Question For FilmTVLaw.com:
I’m an independent producer and want to pitch my series to contacts at a couple of networks that I have acquired over the years, but I am concerned about how best to present and protect my concept. What kind of materials should I have, and how do I protect myself from getting ripped off.
Answer by Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer:
Great question. This goes to the heart of many issues surrounding protecting 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 materials to send and how to protect it. Please also see my Entertainment Lawyer Question and Answer Forum at www.filmtvlaw.com, for more in depth advice that I publish twice a month.
While the question here involves a television series, the answer is going to be equally applicable to feature film as well. When it comes to television development, the key to both presenting and protecting the project properly 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 Networks 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 the underlying rights to the project are secured before pitching it. When you do not have well developed intellectual property, so that copyright protection might be limited, you then must secure the rights to the material by contract 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 networks will not accept the submission of ideas in the first place. From their perspective, another “teen comedy” or “Alaska reality series” 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 security, submission of a project through our entertainment law firm is the number one way to protect your intellectual property. Networks and studios understand that our law firm saves all correspondence and materials, and understands that a record of the submission and chain-of-title will be secured by or firm, making stealing a concept or idea a non-issue.
When it comes to what to submit, I have learned a few things about the types of materials that studios and networks are looking for from producers over the past 17 years in practice. The key is top quality material, whether it is a treatment, screenplay, series pitch, pilot or trailer. The rule of thumb is to 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.
As with any entertainment matter, please do not make a decision about complex issues without consulting an experienced entertainment lawyer first. Feel free to contact my office at www.filmtvlaw.com about a quote.
- By Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer