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Should I Register or Copyright My Project?

A reader, ELLISSA, recently asked a few questions (in the Comments section of this post: How Do I Pitch A TV Show?).  Ellissa’s questions were interesting enough, that I thought I’d give fairly detailed answers, so here goes:

Ellissa commented:
Would a producer with a pitch idea, ever pitch a show to a network/studio without copyrighting it or registering it first? If the producer had a deal with the network/studio, like a first look /development deal, would they pitch it without registering it? Would a network ever go to pilot without having the producer/creator/writer of the show register or copyright a script or treatment? Would network/studio want validation of ownership before it shot a pilot or went into series production? Thanks for any info on these questions.

Hey Ellissa –
Let’s start with the first question: “Would a producer with a pitch idea, ever pitch a show to a network/studio without copyrighting it or registering it first?“  I used to register everything I did with the WGA (Writers Guild of America), which you can do for $20 per project ($10 if you’re a member), see here for details.  As for copyrighting your project?  It’s done but I never have.  As far as WGA registration, it got to be expensive, and honestly, I stopped many years ago, as I found that it was not an efficient business model.  For me, it boiled down to this:  Can you get ripped off by someone/some company/some network?  Absolutely.  WILL you get ripped off by one of them?  Not very likely.  Most legitimate, reputable people and companies will not do so, as it is a bad business model for them.  They don’t want to get sued, and in reality, they don’t want to have a reputation of stealing from others.  This entire business is built on relationships, and not many  people/companies want to ruin that by stealing something from someone.  Can or will it happen?  No doubt.  But the percentage of that is very very low.  And no major company will do so knowingly, although it’s not impossible.

Also, keep in mind that while you are developing a project to the point of pitching it, there are probably 10 other people developing the very same idea, or something close to it.  Literally.  I’ve spoken with many a develop exec and asked them how often they get pitched the same idea.  Some have said that it’s amazing how often they hear the same pitch, oftentimes within the same week.  So you may think, when you read in the trades about a project that was exactly like yours, that someone swiped your idea, or that it’s eerily similar to something you pitched, but more often than not, it was merely pitched BETTER or SOONER by someone else. As director John Landis is quoted in Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan’s 2008 book “John Landis”: “Every movie I have been involved with that was a big hit had people suing the studio saying it was their idea. We live in a very litigious society. You can sue anybody for anything here.“  To me, that just states that four or five other people had the same idea around the same time, but only one person got it made.

Obviously, when you have a very specific idea (a mobster seeks counseling while trying to juggle his two “families”) it is much harder to rip off than when you have something more generic (a young woman hangs out with three wacky guys — that could be The Big Bang Theory or The New Girl, since those are both described by that logline).  So make sure you have very specific characters, plot and themes, and you’ll be better off.  (That will also help you when you’re pitching.)

So for me, it came down to how many $20 registrations (I was not a WGA member at the time) did I want to pay?  I have, on average, anywhere from 50-100 projects rolling around in my head/computer (some are one line ideas that need to be developed, some are fully fleshed-out 25 page treatments, most are in between), so it would be very expensive and time consuming to register everything I want to pitch.  I made the decision to not register everything… or anything for that matter.

And registering with the WGA doesn’t prove it’s your idea.  It only proves that on the date the project was registered, that you sent them this project.

The only other thing I’d throw in for this question is that I’ve reached a certain level in the business, wherein I’m somewhat “known” (at least, within  the industry!) and it makes it a little harder for someone to rip me off.  For someone new to the business, they may still feel the need to register or copyright their project.  But honestly, when I see a script that’s got the registration number on the cover, my first thought is “newbie”… not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just know that I’m probably dealing with someone who hasn’t sold anything yet or who is somewhat less experienced.

Pitch to reputable people/companies, and you should be fine without registration, is my bottom line.  Having an idea or script stolen has never happened to me, or to any of my friends, that I know of, so I’m just not too worried about it (check back in a year or two, and we’ll see!).  Have I pitched things to various networks and/or companies, that they passed on, and then later something very similar came out from that company?  Yes, but never anything that was an exact copy, so it never really got to me.  Also, sometimes you’ll be in a pitch, they like what you’re pitching and say something like, “That’s great, got anything else?”, and you’ll start talking about it and they cut you off, saying they have something very similar already in development, so I know that similar ideas are often in the “ether”, as they say.

