In a recent email, the answer states that: "Entertainment companies of all kinds require film producers and television producers to submit new projects through an agent or entertainment lawyer" Most recently, Mr. Blake responded to a question I submitted about pitching a screenplay idea with the answer: "The minimum would be that it was written as a script. There are not going to be any producers out there that will get involved before a screenwriter has prepared the script".
My question: Is the answer regarding a "project" referring to a project with a completed screenplay, or a proposed project that is starting with simply an idea or treatment?
Answer by Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer:
Thank you for the very thorough question. I think it is a great question because it does get to the heart of many issues that I am asked about how to protect projects and ideas, and how to submit film and television projects. Having worked with most of the major studios and television networks, I have gained a good perspective on what development executives are looking for and how to get a project noticed. While the question here involves a feature film project, the answer is going to be equally applicable to network television as well.
When it comes to feature film development, the key is to have the project as well developed as possible. That means that it is better to have a script than a treatment. It is better to have a polished script than a rough draft script. It is even better to have prepared pitch materials like posters and websites, than to have just a script, etc. Finally, the best position to be in with a studio is to also have a-list performers attached to the project, because that will tend to get the attention of development executives. If studios know that performers, and their agents and managers like the project, then it means the executives are taking less of a chance on choosing the material over the tens-of-thousands of other scripts submitted every year.
But what about the situation where there is a great concept but it has not been written in script format, much less packaged? I have had clients in this position before and it generally revolves around true-life stories and events. There are times when a concept is so good that it can speak for itself. In such a situation the producer needs to make sure that all of the underlying rights to the project are secured before pitching it. Additionally, these are often the situations where well-known actors and actresses get involved, because the performers can see how the concept can be developed around them as the lead.
However, no matter how good the concept, there are some reasons why a producer might want to further develop the project before approaching a studio. The primary reason is copyright law. The copyright law is set up to protect “tangible forms of expression,” and right or wrong, the courts have interpreted that as meaning that mere ideas are not copyrightable. Where an idea ends and a treatment begins is a source of controversy, but no producer wants to be in court arguing why the idea pitched was more than an idea.
This copyright issue is also why most studios will not accept the submission of ideas in the first place. From their perspective, another “teen romance” or “space cowboy” idea is not going to be so unique as to differentiate it from thousands of other produced films or projects in development, but could get the studio in a lot of legal trouble if someone later claims their concept was stolen.
For network television the same rule applies, the more developed the better. But rather than a feature length script, networks are typically looking for well-developed pitch materials as well as recognizable performers or celebrity attachments. While not everyone can afford to produce a pilot, having a broadcast quality sizzle reel can also be a great addition to the pitch materials.
I have been working with studios and networks for more than 16 years with the law firm of BLAKE & WANG P.A. (www.blakewang.com). During that period I have learned a few things about the types of materials that studios and networks are looking for from producers. The key is top quality material, whether it is a treatment, screenplay, series pitch, pilot or trailer. Never ask the development executives to imagine how good the project will be with their help. Demonstrate the ability to finish the job, which will go a long way to getting the financing and assistance needed.