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pay Proper deal, idea only

Hi All,

A writer submitted to me a 17 page script that has a good idea for AI pilot/short.

I want to offer the writer a stipend and % of ownership of the project, because I don't want to use their lines, but put into a workshop phase with my theater company and develop a new script.

This is a very slim budget (whatever we can scrape up) I have made an initial offer of $500 plus 1/2 percent of net of anything that moves forward the creates income. Is this fair? If not, what is? Again this is a no budget project, actors working for small stipend, simple light kit, one sound, one camera, a couple of weeks of shooting in a house.
 
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indietalk

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What did they submit it to you for? Was is solicited? Unsolicited? Did you put out a net for a script to produce? Mention budget?
 
I put out a "call for scripts" and explained that we were proceeding as a dogma 95 project and writers would receive a stipend and percentage.

I wouldn't feel right taking their idea without some sort of compensation/percentage, because I wouldn't have it on my own.
 

indietalk

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For the future, with these micro budgets, it'd be best to state your budget upfront. Ex: "Wanted: Short comedic screenplay, can pay up to $500"

In your situation, this person now knows you like theirs best and they have the upper hand. You can offer $500 and they could ask for $5000 when they may very well have submitted to your $500 ad. :)

But good luck!
 
In a world where EVERYBODY has a script, if he has been writing for awhile and has some experience in (not) selling scripts, he will know that you actually have the upper hand, because you are putting money on the table. (Assuming that you are writing a check for $500 up front). If you make the offer and he says "no", tell him "no thanks, I have other ideas/scripts available"...he will quickly take your $500 check and consider himself lucky to get it. Your terms should be: This is NOT an "option" on the idea/script with a time limit. You can make it whenever you can get the money together, (with no time limit). We just got a 30 minute script for free because the author wanted to have a "produced" script under his belt. (He has also written eight feature films...all unsold scripts). He reserved the right to sell the script again to someone else in the future (which will never happen because their is no commercial market for short films). We agreed. (Just get it in writing). As a thank you gift, we gave him a paypal for $50 to take his wife out to dinner. Everyone is happy. We made our short film and he still owns his script...
 
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indietalk

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In my opinion, that's more than reasonable. That doesn't mean the writer will accept it, but since you can't copyright an idea, there's nothing to stop you from writing something fresh/new/your own using the same starting point.
So you would steal an idea just because the copyright office doesn't accept ideas? They accept works which include ideas.

You can certainly sue for stealing an idea especially if you prove they read your script and then basically made their own out of it.
 

indietalk

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If someone sends you a script of a mailman that gets bitten by a dog and turns into a superhero that saves animals, and you like the idea but change mailman to fireman and rewrite the dialogue, that is stealing... just saying! Not saying you would but I don't think it's the best advice when not being able to buy a script you want to make.
 
In my opinion, that's more than reasonable. That doesn't mean the writer will accept it, but since you can't copyright an idea, there's nothing to stop you from writing something fresh/new/your own using the same starting point.
That's a bit naughty to suggest that, especially from a MOD
 
onebaldman

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Now that you've offered the amount, you can't go back... But if it's a short script, $500 is a ton of cash. $250 is the highest I think I would pay for a short script of around 12-15 pages.

And if you are going to rewrite the thing anyway, all you are paying for is the idea.
 

mlesemann

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That's a bit naughty to suggest that, especially from a MOD
I'm a realist, and I've had many of my ideas show up in big-budget movies & TV series after actors & agents have read my scripts.
Twice in the past three years I've seen virtually an entire scene from one of my movies copied in a bigger name movie.

I look at it as part of life, and choose to take it as a compliment - I'm certainly not going to spend my time and money suing someone, and I don't think it's even worth stressing over.

In my opinion, if the writer is smart, they'll take the $500 AND ask for a credit for the idea in the program/playbill, as that's great PR.
As @onebaldman said, that's a lot of money for a short script, never mind an idea.
 
So you would steal an idea just because the copyright office doesn't accept ideas?
I've seen many made-for-TV movies that are near-enough carbon copies of features produced by mainstream studios, and even very similar features released in cinemas within the same season. I can't imagine that they all started life as totally original writing, completely independent and never influenced by any other author's work ... and that's before getting into the whole business of scenes written as an "hommage" to the producer/director's favourite inspiration ...

As to the original question, the up-front fee offered sounds very generous to me. I've entered competitions with far less of a prize with work requiring (probably) an equivalent investment of creative energy. The possibility of future (paid) collaboration would be probably be more valuable than the 0.5% of net revenue.
 

indietalk

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Yup, there's "no new ideas" and all. I would just be wary of steering a writer/producer (possibly new) down the path of, if you like and it can't buy it, just change things. But it seems she gets it...

I wouldn't feel right taking their idea without some sort of compensation/percentage, because I wouldn't have it on my own.
You see, @mlesemann is a skilled writer and knows the difference between inspiration and stealing an idea. But others may not. So no of course I don't think she'd steal an idea. That bit was more rhetorical. I have a lot of respect for her.
 
Hi All,

Thanks for the informative discussion. To update, the writer turned the offer down and I thanked her. However, I have been inspired by her idea and began down a different path. It's still an AI piece, but nothing from the original concept/idea remains.

In response to this thread, I do remember my intellectual property attorney saying that ideas are not protected - the details of what he meant I'm not sure. I think you can do the Superman story, but you can't use the name Superman as this is trademarked. At any rate, in this particular script, since she declined my offer, I wanted to do the ethical thing and not "borrow"/"steal" her idea, as I think it would hinder the creative process and I believe in fairness.

At the same time, yes I do see in this field that similar storylines appear (can't think of any right now) where two productions release films that are identical in ideas.

Thanks for all the info.
 
Someone (I can't remember who. Lew Hunter maybe, he liked to talk) once said "If you can think it, 5 people are already writing it". You can borrow her idea all day long and you'll be fine... but you read her script, and that makes the wicket stickier. You have to be very careful and make sure you don't inadvertently "borrow" elements of it. And that can happen without you consciously being aware of it.
 
onebaldman

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Someone (I can't remember who. Lew Hunter maybe, he liked to talk) once said "If you can think it, 5 people are already writing it". You can borrow her idea all day long and you'll be fine... but you read her script, and that makes the wicket stickier. You have to be very careful and make sure you don't inadvertently "borrow" elements of it. And that can happen without you consciously being aware of it.
Even if you do borrow elements, it's still your story if you write it. Sue happy people of the world be damned, there is no such thing as an original idea. Everything borrows from something, life experience, worldwide events, the news, books, poems, art, other films, styles, color use, sound, music.

All of art is a beautiful mix and melting pot of ideas. This is especially true in the internet age. There is no escaping the use of someone else's work. You just have to be smart and kind, and then you will have no problems.
 
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