I got this question recently:
“Upon finishing a screenplay I contacted a producer/script doctor/who seemed to know what he was talking about…and as a published screenplay writer himself, he advised me that most likely my own name would never ever be attached to this project should it ever be sold. Instead a published screenplay writer would take credit for my own writing…the trade off is a large payment ranging between 1-5 (million) or so he said. This would be payment for all rights concerning this project. The news felt like a slap in the face. My desire is for a career-with my book rights in tact-not a get rich quick exercise.
Mr. Meyers-is any of what I have been told regarding unpublished screenplay writers true at all? Is it really true that an established screenplay writer would take full credit for an entire years worth of my hard work-and the studio would retain all creative rights after the sale?”
No need to worry. I’m not sure what “script doctor” you used but as best I can tell he’s wrong on every front.
Virtually no screenwriter is paid over a million dollars for a single script and the few who might get close to that figure are certainly not new writers, they’re established screenwriters with serious track records. I haven’t heard of anyone getting this sort of money since the early 90’s when Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas were all the rage. In fact I don’t know of any screenwriter who has been paid anything close to 5 million for a single script. I think Shane Black or Joe Eszterhas hold the record for a single payday and it’s only around the 3 million dollar mark.
If your screenplay is bought by a large production company they will most likely be a WGA signatory production company, in which case they have agreed to abide by strict standards set forth by the WGA – which is in business to protect writers. Without going into elaborate details, suffice it to say that the WGA has very fair guidelines on who gets writing credit on a film so you have nothing to worry about. In general when you sign an option agreement with a WGA signatory production company there will be a clause in the option agreement that credits will be given according to WGA guidelines.
If your screenplay is bought by a smaller production company that is not a WGA signatory company you would need to be a little more careful and in your agreement with them you would want to lay out the writing credits. Generally what will happen is that in the option/purchase agreement you would have a clause specifically stating how writing credits will be awarded and you can state that you must receive writing credit. Typically the producer will want to have the ability to assign writing credits to other writers if he has to hire other writers to do rewrites (which is fair) but it’s also fair that you would always receive a writing credit too, no matter how much rewriting goes on. I’ve optioned dozens of screenplays over the years and I’ve never once had a producer try and prevent me from getting a writing credit. It doesn’t cost a producer anything to give out credits so he’s usually more than happy to accommodate a writer on this.