I got this question recently:
“I’m setting up agent-less deals, do you recommend spending the cash on an entertainment lawyer to read the boilerplate, or is it generally safe to negotiate your own way through? It would seem to me that for the peace of mind, a thousand bucks or so is not an outrageous investment. Have you ever done a deal with nobody but yourself checking the fine print?”
A lot of the script sales I’ve done have been without a lawyer, agent, or manager. I’ve had a few minor problems but nothing significant. I usually read through the agreement and if I don’t understand something I simply ask the producers for clarification. If I take my time I can usually understand what is being said in these types of agreements and I’ve seen quite a few over years. Most people would probably think I’m crazy to do this.
So I would never ever ever recommend NOT taking a contract to a lawyer. There is quite a bit that can go wrong and the contracts can be complicated. Often it’s not so much what the contract says as much as what it doesn’t say. So unless you’re experienced in this type of negotiation there can be standard things that should be in the contract that aren’t, and those things can be damaging to pocket book or even your career.
So my advice, since you asked, is to seek the advice of a qualified entertainment attorney. But in many cases I haven’t heeded my own advice.
One point of clarification, an agent or manager will usually “negotiate” a contract but a lawyer may or may not, depending on what sort of relationship (and how much you want to pay him). What I mean by that is when you have a agent he will negotiation the terms of the contract for you so you won’t be involved at all (which can be a good thing). But if you’re going to hire a lawyer, you might negotiate the terms yourself, in other words you and the producer come to terms in broad strokes on all the basic contract points like payment, length of the option, etc. but then you take the contract to a lawyer to make sure that the contract is written as it should be and isn’t missing any thing that should be in there. Or you could probably hire the lawyer to go in there and basically negotiate for you, too, but that would probably cost you more money. In your case it sounds like you’re negotiating the deal, but you should still have a lawyer look the contract over to make sure you’re protected.