Contracts and Working Conditions of a Screenwriter

Contracts

A contract is a legal document that ensures all parties involved in a particular project will receive fair recognition and payment according to the stated terms. The essential elements of a contract are an offer made by a client towards the professional in question (e.g screenwriter, production assistant and editor), there would have to be a mutual agreement on the terms of the contract, it is legally binding, and understanding of the terms.

http://www.brownwelsh.com/Types_of_law/contracts.htm

The client’s and the professional’s names and addresses, along with signatures and the date of signing must be included in any contract for it to be legal. No contract in the media industry is ever permanent because screenwriters are hired for a specific project that will only last for an estimated length of time. You will see in the example contract given below that the job will only last as long as the project which has a specific deadline for completion.

The following is an extract from a website called http://www.thescreenplaywriters.com that covers what someone would expect to see in a contract for a screenplay/script writer.

Agreement Over Writing A Screenplay For A Film

By this memorandum of understanding, signed this DATE; both the parties described herein under as, represented by CLIENT’S NAME of CLIENT’S ADDRESS, phone number CLIENT’S PHONE NUMBER, also described as the ‘client’; and SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME, SCREENWRITER’S ADDRESS, phone number SCREENWRITER’S PHONE NUMBER, also described as ‘screenplay writer, do hereby agree to all the terms described and given below:

1. CLIENT’S NAME is commissioning screenwriter SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME to begin the project of writing the screenplay of a (approx) NO. OF MINUTES minutes long feature film.

2. The tentative working title of the film shall be ‘NAME OF MOVIE. This title is subject to change.

3. The deadline for completion of this screenplay is NUMBER OF DAYS days after the signing of this agreement.

4. CLIENT’S NAME  agrees to pay SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME a consolidated sum of TOTAL FEE AMOUNT  for the project that will include the following:

a. Writing the screenplay on the story/treatment laid down by CLIENT’S NAME .

b. Editing it thoroughly before submission., so that the final version is free from errors like spelling and grammar errors, and typos.

5. The fees of the screenplay writer will be paid as follows:

a. 1/3 as advance to get the project started.

b. 1/3 after 40% work submission.

c. The remaining 1/3 fees will be paid on 80% work submission and approval.

6. SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME is subject to NO royalty or commission on the sale or business from the screenplay. He is only entitled to the one time project fees of TOTAL FEE AMOUNT.

7. SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME (screenplay writer) will maintain full confidentiality and secrecy about this project. At no point during the project will he reveal any idea or concept of the film, to anyone, in any form; even if this contract gets terminated at any point during the project.

8. If SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME is unable to complete the project for some reason, he will convey that in writing as email as soon as possible. In that case he will be entitled to a payment which is proportionate to the amount of work he has completed; subject to approval from the client.

9. The screenplay will be 100 – 120 pages in length.

10. The screenplay writer will get credit for his/her contribution to the film.

11. SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME agrees that he will not take the help of any plagiarism, meaning he will avoid using borrowed material in this screenplay exactly as they are found elsewhere.

12. SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME agrees to do necessary coordination with the director or any other person or persons referred by the client, for proper shaping up of the project if necessary.

13. CLIENT’S NAME will own all copyrights for this screenplay.

14. CLIENT’S NAME will have full freedom to deal with any filmmaker, producer or agent. SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME will have no say on these matters.

15. CLIENT’S NAME can request SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME to make a reasonable number of changes and edits during the period of production of this screenplay and within 1 month of completion and submission of the screenplay.

16. Any disputes arising between the parties related to this contract and project will be settled by courts in NAME OF YOUR CITY.

Both the parties do hereby agree to the terms laid and set above.

Signature

CLIENT’S NAME  (client)

Signature

SCREENPLAY WRITER’S NAME (screenplay writer)

Date:  _______________

Working Conditions
Screenwriters work in many different locations. Staff writers (writers who work for a particular company) work in writing rooms where they brainstorm ideas. Spec writers (don’t work for company but sell their work through an agent) usually work in their own private residence or any location they choose. Depending on the type of script they writing screen writers’ input can vary.
In comedy writing the writers need to have the following traits:
  • They have be able to work in collaboration with others, general sitcoms have ten to twelve writers.
  • Comedy writers need to be able to work under pressure.
  • Writers in comedy need to be able to keep their cool when their ideas are written out of, or changed completely in the script.

In a TV drama writing a lot more is kept in than left out as the writers have more ownership of their work although it is still very much a team oriented product. The executive producer is sometimes the main writer of a drama and the staff writers simply flesh out his creation, this also works in reverse where the writing staff start the script and producers add to or subtract from it.

In the film industry a single screen writer will work with the director and the producers until the story and characters are clearly defined, after this the screen writer will be allowed to continue to work alone although he/she may be required to hand in multiple drafts before the script is finally accepted.
Payment
Many screenwriters begin by creating their own scripts ‘on spec’ (Freelance) and sending them out to agents and producers which may purchase them for a set payment and offer employment for the duration of the project. More experienced scriptwriters can merely pitch to an executive producer through their agent and they will decide whether or not to buy the rights to the idea, sometimes they will even hire the screenwriter to finish the script. Screen writing has a very variable rate of pay especially if they are producing ‘on spec’ scripts which can be hotly contested for and sell insane amounts of money, recently the film Safe House caused a bidding frenzy in hollywood. The script was won by Universal pictures producer Scott Stuber with a mid-six-figure offer. Here is a link to the article:
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