As with everything else in this business, there are no rules and I’m sure there are people who have horrific stories about getting ripped off.  Newspaper columnist Art Buchwald famously sued Paramount Pictures in 1990, for breach of contract, stating that Paramount had ripped off his idea for the Eddie Murphy feature “Coming to America”, but that suit ending up being more about how profits are defined and paid to writers and other “net profits” holders, than about Paramount having taken Buchwald’s idea… (see: Buchwald v. Paramount).

As for your other questions:

If the producer had a deal with the network/studio, like a first look/development deal, would they pitch it without registering it?“:   There is no need to worry when you have a deal with a studio that they will rip you off.  It just isn’t done to someone that is part of their corporate “family”.

Would a network ever go to pilot without having the producer/creator/writer of the show register or copyright a script or treatment?”  Well, the weird thing here is that once a studio or network buys your project, you usually do not own it anymore.  They become the copyright holders and you are merely the hired gun… (and therefore more easily replaceable, so watch out).  But, as long as you’re doing great work, they’ll most likely keep you in place.  You will still have some sort of ownership of the project, based on what your lawyer negotiates, but they literally own your project once you’ve signed it over to them.  And guess what?  They copyright it, for sure!

Would a network/studio want validation of ownership before it shot a pilot or went into series production?”  Yes, every buyer will want proof that you actually wrote the project (or control the rights to it), so they’ll send along a document called the Certificate of Authorship, commonly referred to as the COA.  The COA basically says you wrote it (or control it), that it is original, that it can be assigned it to another owner (the studio), and a few other things.  There’s an example of one here: COA Sample

Thanks, Ellissa, for a great string of questions, and I hope this helps!  Obviously I’m no lawyer, so be sure to get the help of a qualified entertainment business lawyer to get all the details correct.

Posted in Career Advice, Hollywood.

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More TV Pitching Tips

About ten yeas ago, I worked with a really smart man named Erik Nelson.  Erik owns a company called Creative Differences (love the name!), which is a very productive reality/documentary television company.   While I was working with him, I happened to be producing a “Pitching and Development” seminar, and, since Erik has sold literally hundreds of shows, I asked him to be part of the panel.  He obliged, and also offered up his bullet points for effective TV pitching.  I’m including it here, and hoping that Erik is not upset by my posting it!

Keep in mind that Erik pitches reality and documentary shows, so this may be a bit specialized for those arenas, but really, his tips are good, all around advice.

ERIK NELSON’S SIX STEP PITCHING PROGRAM

1. GATHER INTELLIGENCE

2. PLAN OPERATION

3. RECRUIT ALLIES

4. STORM THE BEACHHEAD

5. IMPROVISE NEW BATTLE PLAN

6. TAKE NO PRISONERS

All I need to know about pitching I learned from Field Marshall Erwin Rommel —  selling a show is like planning the D-Day Invasion — and if you saw the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan”, you know what can go wrong…  Your buyer is your target.  (The enemy may come after show is ordered!)

SIX CRITICAL STEPS!

1. GATHER INTELLIGENCE

  • WHAT DOES BUYER WANT — NOT WANT.
  • WHAT DOES BUYER LIKE — NOT LIKE.
  • WHAT HAS BUYER DONE IN PREVIOUS LIFE?
  • DISCERN TARGET — WHICH IS UNBELIEVABLY NARROW.
  • TAKE AIM — VECTOR IN ON TARGET — WHAT HOLES EXIST IN SCHEDULE — (THIS IS WHERE AGENT COMES IN).
  • ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL — YOUR IDEA NEEDS TO FIT BUYER’S SPECIFIC NEEDS, NOT OTHER WAY AROUND.
  • GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS — WHERE ARE THE LEADS?

