I got this email the other day:
If you’ve got
any time in your hectic sked to offer me advice I’d be grateful. As far as I know, you’re not a lawyer, but as a seasoned pro you may know!
Anyone that writes anything knows that ideas float around the ether waiting to be written.
Who hasn’t at least once, had that great , only to find out a week later has just nailed a deal for the
same premise. That’s just the way it goes.
However… six years ago I wrote my first screenplay. It’s called XYZ, and it’s about an ex-astronaut who owns a farm/ranch in Montana. He builds his own rocket in a grain silo to launch himself into space.
Today I read that Billy Bob Thornton is to star in a movie called THE ASTRONAUT FARMER about… well you guessed it!There are no other plot points for me to see and compare yet.
I registered the screenplay electronically with ProtectRite in 1999. In the past few years I’ve entered the screenplay into a few competitions including Tribeca Films – for which I got a commendation, didn’t win of course.
So my question is this… let’s say this in-production screenplay bears a remarkable or even "uncanny" similarity to my finished work in structure and story. Do I have any recourse, or is it just tough shit as I’m a still un-produced nobody without an agent?
Like you said, I’m not a lawyer. My guess is that
you’d have to prove that the screenwriter and producers had access to your screenplay and read it.
But I will say this, it’s not the world’s most original idea. There was even an
Andy Griffith TV movie with roughly the same concept and that later spawned a
short-lived TV series called SALVAGE ONE.
I think you sort of answered the question yourself in the first paragraph of your email… sometimes, people just get the same idea at the same time.
Many years ago, Bill and I thought we had a great idea for a spec script… a Russian cop who comes to the U.S. to find a bad guy and gets paired up with an LAPD detective. We called it RED HEAT. We were in the midst of writing it when we heard about…you guessed it… a movie going into production called RED HEAT starring Arnold as a Russian cop. This has happened to us many times during our career.
For a couple years now, Bill and I have been pitching a procedural series around town about a special, multi-agency law enforcement team that goes after the most-wanted fugitives. This summer, TNT premiered WANTED, a series with the same basic notion. Do we think we were ripped off? No. There were probably a dozen guys out there pitching a variation of the same idea at the same time we were. That’s the entertainment business.