Psychotherapy for screenwriters

John and Craig sit down with screenwriter-turned-psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo to discuss writer’s block, procrastination, partnerships and more. It’s a can’t-miss episode for aspiring writers and professionals alike.

10 Questions, 10 Answers

John and Craig tackle the bursting mailbag, answering listener questions on topics ranging from the variable length of the TV season to underachieving agents to embarrassing IMDb credits.

First sale and funny on the page

Craig and John look at two recent court decisions that could have a big impact on how movies get sold and resold — and how writers get paid. First-Sale Doctrine is one of those intractable issues that involves freedom and control, bits and atoms, creators and consumers.

Selling a script, but holding on to the characters

Can you sell a spec screenplay but retain the characters for other uses?

Death and advertising

In his will, Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch left instructions that “in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes.” Wendy S. Goff looks at why that opens a legal can of worms.

First-sale doctrine

Craig and I talk a bit about the effects of first-sale doctrine in this week’s podcast, but we don’t define it. So let’s do that here.

Getting ahead of copyright battles

Eriq Gardner looks at lawsuits filed by producers of an upcoming Emma Thompson film trying to establish her screenplay doesn’t infringe on existing works.

Happy Birthday to Lawyers

“Happy Birthday to You” — a common song famously still covered by copyright — may in fact be free and clear.

Everything is a remix, but you can still get sued

Kirby Ferguson and Andy Baio show two very different sides of remixing.

Getting clearances

Checking clearances means making sure you’re not inadvertently referring to real people and real companies in your project.

You can’t copyright titles

Copyright is a bundle of protections granted to the creator of a work. It doesn’t cover the pure idea (“Save the Last Dance with dinosaurs”); it covers the expression of the idea (your original, 120-page screenplay Dinosalsa: The Jurassic Dance).

Surviving the director’s rewrite

There is no grand tradition of a “director’s pass.” When it happens, it’s because some directors (1) believe they can write and (2) believe they can fix the perceived problems in the script. They may say they want to “make it their own.” But underlying that is the fact that there’s something about the script that bugs them, and you haven’t been willing or able to address it.

No one stole your idea

I have very little patience for accusations that someone “stole my idea for a movie.” Or a TV show. But such complaints are common. Sometimes, it becomes a copyright lawsuit. More often, it’s a campaign of whispers.

I sing this song for you. For free.

Composer Jason Robert Brown is flattered young singers like his work, but wishes they wouldn’t pirate his sheet music.

When is it okay to write for free?

Any work you’re not getting paid for should be yours and yours alone. That’s why aspiring screenwriters write spec scripts. That’s what you should focus on writing. Still, there may be situations in which it makes sense to write a script for someone else without getting paid.

Do novelists get more for successful adaptations?

When a novel is adapted into a film or television series, how does compensation to the writer of the original novel work?

Can I base a character on a real asshole?

You’re naturally going to be drawn towards real-life people who are fascinating. That’s a good thing. Observe behavior. Figure out motivations and pathology. Then forget the real person.

Should I mention the script was optioned?

Producers and production companies aren’t necessarily going to be excited that someone else had the project before them. Yes, it validates their taste a bit, but they may worry that the script has already been burned out around town. If everyone has read it and passed, what are they going to do with it, exactly?

Writing while at a studio

Chris works as an assistant at a studio? Do they own anything he writes?

How ScriptShadow hurts screenwriters

ScriptShadow reviews scripts to upcoming movies. And that hurts screenwriters more than anyone.

Can I use a book without permission?

No! Stop and re-assess. There are at least three options, but simply stealing the plot and characters isn’t one of them.

Is it fair use to perform one scene?

A reader asks if a planned DVD crosses into dangerous copyright territory.

Quoting books in a script

Screenplays don’t cite references because they don’t quote things.

Referring to famous people

Yes, you can have characters talk about people like Michael Bay without getting permission.

Authors’ Guild vs. Kindle

Cory Doctorow makes many of the points I would about the Authors’ Guild’s grumpiness over the Kindle’s text-to-speech function.