What is a contract screenwriter

Script contract: sample contract as a template with explanations

Here you can find a template for a script contract. In this way you regulate your rights and obligations towards your client for a film script or with the buyer of your script.

Please note: a template for a contract can neither replace the expertise of a lawyer / legal advisor nor depict the specifics of your specific case. Contract templates, which also applies to a script contract, must therefore always be adapted to the specific individual case.

You have to pay attention to that

  • Almost without exception there are no (!) Legal requirements for the content of agreements in a script contract.
  • Special provisions only apply to copyright. These are not transferable (other than the usage rights / licensing).
  • In practice, there are usually only two types of contract for scriptwriters: an assignment to develop a script. Or a contract that lays down the rules of the game when selling (licensing) a script that has already been written.
  • A contract template for a script can only be of general informational nature. It does not free you from negotiations and your own opinion.

Sample script contract

The Swiss Film Director and Screenplay Association ARF / SDS laudably offers a freely accessible template for a script contract on its website:

Sample contract script

© Contract template: SRF / SDS

The sample contract for film authors can be downloaded as a Word document here.

This template for a script contract is based on Swiss law. The majority of German and Austrian legislation are based on the same principles. Nevertheless, there are also country-specific differences. Since there is a great deal of freedom in contract law in all three countries, i.e. you are usually free to make an agreement the way you or your counterparty wants, these differences with regard to the draft contract for scriptwriters are less significant.

Notes on the sample script contract

In this document, which is taken from the same source as the sample contract for screenwriters, you will find detailed explanations of the meaning and purpose of each individual contract clause.

Commentary on the standard contract for scriptwriters

© Explanations for the model contract: SRF / SDS

Here, too, it should be noted again that firstly the template is a few years old, and secondly the contract template for Switzerland was drawn up. Legislation and case law can change.

5 pretty nasty stumbling blocks in script contracts

As an author and rights holder, you should think carefully about these five points in preparation for negotiating a script contract:

1 Right to speak during the implementation

It is a constant desire and space of all scriptwriters to grant themselves the right to have a say in the implementation of their script in the author's contract. In 2018, 92 scriptwriters in Germany called for a massive increase in the right to have a say in the filming of the script in what is known as “Contract 18”.

The desire for more influence when filming one's own script is understandable. To this day, however, it can hardly be implemented in practice. This also has to do with the fact that a film or video, following the principle of equivalence of effects, undergoes four different metamorphoses on the way to its final form. Each of these four phases requires different skills.

2 Origin of copyrights and rights of use

An idea alone is not legally protected. Only when you have formulated it, i.e. written it to a certain extent, for example as an exposé, does the copyright come into effect. Only then can you sell your formulated film idea, for example on the basis of the template for a script contract, or license the rights to use it.

Experienced screenwriters therefore take care not to pitch ideas for a film until they have at least sketched out the film concept in writing. You should stick to that too.

3 Script assignment and original script

As a scriptwriter, you will usually need a sample contract in these two cases:

Either you get a job from a production company or a producer to write a script from scratch. This can be based on your own original idea, or the idea of ​​the producer or director. Or on a literature template (in this case the securing of the necessary rights must be clarified in a binding manner).

Conversely, it is also quite possible that you have created a treatment or even a ready-to-use script without payment and detached from an assignment, and thus at your own risk. If this meets with interest in the market, you will want to have your script work remunerated retrospectively. At the same time, of course, you also offer the rights of use in this case.

The following applies: The higher the risk and the degree of production of your work, the more you can ask for it as a price. Provided, of course, that your work convinces the potential buyer. Because in this case, unlike a commissioned work, the buyer has to pay for something that in the end is completely different from the service ordered (or presented).

But it is also true: Anyone who orders a work and is willing to pay a fee for it is much more willing to film a screenplay created in this way. Only one question counts for a career as a screenwriter: Was your film script made into a film and was the film a success?

4Contractual payment only in the case of filming

Time and again, clever guys among the producers try to regulate the compensation in the script contract in such a way that money only flows to you when the filming actually takes place. You definitely don't want an author's contract like this!

The film producer will argue that you, as the creator of the idea, should be able to answer for the quality and market viability of your work. If you are so sure that your script is the perfect basis for a great film, you should also be able to wait until the first day of shooting before paying. This is nonsense.

Because the fact is that with such a deal, as a screenwriter, you carry a whole range of risks Not stand in your sphere of influence. In the script contract you will neither be given the right nor the obligation to choose the director, choose the actors or secure distribution. That's correct, because that's not your job either. But all of these points have a big impact on whether a film will be made in the end.

Learn: In a script contract you can and are only allowed to be responsible for what you can influence. Point.

5 Editing and co-authors must be regulated in the script contract

It is more than usual for scripts to be rewritten. This does not necessarily happen with the author who wrote the original book or the first version of the screenplay.

That is why you want to have a change of authors regulated in a binding and clear manner in the script contract. Even if you have already written countless successful scripts, hardly any producer will accept that no one except you is allowed to revise or edit your book (for example the dialogues). The script contract regulates when and how it happens.

Note how the payment is regulated in the event of a change of author. Imagine what it means if, for example, the writer of the last version of the script is contractually granted a right to 50% of the author's compensation. If the last revision contains only a few, albeit important, changes that are carried out within a week and, conversely, if you have worked on the script for months in advance, you will end up with such a clause in the script contract!