I work at a major studio in town as an assistant. But the joke is that whatever I write is owned by the studio. It kind of freaked me out today and although I know you’re no lawyer, is that just something people say jokingly?
I could understand if I use a work computer, but does that mean even when I’m at home? Should writers not take assistant jobs at studios?
Sherman Oaks, CA
Screenwriters have always been assistants, because studios are a great place to learn about the realities of the industry. And in the fifteen years I’ve been working, I’ve never heard of a situation where the studio claimed legal right to a screenplay an assistant had written.
Not saying it’s impossible, but it doesn’t happen as a matter of standard practice.
You’re right to use your own computer and your own time — and that would hold true even if you worked at a Chevy dealer. If the studio has you sign a document establishing that anything you write belongs to them, well, take that seriously. Consider looking for a different job.
In most cases, what’s more important than the legalities are the formalities. If you’ve written some scripts and are in the process of looking for an agent or manager, it’s custom to talk about it with your boss and let her read something if she asks to. Don’t use her contacts as your contacts; your networking should be with other assistants.
You’re looking to preserve a relationship, both with your boss and the studio. Be respectful, even deferential, and you’re unlikely to run into any problems.