What If A Screenwriter Wants To Buy Their Script Back From A Studio? by Shawn Christensen of THE VANISHING OF SIDNEY HALL

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Film Courage: Why did it take years for this film [THE VANISHING OF SIDNEY HALL] to be made?

Shawn Christensen, co-screenwriter/director: We had the film optioned and then bought out by a really great independent producer and a great director. And then they couldn’t get the money together or something and we were just kind of poor kids sitting around waiting for them to do something. And then it just kind of…they bought it out because they thought they were going to make it and they didn’t and then it got stuck at Fox.

After awhile they all left Fox and Fox (the studio itself) didn’t realize they even had this screenplay. So it was a little loophole with the WGA (The Writers Guild) about getting your screenplay back.

Most people (I should say) don’t get their screenplays back but this particular screenplay, it’s a small script or it’s a small premise and we thought we had a shot at buying it back for the price we sold it for (which was not very much).  And we asked Fox if they would give it back to us and you know they did. They gave it back to us for basically the price that we bought it for and we went and made it.

But we had to wait with that clause, with that WGA clause, you have to wait 5 years. You have to wait 5 years after the last rewrite or the last active…(it’s called Active Development) and a studio will find any way they can to not give you back your script.  Active Development can be misconstrued as anything. I mean that could be…a lunch. I mean they could say anything. That’s not really illegal, it’s so loose, you know?

But Fox, simply put they just didn’t know that the screenplay was in their vault because the people who had brought it in and left and we got it back.

Film Courage: Did you lay awake at night thinking “I want this screenplay back” or it was more a process where it came at the right time (the five years was up)?

Shawn Christensen:  It was more in the back of my head. When I had heard about this WGA clause (the five-year thing) which was like a couple months after we had done a quick rewrite on it, I kind of just set my internal back-of-my-head timer and Jason Dolan (the co-screenwriter), we just kind of set it in our heads that whenever it was (2016 I think it was) we are able to reacquire the screenplay and by that time I think I had just made my first feature and I was able to attract more interest to make a second feature and so the timing was right on it.

But really to be truthful I actually didn’t necessarily want to make the movie, I just wanted the script back. But…we made it.

Question for the Viewers: What do you think of this story? What would you have done?

Watch the video interview on Youtube here





THE VANISHING OF SIDNEY HALL will be exclusively on DIRECTV from January 25–February 21, 2018; VOD on February 27, Theatrical on March 2, 2018. For more info, please visit here.


Directed by: Shawn Christensen

Starring: Logan Lerman, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Monaghan, and Nathan Lane


After publishing a bestselling novel based on the death of one of his high school classmates, the controversial writer Sidney Hall (Logan Lerman) finds himself catapulted to unexpected fame and renown. His relationship with his girlfriend (Elle Fanning) begins to fall apart as the dark consequences of the book intrude on their life together, and he disappears without a trace. Nearly a decade later, an enigmatic detective (Kyle Chandler) searches for the missing author, whose books are connected to a string of mysterious arsons.