2.   PLAN OPERATION

  • CREATE SHOW WITH INTELLIGENCE IN MIND — MAKE SURE IT IS PITCHED IN TERMS OF WHAT IS CURRENTLY WORKING.
  • CUT PROMO? MOCK AS? PROPS?
  • WRITE TREATMENT.
  • REHEARSE AND PRACTICE PITCH (AND BACK UP PITCHES).
  • YOU EXIST TO SERVE THEM, THEY DON’T SERVE YOU.
  • THERE ARE A MILLION IDEAS OUT THERE, NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOURS.
  • SAYING “NO” IS EASIER THAN SAYING “YES”.

3. RECRUIT ALLIES

  • ANY PRODUCER/DIRECTORS THAT NETWORK LIKES?
  • ANY OTHER CREATIVE BAGGAGE THAT CAN BE ATTACHED?
  • ANYONE INSIDE NETWORK/STUDIO THAT LIKES YOU?
  • IS THIS SHOW LIKE OTHER HITS? IF NOT, MAKE IT LIKE OTHER HITS.
  • BUYER NEEDS TO DEFEND BUYING SHOW.

4. STORM THE BEACHHEAD

  • SHOW UP ON TIME, AND IF YOU’RE LATE, MAKE UP FUNNY EXCUSE WHY.
  • CHAT UP ASSISTANT, THEY RULE AND CAN BURY YOU.
  • ONCE INSIDE, “READ” OFFICE AND BUYER — “SWEET SMELL” STORY.
  • MAKE SMALL TALK (SEE ABOVE).
  • ASK THEM WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR — ADJUST YOUR PITCH ACCORDINGLY.
  • ESTABLISH A CONNECTION AND DRIVE POINT HOME (REALITY DISTORTION FIELD).

[reality-distortion field n. An expression used to describe the persuasive ability of managers like Steve Jobs (the term originated at Apple in the 1980s to describe his peculiar charisma).  Those close to these managers become passionately committed to possibly insane projects, without regard to the practicality of their implementation or competitive forces in the marketplace.]

  • BUYER HAS TO SELL TO THEIR BOSSES, MAKE THEIR JOB EASY, THEY WILL LOVE YOU.
  • PRETEND YOU ARE TALKING TO A FOUR YEAR OLD (NO OFFENSE, GUYS).  SHINY THINGS, SIMPLE THINGS, PAINT BY NUMBERS.  ’CAUSE REMEMBER, THEY HAVE TO SELL TO THEIR BOSSES, AND THINGS CAN GET LOST IN THE TRANSLASTION…
  • BRING PROPS (SHOW CARDS).
  • SIMPLE IS GOOD, BIG IS GOOD, DUMB IS BETTER, IPSO FACTO: SIMPLE BIG DUMB IDEAS RULE.

5.   THROW OUT THE PLAN AND IMPROVISE — REST ASSURED, YOU WILL HAVE TO.

  • WHEN THEY SAY NO, THEY MEAN NO, LET IT GO, BE OPEN TO INPUT, INVEST BUYER IN IDEA, MAKE IT SEEM THEIRS…
  • MOVE IN TO OTHER IDEAS (SACRIFICE PITCH).
  • TRY NOT TO EVER PITCH MORE THAN THREE.
  • DON’T OVERSELL.
  • LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN — TO WHAT THEY ARE SAYING, AND WHAT THEY ARE TRYING TO SAY.

6.   TAKE NO PRISONERS

  • FOLLOW-UP, FOLLOW-UP, FOLLOW-UP.

Well, there you have it.  I thank Erik in advance for not suing me, and hope this helps you in your quest to sell a TV series!

Posted in Career Advice, Hollywood.

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How Do I Pitch a TV Show?

I recently had this inquiry from a relative newbie (I think) to the business:

“I have a question I’m hoping you can answer for me. From a business stand point how does one pitch a show to a major network or company? I see reality shows, movies, adult and rated R content and I wonder how they got that meeting. LOL. I would appreciate any answers and suggestions you could give me. Thank you for your time.”

Now, aside from the “LOL”, I think it’s a great question, so I’ll share with you my answer:

Well that’s a big question that could be answered in detail in an entire book, no doubt.

