Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

How to Protect Your Work in a Script Sale Transaction

A first-time script sale or option is an exciting, momentous occasion for a screenwriter, but it’s also when most writers make their first big mistakes. Without knowing the right questions to ask or having the right people by your side, it’s easy for the dream of selling your screenplay to become a nightmare quickly.

Do you want to know how to protect your work in a legal transaction with a producer? Attorney Sean Pope is here to help.

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Sean is an attorney with Ramo Law, an entertainment legal practice with offices in Beverly Hills and New York City. He specifically works with producers and production companies on deals that range from development to distribution, so he’s dealt with just about every aspect of production legal.

We wanted to know: Does a screenwriter really need to hire an attorney when they sell their first script? It seems like a formal, expensive, and daunting step for a single screenplay transaction. And that’s the trap that writers often fall into.

A producer may offer up their own attorney or tell you that the agreement is already drafted; you simply need to review it and sign on the dotted line.

But this is a big no-no, says Sean.

“Well, the first thing to think about there is the producer’s lawyer works for the producer,” he began. “They’re not looking out for your interests in this deal. They’re trying to get the best deal possible for their client, the producer.”

As trustworthy as the producer, executive, or whoever is optioning or buying your screenplay may be, you’re not their client. It makes no sense to them to do any work for someone who isn’t paying them.

“So, while the producer’s lawyer will put together the agreement, typically, they’re not going to be looking out for your interests and giving you the best preferential treatment and helping you negotiate the best terms in your deal because that’s not in their client’s interest,” Sean said.

The solution? Hire an entertainment attorney.

“And it can be expensive, you know; I know we lawyers are not cheap,” Sean admitted. “But at the end of the day, this is really your life’s work. And would you buy a house or make some other type of substantial life decision without asking the advice of someone who is looking out for your interests?”

Attorneys can either charge a percentage, where they take home a percentage of whatever you sell your script for, or charge an hourly fee. While this dips into profits from your option or sale, an attorney may help you get more money for the transaction than you could have on your own.

Typically, a producer or executive will “paper the deal,” meaning they’ll figure out the initial details, but you want someone on your side who can look at that deal and tell you if you’re getting a fair shake.

“They’re not going to ask you, the writer, to paper the deal. They’ll put it together. But you’re always going to want to have someone else looking out specifically for your interest that doesn’t have a vested interest in the other side,” he concluded.

Just looking out for you,

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