The Mail I Get

I received this email from an agentless, aspiring screenwriter:

I just moved to LA about a year ago.[…]I've hooked up with a producer who is a former exec at a major studio. We talked about an idea he has for a sitcom. I like his idea a lot and I agreed to collaborate with him. The thing is, I've been helping him for a while now and even wrote a pilot, all with nothing but a verbal commitment from him to "do right" by me. I do trust him and we've become friends outside of "work."

Now, I've decided it's time to get more than just a verbal commitment from him. But I am at a loss as to what to ask for.[…] So far I've written a pilot and have helped out with character descriptions and episode outlines. Now he wants me to write another episode. Do you have any advice for someone like me?

Yes, I do. You are being screwed. The producer is taking advantage of your enthusiasm, inexperience and desperation. He should know better…and, if he is truly your friend (and the seasoned exec you say he is), and if he genuinely wanted to "do right" for you, he would have put a deal in writing before you started writing a word…for his protection and yours.

Don't do ANY more work for him or let him send out the script to anyone unless a deal is in place between the two of you.

Since you don't have an agent, you should consult with a lawyer. You should also visit the WGA website and get a copy of the applicable minimums and/or go to the Samuel French Bookstore and get a book on Entertainment industry contracts.

I'm not a lawyer or an agent, but some of the things you should seek are compensation (at least WGA minimums) for the scripts you have written immediately upon sale of the project, a minimum royalty per episode produced (you need to negotiate an amount), a shared created by credit with the producer (though that will be arbitrated by the Guild), a producer credit & salary on the show (whether you provide services or not) and an equal share of any and all monies that the producer is getting for ancillary rights, backend, etc. That's just for starters.

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