Screenwriting Secrets by John Scott Lewinski

Screenwriting Secrets » Clause by Clause & The Writer Got Screwed (But Didn't Have To)

"There's one born every minute."

That cliché refers to the reliable presence of a sucker in every business deal. If applied to the books, "Clause by Clause" by Stephen E. Breimer and "The Writer Got Screwed (But Didn't Have To)" by Brooke A Wharton, the phrase would reverse and refer to the proliferation of shady Hollywood deal makers looking to find that next sucker!

The good news is "Clause by Clause" and "Writer Got Screwed" arm you with the legal weapons necessary to fend off anyone in the entertainment industry looking to pilfer your material or to pay you less than your worth.

"Clause by Clause" is an all-purpose screenwriter's legal guide. If the reader pays attention and absorbs the essentially points strewn throughout its pages, he or she will avoid the pitfalls threatening aspiring movie and TV scribes.

Breimer is an attorney at the prestigious Beverly Hills entertainment law firm of Bloom, Hergott, Cook, Diemer & Klein. A graduate of Stanford University and the UCLA Law School, Breimer has also written and produced film and television programs (including the television movies "Friendly Fire" and "First You Cry"). Who better than another writer to take advice from when crossing the Hollywood deal-making minefield?

"The Writer Got Screwed (but didn't have to)" contains much the same information as "Clause by Clause." However, Wharton presents her material more thoroughly. A top entertainment attorney and faculty member of the USC School of Cinema and Television, Wharton manages to interject dry humor into her discussion of creative legality. She also presents a consistent set of examples and real-life experiences throughout her discussions of intellectual property, the roles of agents and managers for writers and the "ins and outs" of WGA membership.

"Clause by Clause" take care to guide the writer through the various stages of negotiation. It successfully translates the essential terms and fills the legal loopholes. Most importantly, Breimer's book outlines the clauses and legal extras a writer can be entitled to in certain deals that scribe will never get unless he or she knows what to ask for and where to look in the deal memo.

Throughout his book, Breimer makes the shrewd observation that an aspiring writer's greatest enemy is his or her own enthusiasm. After working for years with fierce dedication to perfect story-telling skills, a writer can get overly excited when that first big deal looms on the horizon. Breimer's levelheaded, well-reasoned and clearly explained pointers can bring the lonely writer back down to Earth and allow sound negotiations.

"The Writer Got Screwed" often focuses on the misconceptions and mistakes writers make if left to their own legal devices. One of the most impressive and detailed passages within the book highlights the surprising complexities involved in copyright. Wharton carefully (almost brutally) outlines all the errors writers make protecting their work under the law.

Wharton might raise a few Hollywood establishment eyebrows when she points out the essentially pointless of registering written work with the Writer's Guild of America, but her work in the copyright passages makes absolutely certain writers get it right when legally protecting the creative rights to their intellectual property.

In "Clause by Clause," Breimer's chapters cross all the T's and dot all the i's. He discusses options, including definitions of proper payments and duration terms. He steers screenwriters clear of the black holes of net profits and exclusivity clauses. Finally, Breimer even covers what to do when the deal is long since dead and a writer wants to get that precious script back into inventory.

Wharton introduces an invaluable dimension to her book as she interviews professional writers from different showbiz worlds. Wharton makes a solid effort to educate aspiring writers about the ins and outs of writing for motion pictures, episodic television, TV movies, soap operas, animation and interactive multimedia. By including the insights of genuine professionals working in the different media, Wharton elevates the educational level of her book from simple legal information to genuine insight into the different levels of the entertainment industry open to writers.

Neither "Clause by Clause" nor "The Writer Got Screwed" is recommended as a replacement for professional representation. It would always be better to go into battle represented by, say Mr. Breimer or Ms. Wharton, instead of just their books. Serious underrepresented screenwriters should still keep hunting for that legitimate manager, agent or entertainment lawyer.

However, for those struggling scriptors still looking for such an advisor, either "Clause by Clause" or "The Writer Got Screwed" can guide a writer through an entire deal from pitch to payment. Plus, either book can enable a writer to protect the written creation, thus providing security from the beginning of the creative process to the final payday.

If and when a writer gets an agent, manager or attorney, these books can better prepare a screenwriter to know exactly what a representative is up to during negotiations.

While Breimer's presentation is a little dry at times, it avoids much of the baffling legalese that could prevent a creative writer from grasping the essential points of negotiation and intellectual property law. His book covers all the fine print and provides answers to a screenwriter's most vital legal questions. After digesting "Clause by Clause," you'll be able to say, "Maybe there is one born every minute, but *I* wasn't born yesterday!"

However, if forced to choose one or the other in a court of law, this reviewer would opt for "The Writer Got Screwed." While her treatment often pokes a little too much fun at the occasionally foolish writers she tries to protect and teach, Wharton makes up for it by going the extra mile and including the interviews with several professional writers. By using real life examples to illustrate creative, legal and contractual issues, she backs up her analysis with the vital experiences of the creative people that she represents.

While I give the nod to Wharton's book in a head to head battle, any writer would do well to read both of these books to protect him or her from the sharks swimming around them in showbiz. If you're not lucky enough to have either of these excellent entertainment lawyers watching your back, you might as well arm yourself with a few hundred pages of their combined wisdom.

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