Every writer needs an employment agreement with the filmmaker or production company for which they will be writing. The main parts of this agreement are what will the writer be required to write or edit, the allowed time period for completion of the project, associated compensation, and the overall ownership of the writing.
To start with, it is important to define the services the writer will render to a production company. Is it a treatment, first draft screenplay, revised screenplay or something else? If the writer does not define exactly the scope of work, issues of ownership could arise down the road and the writer may end up doing more work than may be anticipated and compensated. The writer’s compensation will partially depend on what type of product the writer is expected to produce and how long it will take, as well as other variables included in the industry, such as the production company having an option for the writer to prepare a “sequel.”
As a writer, one must be cognizant of the amount of time required to adequately complete the project, and implement such time period into the agreement. The production company will always want as short of a time period as possible, so it is important to ensure that the time period the writer agrees to will provide enough time to finish the commissioned work. The writer may be subject to penalties, or in the worst case scenario, be fired, if the work is not completed on time. Additionally, the writer must make sure that he or she has the right to work on other projects while the artist is “on the clock” for the production company, particularly if the production company has options to retain the writer for further services. Non-exclusivity to any given project is important as the writer seeks to market his or her services elsewhere.
Lastly, it is important to discuss ownership. As part of the writer’s employment, the production company will likely want you to sign a “work-for-hire” agreement. This document basically says that you have been paid to perform a specific service (i.e. writing something) and you have no rights of authorship and ownership regarding your work output (or if you do, you are assigning them to the production company). This could be important as residual income may flow to the owner of a copyright years after the work is made, and if you sign away these rights, the writer will have no claim to this future potential income. Likewise, the writer will have no control over how the production company will use the work in the future. A careful writer should be aware of these facts before entering into an agreement with a production company. Every deal is unique, but it is important to know and understand the main concepts before entering into a writing agreement. In the end it is important for the writer to understand these issues but it is critical to have such an agreement reviewed by an experienced entertainment attorney.
Bradley Legal Group, P.A. are Intellectual Property lawyers, Entertainment lawyers and Music Lawyers servicing clients in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Orlando, and Nashville. We also affiliate with entertainment lawyers licensed in New York and Washington, D.C. © 2011 Bradley Legal Group, P.A.