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Will entering screenplay competitions work against me when I try to sell my script?

By Robert L. Seigel

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Question: I got signed/dated documents recently from a prolific author giving me rights in perpetuity to adapt screenplays from all his books for free. Do you recommend against my entering a finished screenplay into competitions or finding an agent who will protect me from 'over saturating' the market by sending it to too many people who won't read it? How does one find an honest, reputable agent who deals with 'newcomers' to the business?

First off, congratulations on your deal since it is highly unusual to secure the rights to all of a third party’s works for no financial consideration. You should have an agreement with the author even if there is no monetary consideration paid by you to have secured the motion picture and television rights in and to all of this author’s works. This document will be required as you approach financiers (especially within the motion picture and television industries), distributors, licensees and sales agents for any project based on the author’s works.

Secondly, you can submit your adaptation of the author’s works to competitions, producers and agents since these are the persons and entities who would be necessary to move your project forward. Try to do some due diligence work about the persons or entities to which you are submitting in terms of their credits and reputation by utilizing such tools as the internet and information from other writers or others in the industry.

In addition to your strategic submissions of your adaptation, you should make sure that the version of your adaptation is the best and most complete one since most people and those working for companies do not want to read a script a second time unless it is has been materially changed and, more importantly, there is a new element to the project such as a known director or potential cast members who have acknowledged either themselves or through their representatives that they will appear in the project.

Your question regarding how you would find an agent is one I hear almost everyday. Most agents have anywhere from twenty to fifty clients to represent and service; therefore, you may want to look for a manager who often works as a career counsellor to writers and directors. Often these managers become attached as producers on their clients’ projects since they can do so (unlike agents who are prohibited from acting as producers. Check the internet for writing websites and blogs. Network and let people know that you are seeking representation in a non-harassing manner, of course) and make it clear that you are not only bringing your writing talent to the table but the rights to an author’s entire body of work.

One side note regarding adaptations: they are not best types of writing samples since you are working with someone else’s characters and plotlines instead of creating your own characters and plotlines. Therefore, you should work on original screenplays as well.


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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