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Ask Script Q&A: Script Consultants

Dave Trottier tackles a reader's question about script consultants. What they do -- and shouldn't do -- with your work.

From time to time we get questions sent to us through our Feedback Form. Douglas F. sent in a question recently about script consultants. We asked Dave "Dr. Format" Trottier for an answer...

QUESTION: Forgive me if you've dealt with this topic before, but I could not find any past articles on the topic of guidelines for a writer hiring a script consultant to look at their script. (Not to be confused with a production company or studio hiring a script consultant on a script they have the rights to.)

I recently hired a script consultant to review my script and sent him a .pdf copy, so he could write notes and not get into the actual script. He wrote back and said he needed a Final Draft copy so he could use script notes. The problem was that he actually went into my script and started rewriting it.

I then had to make sure not to use any of his material so he could not claim he wrote any of the script. Am I right in this regard that even a script consultant should not be trying to rewrite the script? Or is there an understanding that if a writer hires a script consultant, that they can rewrite portions without being able to claim any writing credit since they were hired as a consultant?

I would appreciate clarification of the ethics and standard practices in this area.

-- Douglas

ANSWER: Dear Douglas -- You hire a script consultant to evaluate your script and provide helpful notes, not to revise your screenplay. That type of work (revising) is done by a script doctor. A story analyst (usually referred to as a "reader") writes a coverage which consists of a few pages of notes and a synopsis of your script.

In your case, a consultant revised a portion of your work. I am not an attorney and cannot provide legal advice, but it seems to me if you paid a script consultant, then any work he or she did on your script belongs to you. Again, you would need to consult an attorney to see if that is correct.

In the future, when you hire a script consultant or any other professional, make sure there is an understanding as to what services are being provided. Good luck with your work.

-- Dave Trottier

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