Here are some of the questions most frequently asked of NZWG.
We are 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!
FINDING A SCRIPT
How do I find copies of film scripts?
The NZWG has a library where members can borrow scripts. You can now find many scripts online. Also, larger bookshops carry scripts in book form.
How do I find copies of play scripts?
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 be 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. As an NZWG you can register your works with Writers Guild’s in international territories for additional protection.
Copyright definition – Author
Author under the copyright law is the creator of the original expression in a work, in the narrow sense, an author is the originator of any written work. The author is also the owner of copyright. However, s/he may assign the copyright to another person or entity, such as a publisher. In cases of works made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is the author.
You’ve got a great idea for a script. Is your idea protected by copyright?
There is no copyright in an idea, only the expression of an idea. For your idea to receive the protection of copyright you will need to develop it into something linear & tangible like a story, treatment, script, article, play etc.
If I tell someone my idea and they write a script from that, what can I do?
Effectively, not a lot. The best way to stop this happening is to have an agreement in place with that person to protect your idea. NZWG recommends not discussing your ideas with anyone until you have protected your work.
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. 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 go to court or assert your copyright in the case of plagiarism or breach of confidence.
Is posting work on the internet safe?
Copyright applies to work published on the internet. 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. If in doubt about a specific site, contact the Guild.
I’ve been sent a contract and don’t understand it. Where can I get some advice?
NZWG offers contract advice services to members (this service is unavailable to non-members). Where NZWG can’t answer questions on copyright and contractual issues they will recommend the writer enlists the services of a lawyer.
What’s an option?
Commonly, an option allows a producer (or other party such as a Production Company) 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).
How do get advice from NZWG on my contract?
NZWG members should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to seek specific advice. Please allow a 10 day turnaround on all advice.
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. NZWG 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 produce a work for screen, comes from New Zealand On Air, Creative NZ, the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ Screen Production Grant 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 and doesn’t include all the other types of funding that Producers will utilise to get works made. This list provides a snap shot of agencies who provide funding for development. Most funding bodies require a producer to be attached to a project.
New Zealand writers currently have access to two collection schemes Screenrights which collects a levy for use of screen material by Australasian educational institutions and AWGACS (the Australian Writers Guild Authorship Collecting Society Ltd) which collects a levy based on works broadcast on television overseas.
The income from such agencies and societies is rarely huge but is certainly worth pursuing as New Zealand writers don’t usually receive residuals for the re-use of their work. The clause below will enable you to access these monies. Without this clause the collected writer’s levy will either go to the Producer or stay inaccessible with the international collection agency, as follows:
“Nothing in this Agreement shall prevent the Author from receiving money collected by authorised collecting societies of any country in respect of any rental and lending rights and/or in respect of any educational copying, retransmission or private copying levy and/or in respect of the other similar rights to which the Author may hereafter become entitled under the laws of any country in connection with the exploitation of the Film provided that nothing herein shall impose any obligation on the Producer to make or collect such payments.”
You want to do a full-time scriptwriting course – what sort of things should you 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
There should be creative writing exercises based on the course components and some project to develop a script idea to first draft stage.
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 focus 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.
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.
Screenwriters should always be seeking to upskill themselves as professionals, some key areas to focus on:
Business of writing
Taxes and legal issues
Guilds and Industry organisations
Pitching and networking
A spec script, also known as a speculative screenplay, is a non-commissioned unsolicited screenplay. It is usually written by a screenwriter who hopes to have the script optioned and eventually purchased by a producer, production company, or studio.
Writing on Spec for a Producer’s own idea – What should you do?
If producer a comes to you with an idea (not your own idea) and you agree to write this idea into a script. You will need to get an agreement in place to cover the working relationship. “Spec” work means writing without payment initially. Your agreement should include what type of work you agree to work for free on and for how long, and needs to include what kind of payment you will receive once the Producer has sourced funding.
Writing on Spec for a Producer with your own idea – What should you do?
If you took a spec script (your own original idea) to a producer and they like it and want to Option it. You will need to draw up an agreement to cover this working relationship. Your agreement should include what type of work (how many further drafts of your script or re-writes etc) you agree to work for free on and for how long, and needs to include what kind of payment you will receive once the Producer has sourced funding.
