When do screenwriters need an entertainment lawyer?

February 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

Screenwriters need an entertainment lawyer when a producer or company wants to buy your screenplay or pay you to write a script on assignment. This when you must have someone in your corner to fight for the best deal.  Producers will respect you more and see you as a professional if you have a lawyer taking care of the negotiations.  Every professional screenwriter has a lawyer.  Every deal point is negotiable and that’s where both sides give and take.  You hear about the writer getting screwed?  Not unless the writer allows it.

You as the writer should always be the “good cop.”  Every producer wants to know that his or her writer is a team player.  So allow your lawyer to play “bad cop” and negotiate for your benefit every step of the way.  Imagine having to ask your boss for a raise?  Who wants to do that?  In addition, your lawyer knows about the mysterious and unintelligible clauses that could end up hurting you down the line.  Your lawyer can offer new deal points not originally offered in the original contract.  These new changes can protect your overall deal.  Maybe you never imagined the other side would agree to your terms?  You’ll never know unless your lawyer asks and then it becomes how badly you want to push — and what you believe is deal breaker for you.

I signed with an entertainment law firm last year, so everything I do in my screenwriting career goes through my lawyer.  Any working screenwriter must have a lawyer to handle the business affairs, it’s a necessary step to protecting your career and is part of being a professional.  Some entertainment lawyers charge by the hour and others charge a flat 5% of your income from your screenplay sale or writing assignment.  It’s worth the money, even at an hourly rate to have someone looking out for your best interests.  One missing clause might cost you a tremendous loss of money during the life of the project—or an added clause may hold you responsible for work you never expected to do.  My lawyer recently negotiated provisions for me not offered in the original contract that would protect me if the film went on to do huge business.  That’s worth any price to be legally protected.

An entertainment lawyer is the best money spent on your screenwriting career.  You will thank yourself for allowing someone else to negotiate the deal because you may wake up one day and find that little film you wrote for peanuts just became a certified blockbuster.  And—if you’re paying someone to protect you, that means you’re making money as a paid professional screenwriter!  Isn’t that your dream anyway?

Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch
Against whose charms faith melteth in blood.”—Shakespeare

“Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made. The publisher and the play producer are showmen too; but they exploit what is already made. The showmen of Hollywood control the making — and thereby degrade it. For the basic art of motion pictures is the screenplay; it is fundamental, without it there is nothing. Everything derives from the screenplay, and most of that which derives is an applied skill which, however adept, is artistically not in the same class with the creation of a screenplay.” — Raymond Chandler

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