This post has been sitting in draft mode since April 25th which when you read it will drive home once again that age-old lesson: Don’t procrastinate!
As many of you are aware – and certainly after this message – the fate of myPDFscripts, and indeed any online screenplay resource is quite uncertain. After decades of ignoring the practice of sites hosting screenplays online, movie studios have begun aggressively asserting their legal rights to have scripts for which they own the copyright taken offline.
These moves have very real consequences. As I noted in my post:
What is an aspiring screenwriter, TV writer, or filmmaker supposed to do? Or educators? How are people supposed to teach and learn the craft of writing a screenplay if the studios decide to make all of their movie or TV scripts unavailable online?
And then I suggested this:
What if by making movie screenplays easily available so writers could read and analyze them, writers would improve at their craft, more and better scripts would end up on studio execs’ desks, more and better movies would get produced, resulting in bigger B.O. and more valuable titles in the studios’ libraries.
And to be clear, we are not talking about scripts in development for future movies, which studios justifiably have a concern about protecting in terms of content going public, but rather screenplays of movies that have already been produced.
Why not create eScripts and sell them to the public? Or perhaps that’s too obvious a solution.
That led to conversations with Franklin Leonard and Nate Winslow where I suggested posting a ‘modest proposal’. Here are the specifics I had in the aforementioned draft:
Let me begin with this site. This is called WBShop and here you can buy virtually anything related to Warner Bros. products. DVDs, T-shirts, comic books, coffee cups, soundtracks, collectibles, toys, games, costumes, and so on.
I say virtually anything. Warner Bros. has every goddammed thing available for sale… but no movie scripts.
So here’s is a modest proposal to the movie studios to try to find a middle ground solution re script access.
#1: Every script that is available for movies that is on the National Registry? The studios should just let them be available for open circulation. It’s a part of our country’s cinematic heritage! Plus good corporate neighbor policy.
#2: If a screenwriter requests a script they wrote to be available online, the studio should honor that request. As I understand it, if the writer has separated rights, they may:
a. Publication rights. The writer obtains the right to publish the script, or book(s) based on the script, subject to a holdback period. The Company, however, has the right to cause a novelization to be published in conjunction with the release of the film, for the purpose of marketing the film. If the Company wishes to cause a novelization to be published, it must first approach the writer(s) who has Separated Rights to see if the writer(s) wants to negotiate with a publisher regarding the rights and services for the novelization. If the writer with Separated Rights does not want to write the novelization or fails to conclude a publishing deal within prescribed timeframes, the Company may publish the novelization but must pay the writer not less than WGA minimum for the right to publish.4 (Article 16.A.3.a.(3))
The “holdback period” would seem to be the sticking point.
#3: Here’s the Big Idea: The studios should publish as many of their screenplay as possible and make them available for sale as eScripts. It’s an additional source of revenue and they would be enhancing the value of that movie title via increased awareness, etc.
In addition, credited writers should receive royalties for the sale of those eScripts in accordance with the WGA Minimum Basic Agreement formula for DVDs or some similar arrangement.
What we are trying to do is chart a middle ground, recognizing the legal rights of movie studios re copyright, appeal to their higher angels re #1 and #2, and #3 is just common sense. It’s another monetary stream, albeit a minor one, but still in this day and age of The Long Tail, why the hell not? How hard would it be to have a phalanx of interns create PDFs of their scripts?
Bottom line: Let’s make sure scripts are available for aspiring writers to read and learn from. Also perhaps it would elevate the status of the humble screenplay a bit more and the writers behind the scripts.
So late last night, what appears on my Twitter feed? This:
Warner Bros. has launched a digital publishing initiative called Inside the Script that offers a series of illustrated eBooks that present actual shooting scripts for classic movies including Casablanca, Ben-Hur, An American In Paris and North By Northwest. The eBooks are available on iBookstore, Kindle and Nook. The books also feature production notes, storyboards, photos including costumes, posters, on-set stills and behind-the-scenes photos.
See, if I had published my post last week, I could have taken credit for this whole damn thing!
However this simple move by the studio is salve in my wounds because finally we may begin to see a process unfold whereby we may have legal access to screenplays. Heck, Warner Bros. even has a Facebook page for the initiative.
Of course this process will take years and years to play out, and who’s to say if other studios will join in. But let’s use this post as a starting point for discussing the needs of those of us who want movie scripts made available. Are you excited about the WB initiative? Concerned? What ideas could you suggest to make this a viable plan?
And yes, I couldn’t help but notice the irony that one of the first ‘shooting scripts’ Warner Bros. is putting out in this series is Casablanca… which did not have a shooting script, rewritten pages delivered on the day of production.