00, $100.00, $500.00) to option your screenplay is not much of an offer. An option on your work takes it off the market to anyone else for the period of time in the contract–anywhere from six months to a couple of years. The amount of money offered to you reveals how important it is to the person making the offer and how likely (unlikely) there will be any real effort to do deals, get production lined up.
In this discussion, I mean: working on more than one idea, one screenplay, at a time. A fatal flaw of mine and some others I know. Better to focus, get it done, polish it, sell it.
Hope this info helps. Doesn’t apply to everyone all the time, but some of this advice might keep the new guy out there from getting burned or, worse, discouraged.
Copyright © 2015 Howard F. Clarke
Read our graphic novel, REPUBLIC, a book just begging to be a movie–in these days of American Sniper, Benghazi, and ISIS.