To Lawyer Or Not To Lawyer?
By Jacob Krueger
A question from a student:
Question for you: I wrote a short script that this guy wants to film and possibly enter into some festivals. I just want the writing credit, no money- do you think a contract is necessary in a case like this? Or is a gentleman’s agreement usually good? Luke S.
Glad to hear about the upcoming move and even more exciting– the good news about this guy making your script. Although I’m not a lawyer myself and can’t give legal advice, my suggestion, for both of your protection, never ever ever ever ever do a deal without a contract. Get a standard, boiler plate contract (you can probably find one online or ask a lawyer or agent friend to find one for you). Have a lawyer friend make any modifications necessary, and make sure your lawyer friend looks it over before you sign anything.
Do not negotiate a deal yourself. Do not make up your own contract. Most likely neither of you know enough about the law or standard practices in the industry to make a deal that will actually protect you.
Written contracts clarify what both of your expectations are– and without them, many of the best partnerships can end up being destroyed– not only when things go badly, but also when they go well. For example: Your movie ends up becoming the all time biggest festival hit ever. Hollywood decides they want to turn it into a feature… they’re offering a ton of money. If you have a contract: You know in advance how much of that money you get, and your buddy knows how much he gets. You’re both happy and delighted and get to go have a drink and celebrate your success together.
If you don’t– you and your buddy now have to fight over how much of that money you deserve. He argues you would have had nothing without his producing. You argue he would have nothing without your script. Before long, you hate each other, and possibly even end up killing the deal because you can’t work out your side of the bargain and neither of you can move ahead without the other’s consent. I can tell you from experience that fight will happen no matter how good a guy your friend may be– because people do crazy things when that much money is on the table.
Another example: The studio wants to make the movie, but they want to hire a bigger name writer. If you have a contract, your buddy tells them “sorry guys, I’ve got a contract with this guy– I can’t do it”. If he doesn’t– he now has to make a choice between taking a stand for you, and possibly blowing not only the deal but his relationship with the studio, or saying yes to their demands and destroying his friendship with you. Not a fun situation to be in.
Use a lawyer. It won’t cost you nearly as much as the pain you suffer later if you don’t. Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts may even help you for free. And it may very well save your relationship.