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About Writing Right: The Blog


Someone recently asked if he could share the first ten pages of his new script with me. My answer was a resounding absolutely not!


Nor, by the way, should a screenwriter ever ask to do so.


There's a good reason that all film and television producers refuse to accept unsolicited scripts. If one arrives in the morning mail, the production company returns it unopened. If a producer accepts an unsolicited manuscript for review and turns it down, he's exposed himself to legal action should he happen to make a film whose "idea" the author claims the producer stole from him.


Claims of property theft are more of a problem in filmmaking than in publishing because books are finished products while scripts are little more than malleable, evolving ideas or concepts. In any given year, probably twenty or more similar ideas are accepted for production. It wouldn't take much for a writer whose script was read by one of those producers to file a legal claim of property theft against him. That would halt all work on the film, pending the outcome of the litigation, which would most likely be a settlement of a considerable amount of money on the "agrieved author."


Because of that, any writer even attempting to submit an unsolicited script (that is, a script that hasn't been accepted by a legitimate, reputable agency for representation) marks himself as a rank amateur or a potential thief looking to set the recipient up for a property-theft claim. I doubt that any legitimate writer would want to go there, and I know no savvy reader would.


Agents, by the way, are deemed trustworthy to submit material to producers because, by the very nature of their business, they pitch scripts to producers every day of the year. Agents also require their writer-clients to sign a legal document provided by the producer before submitting any materials. The document prohibits the agency or the writer from pursuing legal action should the producer subsequently make a film similar in theme to the agency's submission.


Sound unfair? Sound as if writers are getting screwed? Hardly. Remember that ideas are a dime a dozen. While completed books and completed scripts can be copyrighted, ideas can't be. But that doesn't stop an unscrupulous screenwriter from yelling foul in court with potentially disastrous financial ramifications for the producer, even if the writer doesn't have a legitimate case.


So, if you're a writer who's serious about selling his script to New York or Hollywood, you'd better start shopping it around to appropriate agencies and hope for the best.


D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.

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