But the short answer is:
  • The networks only let in the “approved” people to pitch.  ”Approved” means someone they know through previous experience or that comes in through a trusted entity – an agent or production company.
  • But it’s a bit of a Catch-22 at the beginning.  A producer with minimal credits needs to find an agent.  Almost no agent will take on a producer with minimal credits.
  • Some larger production companies may take a cold pitch (meaning from someone they don’t already know), but that’s difficult at best to make happen.
  • In this business, it all comes down to who you know.  Find a well-known or very experienced producer or director or writer, see if you can get any interest from them.
  • If you’re able to interest an agent or production company, AND they like your pitch, then they may set up a meeting to pitch at the networks.
  • To properly pitch, you need to have more than an idea.  You need to have fully fleshed out your project – whether it’s scripted, reality, or anything else.  Know the characters, know the themes, know the look and tone, know the basic story backwards and forwards.  Be able to discuss your show from every angle. Think of episode storylines if it’s scripted.  Think about what we’ll see in each new episode, and why we want to come back again.
  • It all comes down to telling a great story with great characters (whether real or created).
  • If you can shoot a presentation that shows what the project is (especially good for reality/non-fiction shows), do that.  If it’s scripted, shoot a short for it.
  • Have a logline (one line sentence saying what the show is), a concept paragraph, and a full page explanation of the show.  My typical “pitching treatments” are 15-25 pages, made for me only, describing everything in great detail — it helps me know the show really well.
  • If it’s based on a real person or book or movie, you’ll need to have the rights secured.
That’s the short answer, the best I can do here!
Hope this helps…
– TG

Now, of course, if you asked 50 professionals in the business about this, you’ll get 50 different stories, since the one thing we do know is that there are no rules in Hollywood…

Posted in Career Advice, Hollywood.

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The 3D Revolution! Long Live 3D!

So they say that 3D is here!  James Cameron’s a big proponent! TV sets are being sold!  Movies are in 3D and making more money than normal!

I don’t know which hype to believe but here are two ways it’s going:

Filmmaker Michael R. Bernard has some great 3D production links on his website, specifically on this posting.

And as TVWeek puts it so perfectly:

3D Bust: Toshiba Sells 50% Fewer 3D TV Sets Than It Had Projected–And These Are the 3D Sets That Don’t Require Any Glasses!, which quotes from an article in Bloomberg News.

So for me, the takeaway is: 3D is rocking the world and don’t buy it yet!

Posted in Hollywood, Technology.

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ATAS Announces Newly-Elected Representatives, Appointees to Executive Committee

What can I say… more news about ME… An article in Broadcasting & Cable

ATAS Announces Newly-Elected Representatives, Appointees to Executive Committee

Shaffner appoints Askin, Cheng to committee

By Andrea Domanick — Broadcasting & Cable, 2/1/2011 3:25:40 PM

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has named its newly-elected governors and executive committee members, according to a Tuesday announcement from Television Academy Chairman and CEO John Shaffner.

Those elected by the 2011 Board of Governors to serve on the executive committee include Conrad Bachmann (Performers Peer Group), Tim Gibbons (Producers Peer Group), Geoff Katz (Interactive Media Peer Group) and John Moffitt (Directors Peer Group). Shaffner has reappointed former Television Academy Chair Dick Askin; Albert Cheng, Disney/ABC Television Group executive vice president, digital media; performer Benito Martinez and director Millicent Shelton to serve as his chair’s appointees to the executive committee.

Tuesday’s announcement also includes new members that were voted in to represent their respective peer groups for a two-year term at the Television Academy. Those newly-elected governors include Ted Barba (Stunts), Gary Baum (Cinematographers), Beth Bohn (Professional Representatives), Daniel Evans, III (Children’s Programming), Sabrina Fair Thomas (Los Angeles Area), John C. Fisher (Daytime Programming), Leslie Frankenheimer (Art Directors/Set Directors), Kathryn Joosten (Performers), Melinda Leasure (Animation), Howard Meltzer, CSA (Casting Directors), Patricia Messina (Makeup Artists & Hairstylists), Susan Nessanbaum-Goldberg (Production Executives), Michael Olman, C.A.S. (Sound), Kevin Pike (Special Visual Effects), Mary Rose (Costume Design & Supervision), Jason Rosenfield, A.C.E. (Picture Editors), Mark Samels (Nonfiction Programming) and Michael Sluchan (Television Executives).

