Q: After a script is sold, what are the rights of its author? Are royalties expected? Can the author resell the script after it’s made the first time?
Jonathan Handel, entertainment attorney, answers: The answer depends on the details of the contract between the writer and producer, and on whether the deal is subject to Writers Guild jurisdiction – basically, on whether the producer is a signatory to the Writers Guild agreement.
You should get paid whatever is agreed to in the contract. If the deal is subject to WGA, then the upfront compensation should be at least the minimum specified in the contract. There are various minimums, depending on whether you are also being engaged to do one or more rewrites or polishes, and on whether this is your first script sale.
The term “royalties” is not generally used in screenwriter deals, but the concept exists, in two forms:
- If the deal provides for a percentage of “net profits,” “net proceeds” or “defined proceeds,” then theoretically you could receive a royalty in the agreed amount (typically 5%). However, these terms are usually defined in such a way that they amount to zero.
- If the deal is subject to WGA, then you should receive residuals if the movie is made and is released in other media, such as DVD, television or new media. No residuals are payable for the theatrical release itself.
You generally cannot resell the script after it’s made the first time. In fact, even if the script never gets made, you usually can’t resell it. There are exceptions though, particularly for original scripts written under a WGA deal. Then, the complex concept of “separated rights” may apply, which gives you additional rights. See http://www.wga.org/subpage_writersresources.aspx?id=114.
Jonathan Handel is an entertainment attorney at TroyGould and a contributing editor at The Hollywood Reporter.