ADAPTIONS – PUBLISHED WORKS, SONGS, REIMAGINED STORIES, POP CULTURE REFERENCES
It is the responsibility of the Producer to ensure that the rights in adapted materials are adequately contracted / licenced, normally via Option and Purchase agreements or Licensing agreements. If you don’t yet have a Producer or Production involved, these are the basic steps.
How do you obtain the rights to adapt Published works?
You will first need to contact the most recent publisher of the book who will know whether an option has already been taken over that book / published work. If the publisher is not the rightsholder they will likely know who you should contact. If the rights are available, then you will negotiate with the publisher or rightsholder (i.e. the author) over the terms. The same applies to prose or poetic material you should contact the last publisher of that work for permission.
How do you obtain the rights to use already released Songs or Music?
You will need to obtain permission from the rightsholder to use it. The APRA website has good information on obtaining licences for music.
Can you re-imagine a famous work?
If you want to re-imagine a famous work (eg. write Moby Dick from the whale’s perspective) or set a new work in an already existing locale (eg. write a new adventure set in Tolkien’s Middle Earth), you will need to take the following steps to do this.
First, check if the work is out of copyright then you can utilise it, although the copyright in some works has been effectively extended by the estates of the original authors and the only way you will know this is to approach the rightsholders. If you are using any work still in copyright, then you will need the permission of the rightsholders. Often this type of work can come across as fan-fiction which is not usually a commercial genre – you should consider whether you are doing this type of work for your own enjoyment or whether you are seriously re-imagining someone else’s story.
What do you do about Pop Culture references in your script?
The important issues here are between using material (e.g. writing a play based on the film Citizen Kane) and referring to the material (e.g. having characters joke about the other things ‘Rosebud’ could have referred to). Copyright law allows certain reasonable uses and incidental use in an artistic work will likely fall within that category, especially if it’s for the purpose of review, comment or satire. If it goes beyond this type of incidental use, however, you will need permission.
TELLING TRUE STORIES
It is the responsibility of the Producer to ensure that the rights covered in true stories are adequately contracted through appropriate legal agreements. When looking into writing about a person’s life story, for example, you are buying a bundle of rights. These rights include protection from legal action based on defamation*, invasion of privacy and the right to publicity. You may also be buying the cooperation of the subject and their family or heirs/estates. Perhaps you want access to diaries and letters that are not otherwise available to you.
If you don’t yet have a Producer or Production involved, these are some basic initial steps to take. NZWG highly recommends seeking legal advice before you begin writing true stories.
How can you tell a true story?
There are many types of true stories that writers like to tell, these are just a few types – historical figures, friends & family, real life crimes, major public events. When writing these types of scripts, you will need to aware of the rights and liabilities involved. You can find further information about finding the original copyright owners through Intellectual Property NZ.
Published or reported stories – Consider Optioning this type of story, as you could be breaching the original authors copyright, OR the subject may have already sold the rights to their story. Just changing some details in the work doesn’t protect you from a defamation case.
A living person’s story – You will need to get their direct permission to tell this story and this should be covered by some form of legal agreement. This agreement should cover off payments, credits and elements of the story being told.
A deceased person’s story – This is dependent on when the person passed away, whether an estate has been set up that may already own the rights in this person’s life story or if direct family have objections to the person’s story being told. Dependent on when the person has passed away, you may be able to tell the story freely or you may need to acquire these rights and this should be covered by some form of legal agreement. This agreement should cover off payments, credits and elements of the story being told.
Tangata Whenua stories – NZWG recommends you seek advice from Nga Aho Whakaari about obtaining rights for these stories.
Term: *Defamation – means bringing the subject(s) into disrepute. Can result in legal action if not handled correctly.
COLLABORATING WITH ANOTHER WRITER(S)
What should you do when creating with another writer or creative partner?
NZWG recommends that you and the other writer(s) should create a Collaborator(s) agreement which should include some of the following elements – ownership of the work, credits, intended use (ie: feature film, web series, short film) of the works created.
What if you are the Writer and the Director?
You will need to ensure when you get your project to a point of attracting a Producer / Production Company, that all agreements reflect the two roles you are wanting to fulfil on your project. Writing and directing are both very distinct tasks, and need to be compensated appropriately through fees, credits and scheduling.