The executive committee members and newly elected governors begin their terms immediately.

Read the original article here.

Posted in Hollywood.

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How To Pitch A TV Show / NFFTY

Here’s a little online interview piece I did for NFFTY.org (the website for the National Film Festival for Talented Youth).  NFFTY is a great organization (which I’m on the Adviosry Board for) that’s all about supporting young filmmakers (up to age 22).  They have a fantastic film festival that takes place in Seattle every year (this year it’s on from April 28 to May 1st); I highly recommend it.  Check out their website, if nothing else, and donate a few dollars, if you can, to this fabulous non-profit group.

Oh, and as for my interview, it’s filed under their “Ask The Experts” section…  now really, do I belong in the expert category?  You’ll be the judge of that, I’m sure!

NFFTY

Posted in Career Advice, Consulting, Hollywood.

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Variety – Producers on Producing

Variety asked me to write about one of the season’s nominated films — I chose “Inception.”  Here’s the link to my review.

Safari

Posted in Hollywood.

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Expert Advice From an “Expert”

Expert… right. That’s what I was accused of being, recently.

I’m on the Advisory Board for the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY). It’s a great organization, of which I’m proud to be a part. It’s all about young people (anyone up to age 22) making their own films, and it is really awesome. Check out their website, get involved, at: http://nffty.org

As far as me being an expert, you be the judge, here’s n interview they did with me, via Skype: http://nffty.org/explore/ask-the-experts/how-to-pitch-a-tv-show

Sounds pretty goofy to me, if you ask the expert…

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Tim Gibbons Interview on KPCC

I was interviewed today, along with producers Gale Anne Hurd and Hawk Kotch, on the Patt Morrison Show on KPCC.  Alex Cohen, the guest host, was a kind and gracious host, making it painless as we spoke about producing, the Producers Guild of America, and the Produced By Conference, which takes place on June 4-6 at 20th Century Fox Studios.

 

Check me out:  http://www.scpr.org/programs/patt-morrison/2010/05/27/so-you-want-to-make-a-moviegive-a-listen-to-the-ex/?

Posted in Hollywood.

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Pair Nominated for PGA Post – Variety

There was a posting in Variety today. And they mentioned me… No really, I’m about four paragraphs down, and well hidden:

Pair Nominated for PGA Post

Gordon, Koch would be co-presidents

Leaders of the Producers Guild of America have nominated Mark Gordon and Hawk Koch to serve a two-year term as co-presidents, succeeding Marshall Herskovitz.The PGA, which has more than 4,000 members, has begun notifying members about the org’s upcoming elections. Deadline for nominations by petition is May 6; election results will be announced June 4.

Herskovitz has served two two-year terms as the PGA prez and is barred from seeking the post again. The nominations of Gordon and Hawk came from the PGA’s Producers Council and nominating committees, which also tapped Gary Lucchesi to serve as VP for motion pictures, Hayma “Screech” Washington as VP for TV, and five candidates for treasurer — R.J. Hume, Rachel Klein, Stephen Marinaccio, Michael Palmieri and Lauren Shuler Donner.

The missive included delegate nominees for each of the three councils: producers, associate producers and new media.

It’s the first time the nominating committee has selected a pair of members to stand for election as co-prexies. If Gordon and Koch are elected, it will be the second time the guild has been headed by co-presidents. In 2001-02, following the PGA’s merger with the American Assn. of Producers, Kathleen Kennedy and Tim Gibbons served as co-prexies.

Gordon is the PGA’s VP for TV. He has extensive credits in features, such as “Saving Private Ryan” ; he also exec produces the ABC series “Grey’s Anatomy” and Lifetime’s “Army Wives.”

Koch is a member of the PGA board. Feature credits include “Blood and Chocolate,” “Frequency” and both “Wayne’s World” pics.

Here’s a link to the article: Pair Nominated for PGA Post

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