Type “Screenwriter” into Amazon Books. Go on. I dare you.
A heck of a lot of stuff pops up. (More books than an impoverished screenwriter can afford. Guess it’s time to go to the library again!) Needless to say, much of it has to do with how to perfect your screenplay: books from the late and great Syd Field. Save the Cat from… well, you know that guy. Other books focus on what to do after you type Fade Out. Pitching and selling your masterpiece.
What you don’t see often are primers explaining the legalese, which is rampant in this industry. After all, Hollywood (indie or otherwise) is a money making business. And businesses like that need lawyers. Flotillas of them: to make sure they secure all the rights to your script they can, and ensure they don’t get sued (fairly or unfairly.)
If you’ve ever submitted a script, chances are that you – Mr. or Ms. Writer – were asked to sign a Release Form. And you probably didn’t run it by an Entertainment Lawyer… after all, they’re pretty expensive (and not available through the library!) So – do you really understand what you signed? If you’re lucky, the query resulted in a contract. Were you offered fair compensation for your services – rewrites, polishes, etc? And what rights have you signed away? Gee… wouldn’t it be nice if there was a “Dummies” book to explain these things to us poor writers? Something simple and to the point? (After all, you gots writing to do!)
Guess what: there is. Penned by Entertainment Lawyer Brooke Wharton, The Writer Got Screwed is the broke-ass writer’s primer to the legal aspects of the Entertainment Industry. At only 273 pages, it’s simply written, and a breeze to read. One notable caveat: published in 1997, some of the information is out of date. But the fundamentals presented still apply. Honestly, the discussion of the differences between Library of Congress and WGA protections alone make this book worth purchasing. No, this book won’t make you a legal expert. But it’ll give you the Rosetta Stone you need to read basic industry forms – and an understanding of when it’s time to hire the big guns (and evaluate their services.)