The New York Times > Movies > Appeals Court Ruling May Shift Power to Writers [free registration required]

This ruling appears to be good for writers, protecting pitched ideas, even when they aren’t substantially close story-wise to the finished film. But I don’t think it is, especially if it makes studios more weary of hearing from unknown writers.


“The studios have to respond to this opinion in their own backyard,” said Mr. Black, who has represented writers, directors and actors. “When they have meetings with people receiving pitches, they need to make clear that they have no expectation of doing anything.” Aaron Moss of Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman, Machtinger & Kinsella said the new ruling could require a written contract even before a pitch is heard. “I fully expect to see contracts put into place stating, ‘I am pitching you this script; I understand I am not seeking protection for these ideas,’ ” he said.

Any such tightening is likely to make life more difficult for unknowns, who already find companies wary of unsolicited material that can lead to legal trouble when a picture is made.

As any real screenwriter knows, the most difficult part is turning a good setting or character into a complete and satisfying story. Even if you aren’t a Syd Field disciple, believing structure is everything, you have to have some sympathy for the studios. As someone who has worked as a reader as well as a dramatic writer, I’ve seen both sides of the coin. The same ideas come through again and again. A fresh take on the story is valuable part.

My advice to fledglings is only to submit to studios that have reputations for treating writers well. Honesty counts, even in Hollywood.