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28 April 2009 @ 09:07 pm
need some HELP from writers on rights and story adaptations  
[This is a question for the LJ writerly-hive-mind about rights-related things for stories.]

A while back, I blogged about how a couple filmmakers in San Francisco wanted to do a short film based on my story "Apologies All Around". In summary, we talked about it on the phone, agreed that the direction they were going in their script was more of a "Based On" or "Adapted From" situation. They said they'd send me some things to sign but never did.

Now, I recently got an email from a student filmmaker at Columbia College in Chicago. She would like to option the story ("Apologies") and adapt it into a script as part of a pool of scripts for the filmmaking class. The class would then choose which scripts to film.

The interesting part of this situation is that Columbia College would "own the rights" (to the script adaptation, I assume, but I should clarify this) for two cycles which is 24 months.

So I'm not too sure what to do in this situation, as in theory there is a verbal agreement with the first set of filmmakers to do an adaptation, yet there is not a written agreement. The second set of filmmakers is also looking for some agreement to do an adaptation. And I want to do the right and honest thing and not mess with anyone or anything.

Of course, many works of fiction have been adapted into films/shows/plays multiple times so am I just fine with allowing both groups to do an adaptation? Or should I let one group have exclusivity?

Any help or thoughts or references anyone can give with respect to the whole situation would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance.
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Curtis C. Chensparckl on April 29th, 2009 07:53 am (UTC)
I second that emotion--if the guys in SF can't send over a piece of paper for you to sign, how are they going to make a film?

I would treat it like a null response from an agent query: make a reasonable attempt to inform them that you're moving on because you've gotten another offer, and if they don't reply after that, just forget about it.
jeffsoesbe: yeff digital 3bitjeffsoesbe on April 29th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)
Well, turns out the SF folks have been working I pinged them and got an email back saying they'd send me something. So now I need to see what they want in terms of rights and go from there.

I think a lot of independent filmmakers are stronger on artistic inspiration and process, but not as strong on business process. Heck, I can't claim to be any sort of good business process guy myself...
jeffsoesbe: yeff digital 3bitjeffsoesbe on April 29th, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
That's the direction I was going. But I did check with them and actually got an email back saying they were about done with the film! He said he'd send things over for me to look at ASAP.

A literary lawyer sounds like a good idea, but I'd hate to pay big $$$ for advice when I'm not getting any money right now (or maybe even ever). I do know a couple lawyers, maybe they can look at it.

Any references to inexpensive literary lawyers (like that might work with SFWA, etc?)

Thanks for the common sense advice!
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jeffsoesbe: patrick stewart smilejeffsoesbe on May 1st, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
Agreed. I'll make sure to get the paperwork settled before the film goes anywhere...

And thank you for all the help and advice! I might never make a living at it, but I do want to have a nice long career in this field.
prusik on April 29th, 2009 10:12 am (UTC)
Obviously, IANAL and even if I were, I don't know enough about the specifics to give any actual advice. I'm curious though...

Did the first group of filmmakers ask for or expect exclusive rights to adapt it into a movie? It seems to me that whatever happens, you need contact them and ask them what's up. Maybe they're fine with non-exclusive rights in which case everyone is happy. Or as others have suggested, maybe they've gone on to other projects.

In any case, I do think it's cool that two separate groups of filmmakers want to make a movie of your story. Congrats.

Terri-Lynne DeFinobogwitch64 on April 29th, 2009 01:36 pm (UTC)
I second that! TWO groups? Fantastic.

Here's the sticky part--if you agreed on the direction of the script and they've actually written the script, I think you're screwed. Oral agreements are binding if both parties agree that there was indeed an oral agreement. Then again, if you contact these guys and tell them the college made you an offer to adapt, they might have no problem with it. One way or another, you have to contact this first group and see how they feel.

Getting legal advice is going to cost you; I'd wait on that to see if there's even a problem to begin with. My only other advice is to get this done FAST! The first group doesn't seem to be in any rush, but the college probably has dozens of stories on their list and they've a new semester coming up. You may be first choice, but you can be sure there's someone next on the list.
jeffsoesbe: bald man coffee mug on headjeffsoesbe on April 29th, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC)
We did agree on them doing a script based on the story and discussed whether it was a "based on" or "adapted from" situation. But no discussion on exclusivity or script specifics.

And that's fine, and I would of course honor any oral agreement I felt we made because I'm an honest guy.

So I did contact the first group, they quickly replied and said they would send me something ASAP. So hopefully it will all settle out.

And if the college isn't able to use it, that's fine with me. No big deal. It's not like there was money involved. And then I can hold out for Spielberg to call with the offer to do an anthology series with the little bot traveling town to town, carrying apologies... (ha!)

Thanks for the advice!
Terri-Lynne DeFinobogwitch64 on April 29th, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
You are entirely too fabulous. Glad it all worked out for you! It's definitely cool that not one but TWO separate groups wanted to adapt (or base) your story to film! Is it anything we in the peanut gallery will ever be able to view?
jeffsoesbe: patrick stewart smilejeffsoesbe on May 1st, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
I don't know. The SanFran folks were planning on having local showings and entering it in festivals. But I think they were taking the concept and going in a very different direction with it.

As for the Chicago folks, no idea especially since there's been no discussion yet. I need to get the SanFran folks sorted out first.

As for the Spielberg anthology for ABC, that one is visible only in my dreams !
jeffsoesbe: bald man thinking capjeffsoesbe on April 29th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
When we talked they essentially asked if they could adapt my story into a movie, and we talked a little bit about whether it's a "based on" situation or an "adapted from" situation. But I don't recall any discussion about exclusivity.

In any case, I contacted them and they replied right back and said they're working on the movie (almost done) and would send me something ASAP. I'll check that for exclusivity (and find a lawyery person, as Lili suggested) and then go from there.

But I agree, the double interest is nice! It would be even more nice if it was ABC calling about an anthology series, but hey one can't be greedy :-)
A large duck: Puzzledburger_eater on April 29th, 2009 08:54 pm (UTC)
It's bad news for the SF guys to adapt your work based on a phone conversation alone. Check your state bar association website for a rec to a "lawyers for the arts" phone number, then bring in a short concern to that lawyer.

You want these guys to have the rights, that's cool. And it's lucky for them. You won't get any money out of them, but you should negotiate for the credit. You should also let them know they're not getting exclusive rights--not without negotiating for them ahead of time.

Not that it should matter. I imagine they're making the short film festivals/resume/school(?), and this other school adaptation shouldn't matter to them.

I'm sure it'll matter to Columbia, though. If the filmmaker who contacted you expected Columbia to own the rights for two years of her script only, not the source material, why is she telling you about it? I suspect the college wants film adaptation rights for two years, which the SF guys have preemptively exercised. IANAL, but I'm pretty sure your verbal agreement doesn't mean diddly in the transfer of copyrights.

Lawyers for the Arts!
jeffsoesbe: patrick stewart smilejeffsoesbe on May 1st, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think that especially without any money changing hands the SanFran folks certainly can not expect exclusive rights.

Agreed, every artists needs a good lawyer available. Career path! Except that I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.
Christopher Kastensmidtckastens on April 29th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
The real question is: how did these people find your story? Was it the first printing or the podcast? I wish I had your problems! :)
jeffsoesbe: yeff southparkjeffsoesbe on May 1st, 2009 08:54 pm (UTC)
I believe the SanFran group was the first printing on Flash Fiction Online, because we talked before the podcast came out.

Maybe it was the shameless way I slathered email and posters over every available independent filmmaker web site I could find! Ha ha...

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