I got this question recently:
“In a situation where a producer or production company reads my query letter and loves the idea, what do I do if a producer ask me to sign a release form before I can submit the script?”
Release forms are a very normal part of the screenplay submission process. When making cold submissions I would say that roughly half of the producers will require that you sign one before they will read your screenplay.
In all cases you should read the release form and make sure you understand what you’re signing. If you have questions, as with any legal matter, you should seek the advice of a qualified entertainment attorney.
In my experience (and I’ve signed hundreds of release forms over the years) I’ve never read one that really said much of anything.
In general they usually state that you won’t sue the production company if they use ideas that are similar to the ideas in your script if those ideas are not copyrightable. This is in no way a license to steal your work, it’s simply stating the obvious.
In some cases the release form will state that any litigation that you do bring against them involving this submission will be taken to arbitration. It still doesn’t give them the right to steal your ideas and if they do it’ll be cheaper for you to sue them, so that’s good for you as the writer. However, it protects them a bit from a frivolous lawsuits because they’ll be able to defend themselves without spending as much money to do so. Again, though, if you really have a legitimate complaint against them going to arbitration is going to be a good thing for you as a writer because it will be much cheaper to litigate.
It is possible that a shady producer might try and get you to sign something that’s not reasonable or normal so be careful. I’ve never had that happen, though.