FAQs about Business

Here are some of the questions most frequently asked of the Guild.

We’re always trying to improve the information we give out.  If you have other questions you’d like to see answered in this section or if you have feedback about our answers then please let us know!

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FINDING A WRITER, ASSESSOR, EDITOR

FINDING A SCRIPT

How do I find copies of film scripts?
The NZWG has a library where members can borrow scripts.  You can buy them from various sites on the internet.  Also, larger bookshops carry scripts in book form.
How do I find copies of play scripts?
Contact Playmarket.  You can also hire them from the New Zealand Theatre Federation.

COPYRIGHT AND PROTECTING COPYRIGHT

What is copyright?
‘Copyright’ refers to a group of exclusive rights granted by law (in New Zealand it is The Copyright Act 1994) to original works.  These rights allow copyright owners to control certain activities relating to the use of their work.  A more detailed discussion of copyright can be found here.

How long does copyright last?
In New Zealand it is generally 50 years after the death of the author, although sometimes copyright can held by the author’s estate and may be extended.  The duration of copyright overseas will vary from country to country.

Is my copyright recognised overseas?
In most countries, yes. New Zealand is a signatory to various international treaties on copyright and your work receives protection in those countries that are signatories to the treaties. &

I’ve got a great idea for a script.  My idea is protected by copyright, isn’t it?
There is no copyright in an idea, only the expression of an idea.  In order for your idea to receive the protection of copyright you will need to develop it into something tangible like a story, treatment, script, article, play etc.

So if I tell someone my idea and they write a script from that I can’t do anything?
Effectively, no you can’t.  The best way to stop this happening is to not discuss your ideas with anyone unless you trust them.

Can I copyright a title?
No, there is no copyright in a title and while titles can be registered, this doesn’t confer copyright over them.

However you should be aware that using a title very similar to that of an already existing work could confer passing off (passing off is where you are attempting to pass your work off as someone else’s, for example writing a movie about a giant ape and calling it King Kang would be passing off).

I’ve just finished my script.  How do I protect my work when I send it out into the world?
It is first important to ensure you identify yourself as the author of the work.  The most common way of doing this is to put the copyright symbol (©), your name and the year of completion on the bottom of the page (eg. © Jill Smith 2006).  Secondly, register it with the NZWG. Registration will help you prove your claim to authorship.

What is the NZWG Registration Service?
Registration provides a record of a writer’s claim to authorship.  It is not the same as copyright: all registration does is objectively establish your claim to ownership at a certain point in time.  However, establishing such ownership can be critical if you ever have to go to court or assert your copyright in the case of plagiarism or breach of confidence.

To register your work with the Guild, post or deliver a hard copy of the document to the office with a completed registration form. This service costs $35.00 for members and $70.00 for non-members.  Registration lasts for ten years (at which time the work can be re-registered for a further period).  Registration will not stop someone stealing your work but it will make it easier for you to prove your authorship if someone does so.  More details about the service and the registration form can be found here.

I’m sending a script to a country overseas, do I need to register it there as well as in New Zealand?
No, the NZWG Registration Service is similar to other services used throughout the world and is effective internationally.

Is posting work on the internet safe?
Copyright applies to work published on the internet but there is no way to realistically enforce this copyright.  There are sites that enable you to post treatments and scripts which will be viewed by producers.  This is a good way to get your work to overseas producers.  You must ensure such sites are legitimate, some are and some aren’t.  www.inktip.com is an example of a legitimate site and is a good template for what such a site should offer.  If in doubt about a specific site, contact the Guild.

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CONTRACTS

I’ve been sent a contract and don’t understand it.  Where can I get some advice?
The Guild offers a free contract advice service to members (this service is unavailable to non-members).  Most lawyers will be able to give you some guidance here but the Guild specialise in providing this type of advice.  Where the Guild can’t answer questions on copyright and contractual issues they will refer the matter to Lowndes Jordan, Barristers and Solicitors who will provide free advice and provide discounted rates if ongoing advice is required.  This free referral service is also only available to Guild members.
What’s an option?
Commonly, a film option allows a producer (or other party) the exclusive right to represent a work and secure finance for it before having to pay the work’s owner the full purchase price for the rights. Option agreements allow this right for a limited time. When the option is exercised the work is purchased (by way of a purchase agreement).

