Film Rights to Published Material
Have you ever read a book or story and thought -- This
would make a terrific movie! Sure you have.
Should an aspiring writer attempt to secure the film
rights to already published material? Well, maybe,
Some screenwriters do break into the business by adapting
a story from a published source. This strategy only works...
IF the writer has been hired to adapt the story by the
entity that CONTROLS the rights to it.
IF the writer CONTROLS the underlying rights to the
No legitimate producing entity will get involved in a
project unless the rights are secured. Let me repeat that
LEGITIMATE producing entity will get involved in a
project unless the rights are SECURED.
Further, if someone else controls the film rights, any
work you do on the project will be FUTILE whether it is
adapting the story, writing the screenplay or attempting
to set up the project at a film company.
So, if you long to adapt previously published material,
be certain you control the rights to the underlying
material. How do writers secure the rights to published
1: FIND OUT WHO CONTROLS THE FILM RIGHTS
Research the contact information for the publisher of the
book or magazine story that interests you. You will
probably find their mailing address or contact
information in the front of the book or magazine. Contact
the publisher's Rights and Acquisitions Department. Often
this initial query can be done by faxing the publishing
house a short letter inquiring about the film rights.
You will receive one of these responses:
The film rights are NOT available.
If this is the case, DO NOT attempt to work with the
material. You waste your time and set yourself up for
heartache when you work on material that someone else
controls -- unless of course the person in control of the
rights has hired you to adapt the material.
The film rights ARE available.
If this is the case, proceed to Step 2 below.
The film rights are in the PUBLIC DOMAIN.
Public Domain means that the author's copyright has
expired on this material. Briefly, authors retain
copyright through their lifetime plus a certain number of
years depending on the law that was in effect when the
material was published. If the work is in the Public
Domain you are free to adapt it and sell your adaptation.
Examples of Public Domain authors: Shakespeare, Shaw,
Louisa May Alcott, Sophocles, Homer, Hawthorne, Henry
James, Edith Wharton and many others.
One caution: Public Domain works sometimes have multiple
projects developed at the same time since no one controls
the rights exclusively. Some of Jack London's work
recently moved into Public Domain. Currently, there are
three different versions of London's CALL OF THE WILD in
2: CONSIDER NEGOTIATING AN OPTION ON THE FILM RIGHTS
Notice I say consider. Just because rights are available
doesn't mean you should or can acquire them. Before you
mortgage your home and make an offer on the rights, do
some research and plenty of creative thinking.
Here are some parameters to guide you:
Most well-known books or novels by best-selling authors
would be too expensive for an aspiring writer to option.
More reasonable properties to target might be out-of-print
books, short stories or books from small publishing
THE SPECIFIC MARKET
Ask yourself these questions --
~ Is there a movie audience for this project?
~ Are similar projects currently in development?
~ What books and stories have sold recently to the movies
and who bought them?
To research current movie development deals log onto =>
A PROFESSIONAL TO HELP YOU NEGOTIATE
Agents, managers and entertainment lawyers specialize in
securing rights to creative material. If you are serious
about securing the rights to a specific published piece,
you should contact an experienced professional to help
It is smart to find out all you can on your own before
you put an entertainment attorney on the clock. The Web
offers many sources of free information on copyright and
how to secure rights to creative material. Here are a few
reliable places to help you get started:
Basic copyright sites:
Entertainment attorney tutorial => www.lawgirl.com/copyright.shtml
This guy knows it all => www.ivanhoffman.com
Sample creative rights contracts => www.lawsmart.com/main.html
When dealing with previously published material, passion
for the story is not enough. Get the facts and proceed
Copyright (c) 2003, Lenore Wright
Lenore Wright has 15 years experience
writing and selling screenplays in Los Angeles and New
York. For free marketing tips and tools SUBSCRIBE to her
newsletter Script Market News by sending a blank email to
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