There are a number of important legal issues to address when bringing together the initial elements of a motion picture project, a stage often referred to as the “development phase.”
For example, if you wish to obtain rights to an existing story (e.g., book, script), then you will most likely want to ask the rights holder for an “option.” An option agreement gives you exclusivity for a fixed period of time to see if you can get all the necessary elements (financing, director, lead actors, etc.) together to make the project a reality. If you don’t, then typically the rights to the story will revert to the original owner or author. Bear in mind that a detailed option-purchase agreement is a complex document and can easily be 20+ pages long, but the time and effort spent shoring up the chain of title to the underlying rights to make sure that you can legally produce and distribute the story you want to tell is a critical part of film making.
On the other hand, if it’s your story idea and you want to hire a screenwriter to write a screenplay for you, then you will generally want to have a work for hire agreement in place with the writer. The writer’s deal should be worked out before the writer begins work. If the writer is experienced, you may find yourself dealing with the Writers Guild of America, which sets minimum compensation, credit, and other terms for its member writers.
Also, if your story or script is based on real people, then you may need to negotiate for depiction rights. If depicting a real person is central to your story (e.g., a biopic), then obtaining exclusive life story rights can be very valuable to limit the risk of your story getting scooped.
Due to the difficulties in estimating the amount of time needed to negotiate development deals, Amy will ask for a reasonable retainer and bill at her hourly rate for legal services during the development phase. Accordingly, fee estimates will be given, but are not guaranteed.
If you are beyond the development phase and already have financing in place, please review Amy’s production counsel services.