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What steps do I need to take to secure the rights to adapt a novel?

By Robert L. Seigel

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Question: I want to adapt a novel and contacted the author who showed some interest in his work being turned into a screenplay. What are the necessary first steps so both of us are covered further down the line? Assuming we strike out some kind of deal or contract and the script is written, what is the process of marketing the spec to studios and execs? By this I mean, do any of the rules change because it is based on a novel? Could it help us sell the project because the book has a proven track record? Should we "package" the spec in a different way?

The question you are asking may compel you as a writer of an adaptation to start acting as if you were a producer in which case you can pursue the shopping agreement in which you act as if you are the producer and the writer/owner of the underlying material would be treated as if he or she were the writer.

Please also read my earlier article: The Freedom to Shop: An Option to the Option Agreement.

However, one of the differences with you as a writer and one who is acting in a quasi- producing capacity is that you are shopping a package of the underlying rights to the property and your adaptation as a package n which you and the author as the underlying rights holder would have to negotiate your own deals and hopefully coordinate them so that one party does not "kill" the deal by asking for a something which the other party would not grant.

Please bear in mind that once the shopping agreement’s term is over, then the rights owner can continue to shop his or her property but you cannot do so since you do not have any connection to the underlying rights of the Property (who is free to work with another adaptor whether the rights owner finds such writer or a potential producer brings in his or her own writer). Good luck (and perhaps you should shift your focus to original screenplays which serve as the best example of a writer’s work since he or she creates the characters and the story).

About Robert L. Seigel

Robert L. Seigel ([email protected]) is a NYC entertainment attorney and a partner in the Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard LLP law firm which specializes in the representation of clients in the entertainment and media areas.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is intended to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice. You should not act or rely on such information without seeking the advice of an attorney and receiving counsel based on your particular facts and circumstances. Many of the legal principles mentioned might be subject to exceptions and qualifications, which are not necessarily noted in the answers. Furthermore, laws are subject to change and vary by jurisdiction.
Screenwriting Article by Robert L. Seigel

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