In addition to the Magic Bullet articles, I’ll be doing these “Quickie” articles that will consist of reader questions that I frequently get, along with the advice I reply back with. Please let me know in the comments if you find these useful, and I’ll put more up. Here is one of the latest emails I've received:
Good Day Sir,
There is no place like L.A., especially if you're currently living in snowy Grand Forks, North Dakota. Your article entitled Magic Bullet: How to Get Your Script Read intrigued me. I am sitting on several scripts that are quite unique BUT my wanton desire for success can't seem to diminish my fear of having my scipt ideas stolen or misused. I am looking to move to L.A. if I can buy the wife enough jewelry to make her forget how much she loves ND. With ALL that said, what is a piece of advice that you can give me to just put it on the line and start sharing my work?
Thank you for emailing me. That is actually a question I get a lot, and the answer is simple: 99% of people in the industry have no interest in stealing anyone's work. In fact, it's counterintuitive and disadvantageous to do so. Consider this: if a producer or agent or executive, etc. reads your script and likes the idea, its MUCH easier and MUCH cheaper for them to option it from you for a dollar and work with you, than to risk a lawsuit by stealing any one's ideas. It's simple math - spend a dollar here? Or risk thousands/millions in a lawsuit there?
The other key point to consider is that it is much simpler and FASTER for a producer, etc. to option someone's script and work with them than it is to steal the idea and start from scratch with someone else. And you can always count on industry people to do the easier, faster, simpler way.
So when it comes to people in the industry, you're safe. In general you are pretty safe, but some rare and unscrupulous non-industry people need to see a "WGA registered" on the cover page to know not to even entertain the idea of stealing. Again, if it's registered with the WGA, you have written proof that an idea is yours, and IF it ever comes to a court battle, you have the proof on your side. In the end, while you don't NEED to register your script with the WGA, it's always good insurance. Don't let propagated fear of having your ideas stolen keep you from succeeding at becoming a professional screenwriter. There are real battles to be fought when it comes to going from an unknown to a card carryin' WGA writer - this isn't one of them.
So, that was what I wrote in response to that email. I would like to add something very important, especially after reading about Paramount's First Man. I read a script awhile back from a very talented writer named Jon Simpson called First Gentleman that was optioned a few months ago. As you can tell just from the title, it was similar in nature to Johnny Knoxville's First Man, and it too was about a female president who had a husband that was a bit of a screw up. Your initial thought might be "it was stolen," but I know for a fact that no one stole Jon's idea based on discussions with other colleagues. There are going to be times like these, where you've written such an easy to identify commercial concept, that someone else has thought the same thing. It doesn't mean anyone stole your idea, it just means it was a such an obviously great idea that more than one person came up with the same thing. As far as I know, there are actually at least three versions of this idea floating around out there, for example.
Let the lesson be that if you come up with a brilliant idea, you need to get down on paper ASAP and then get into the hands of people who can help you, like me or others.
One thing I didn't mention in my email response is that most of the time, the idea isn't what makes someone like a script. Oh sure, it's necessary to have a high concept idea in order to sell a screenplay, but there are about 100 bank heist scripts I've read in the last five years. No, it's not the idea - it's how it's written. The style, the flow, the pace, the confidence - and NO ONE ELSE can write like you can and no one can steal that from you. So don't be paralyzed by any fears of idea pirates. Go for it, and go all in.
If you have any questions of your own, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm here to help.