Does the Guild have any other general information on contracts?
You should check out the Contracts section of this website.  All Guild members should direct any questions on specific contracts to the Guild itself.

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RATES AND FUNDING

How much should I get paid?
Payment to screenwriters varies enormously from project to project and writer to writer but knowing the standard rates in New Zealand is a start.  The Guild has a Recommended Rates Guide available to members which outlines typical minimum rates of pay for a variety of script work.

How can I get funding in New Zealand?
Development funding, receiving funds to prepare a script for production, is what most writers mean when they talk about ‘funding’.  This comes from either a production company, network, theatre or a funding body such as New Zealand On Air, Creative NZ or the New Zealand Film Commission.  As a rule, most funding bodies require a producer to be attached to the project before it will receive development finance.

Production funding, receiving funding to actually make a work, comes from New Zealand On Air, Creative NZ, the New Zealand Film Commission, Screen Innovation Fund and financiers, local and international.  You must have a producer attached before you can receive production funding and it is the producer’s job to secure production funding.
Is there a comprehensive list of all development funding available in New Zealand?
The following list is by no means exhaustive but gives a good idea about who may provide funding for development.  However, most funding bodies require a producer to be attached to a project.  There is currently little or no funding available for developing radio or new media.
Film
The New Zealand Film Commission
Creative NZ – Screen Innovation Production Fund – short film
Some producers will finance development
Television
New Zealand On Air (will only do so with network sign-on)
Te Mangai Paho
TVNZ
TV3
Maori Television Service
Some producers will finance development
Theatre
Creative NZ
Some theatre companies will finance development

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BUSINESS AND TAX ADVICE

What tax expenses can I claim as a writer?
Any legitimate expenses that have been accumulated during or contributing to your work.   Specific information on tax expenses can be found here.
Do I need to register for GST?
You must register for GST if your ‘taxable activity’ (ie. income as a contractor) has or will exceed $40,000 over a twelve month period.  If you fall below this threshold you may still register for GST but you are not obliged to.  Being GST registered means you can claim back the GST on any business expenses so many writers register as a matter of course.
What are my obligations if I am GST registered?
The obligations include:

  • Keep financial records – including receipts
  • Charge GST on taxable income
  • Account for GST collected
  • Complete GST returns when necessary

More detailed information on GST can be found on the IRD’s website.
Do I need to set up a separate company?
No, you can run a business as a self-employed contractor and claim expenses through that.  However, if you are doing more than just working for yourself or if are engaging or employing others to do work you may want to talk through the advantages of setting up a separate company with a tax agent or accountant.

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WRITING COURSES

I want to do a full-time scriptwriting course – what sort of things should I expect to see in the course itself?
The following is by no means an exhaustive list, but should provide you with a good guideline of what any professional scriptwriting course should include.

Tuition that covers the elements of a script:

  • story
  • structure
  • character
  • themes
  • genre
  • dialogues
  • format

There should be creative writing exercises based on the course components and some project to develop a script idea to first draft stage.

Film/theatre critique:
There should be an element of critique, looking at contemporary and classic works.  Students should learn to professionally critique their own work and that of others on the course.  This element should not attempt to replicate the analytic approach of academic courses, but remain firmly focused on existing film-making and theatre techniques that could help the students with their own projects.

Professional development:

  • business of writing
  • taxes and legal issues
  • intellectual property
  • guilds and organizations
  • pitching and networking

Work experience is necessary, even if it is only hanging out on a film set for a day, or attending a workshop reading or rehearsal of a play.  There should be an effort made to get speakers from a wide variety of  positions within the industry to talk frankly to students about the industry.

Clear assessment and evaluation procedures.

Professional staff who:

  • have production credits on TV, stage, radio or screen
  • are passionate about and involved in the industry
  • are enthusiastic about helping people learn to write.

In addition, a distinction might be drawn between courses that teach people first how to make plays or films which include a scriptwriting component and courses which are stand-alone scriptwriting courses.  Both have their place, but their foci and outcomes may be expected to differ substantially.

Finally, a good writing course will not be formulaic, but will strike a balance between stimulating and supporting students’ creativity, and communicating realistically the expectations and practices of the industry.

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Code by Michael Bao