I often have writers tell me how paranoid they are to send out their scripts to producers or even talk about their script at a high level for fear that someone will steal their idea. And trust me, I get it. I’ve written my own scripts.
You spend months writing, and rewriting your script until you finally get it to as near perfection as humanly possible. You’ve put your heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into it. You’ve sacrificed irretrievable time away from your friends and family, hunched over your computer into the wee hours of the night, acting as crazy about your precious script as Gollum was to his precious ring in the “Lord of the Rings.” The possibility that someone could just wipe out all the gruelling hours spent crafting the script is nothing short of mind-numbing. See? I really do get it.
Now, let me put you a bit more at ease. Here’s what it looks like from my side.
First, let’s say we talk about your script at a high level and I like it. I’m going to come right out and ask to see the script. Producers tend to want things quick and easy, or at least the ones I know. It’s easier to just get the script and read it, than to try and reinvent the wheel. Nine times out of ten, the writer would have thought about a million things in the storyline that we wouldn’t have, simply because they’re closer to the piece than we are. Why would I want to wrack my brain trying to come up with a whole script when clearly it’s already done and just waiting for me to read? My brain is too full already. I want a good script to magically come to me–easy peasy.
Second, and this is important, quite frankly most of producers are just plain too busy to hijack your idea. We would have to go out and look for another good writer, explain the whole concept to them, hope they get it, wait for them to produce a draft and then months later finally get a finished script. What a spectacular waste of time.
Now, let me explain the money side of the equation, and this is important for writers to know too. The longer we spend in the development cycle the more money we’re losing. Producers want to get out of that cycle as fast as we can and move into packaging the project. In fact, we want to jump right over that cycle with a good script, and on our way to production and sales. That’s where we’re happy, because that’s where we start making money. If we’re not selling, or shooting something that we’ve already sold, we’re not making any money.
Money is not made in script development, only when the script is done. So, to fool around and go back to the script cycle to reinvent what already exists is an incredible waste of time, and more importantly money. Personally, I’d rather spend time working on another project that will make me money now. And the faster I get there with a good script, the better.
I’m not saying that you should ship off your script to everyone under the sun, indiscriminately. I fully understand what’s at risk for the writer. And yes, stealing ideas does happen. In fact, I even know of one Canadian writer whose published book was stolen and turned into a block buster screenplay. Disgusting.
What I am saying is to trust your instincts, they’re usually right. Keep diligent records and create a paper trail. Copyright your script or at the very least register it with a writer’s guild. And if you’re talking to a producer who wants to see your script, by all means, ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement to put yourself more at ease. Stealing show ideas or formats also happens to producers, so we get it. Most producers will be happy to sign.
Hope this helps. Stealing scripts? Seriously! What can be more unfabulous than that?!