Film Courage: What do you say to screenwriters that are afraid someone will steal either their idea or their finished script?
Lee Jessup: This is really so unsexy. Get over it! There really is nothing for the industry to gain from stealing work. If you’re a brand new writer and you wrote something that is the greatest idea ever, the industry is much better off (you’re not a WGA member) buying that script from me for $25,000, $30,000, maybe $50,000 and doing whatever they want with it versus potentially getting tied up in lawsuits. It really doesn’t pay anybody to steal work in this industry. You can’t come at the industry from a place of mistrust. You can’t come at agents and managers saying “Well, I’ll send you my work but I’m really nervous because I’ve heard about how scripts get stolen” because then you’re coming at it from a place of “I” automatically do not trust you [i.e., The Industry]. I’m the writer. You’re going to victimize me. Nobody wants to work with that. Nobody wants to deal with that. The reality is when Bridesmaids came out, I can’t tell you how many writers came to me and said “Oh my God! I wrote that exact same script.”
“You can’t come at the industry from a place of mistrust.”
There are ideas that are zietgeistsy. There are ideas that are in the moment and those ideas tend to manifest in many different places. But it really does not serve you in any way to think that the industry will steal your work. Your job with your script that you have (if you’re writing outside of the industry and in all likelihood if you have a feature script), the job of that feature script is to get you an agent, to get you a manager. That is it’s job. It likely won’t sell as it is to the industry. We are in this industry in 2016, we are likely to sell less than a hundred specs. That is not a big number. If you’re aiming for that bullseye, that is a narrow, narrow, narrow bullseye. You want to use that script to get you an agent, to get you a manager, to introduce you to the industry, to get on the prestige list, that’s what you want this script to do for you. In order to do that you have to expose the work. Get over any idea that somebody will steal your script because that’s just not going to happen. And on the rare, rare, rare occasions that it has, the writer usually got their own success in their own way.
Film Courage: Well, let’s continue with the topic of mistrust. On your screenwriting blog for your website LeeJessup.com you have a post entitled ‘Screenwriters Leave Your Mistrust at the Door.”
Lee Jessup: Yes.
Film Courage: I know some of us are way more trusting than others. Some of us are maybe more on the naïve scale. You talked about a lot of things that many people would be afraid of like They Want Me to Sign a Release Form? I mean, that is scary. That’s a little scary. Or I think we’re touching on the same thing as before “Somebody Has the Same Concept of Mine. Somebody Stole My Idea.” “Wouldn’t They Rather Cheat Me Than Pay Me?” So…how do you work with someone who is already coming in with those set of fears and make them so they are a little more workable, but not naïve and not a doormat?
Lee Jessup: I always tell my writers that I’m the safe space so you can let out all of your neuroses and I’ll put you in your place. I actually wrote that particular blog post after a writer of mine had finished a script. The script had been entered into one contest, hadn’t placed and another script with eerie similarities sold. Eerie, eerie, eerie similarities. And the writer came to me and said “What Am I To Make of This?” And we had to kind of sit back and say “O.K. here is where the script was. Here is the writer who just sold a script. There is no… as much as I understand there are eerie similarities, let’s talk through what the probability would be of this writer, an established writer with a summer blockbuster would have of stealing your script. Let’s talk through it. I always tell me writers “I’m a Safe Space. We Need to Talk About It.” But…at some point a writer either wises up or not.
I work with a writer that I no longer work with who refused to pitch any ideas, talk log lines, or anything as such in a public environment. So in a coffee shop, in a bar, which is where a lot of industry meetings take place mind you, the writer refused to do it because somebody would listen and somebody would steal this idea and it became uncomfortable. At some point I had to say to the writer “Listen, you’re going to have managers meeting with you.” There was a manager who wanted to meet with that writer in a coffee shop. So the manager is going to ask you “What else do you have?” What are you going to say? “I can’t tell you here. I’ll send you an email.” It doesn’t work that way. Even if you have it innately, you have to set it aside. You have to. Because this industry works the way that it does with the idea of trust and respecting the creative mind, the creative brain, the originator of content. If you originated a great idea, a great script, a great story, why would would I steal it from you? Why wouldn’t I just take the thing that is already done and do something with it? Wouldn’t that make more sense for me? If I’m a producer, an executive, why would I steal it, get somebody else to write it, potentially for more money because they are already well known, either they executed well or they don’t. Maybe they don’t. Or somebody else does the same thing to you before my script is done, why wouldn’t I just pick it up from you, the creator of content who came up with this great concept, what incentive do I (an executive) have to steal it from you? And that is what a lot of writers have to (despite how frustrating it can get) look at. And that’s ultimately what that writer and myself have to look at when a script with eerie similarities to this individual’s sold. There was no way for the manager who sold that script to get that script. There was no way that an industry executive had read that script. It has been submitted to one place, three months before. There was just no reality in which the script was stolen or rewritten. What the writer had to acknowledge was that ultimately if I’m the manager behind the script sale and let’s assume I’ve got a completed script that is great which I think I can sell and I have this writer who just had a box office success, what is my best way of making the most money? My best way of making the most money is getting the one script that is ready to sell and selling it and booking my writer who just had a big box-office success on a writing assignment and making more money. Why limit the ways in which I’m making money by having the writer then take the script and try to make money off of it rather than monetize both?
So those are the equations that writers have to look at. Is it really in the industry’s best interest to steal content? I really don’t find that it is.
QUESTION: Do you agree? What is your stance on Hollywood stealing ideas?
Watch all of Lee Jessup’s Film Courage video interviews on Youtube here
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STORY EXPO is the world’s biggest convention of writers from all mediums – screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, filmmakers, gamers, journalists, graphic novelists, actors, business people, comic book writers and more. Featuring over 110 world-renowned speakers, 100+ classes and 30+ exhibitors, Story Expo covers all aspects of story and writing – from craft to business to pitching to career.
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“Hi, Mom!” Zooppa has partnered up with T-Mobile on a brand new project! T-Mobile gives its customers unlimited data and texting in over 140 countries and destinations—at no extra cost. T-Mobile wants to inspire those customers to travel and get off-the-beaten path—to be explorers, not tourists—and unlock adventures they can share when they take their phones. The ‘Hi, Mom’ project focuses on sharing the most extreme moments of adventure outside of the United States with family and friends back at home.
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THE WEEKEND SAILOR is a new feature documentary about the unexpected victory of the Mexican yacht Sayula II in the first crewed sailing race around the world in 1974. The most demanding sailing quest in history.
Sailor, Ramon Carlín visits his rebellious son, Enrique in the United Kingdom and comes across a magazine advertising a sailing race around the world. Although he had been sailing casually for two years, Ramon embarks on this race and brings his son along as an opportunity to not only teach him discipline but real life experiences as well.
Catch 22: based on the unwritten story by seanie sugrue: With Hurricane Sandy looming on the horizon, five hard-lived friends come to from a send-off celebration alongside an unexplained dead girl. What are friends for?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT): Zooppa and Nickelodeon are inviting filmmakers and motion graphic artists from around the world to reimagine TMNT on a global scale through depicting what they are up to in various home towns or cities. The goal is to show how the Turtles would come to life in any given location, using local city or pop culture influences to help tell the story. Zooppa and Nickelodeon are looking for imagination and creativity, the videos made should be a fun way to share Turtle stories from across the globe––authenticity is key!
The project is open for submissions until February 23rd, 2017 at 4:00PM PST. There are $25,000 in cash awards available to the top 10 videos that will be chosen by Nickelodeon.