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About That Will Smith Undiscovered TV Writers Contest... Be Sure To Read The Fine Print

by Tambay A. Obenson
March 18, 2013 11:02 AM
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I wasn't expecting the Will Smith new TV writer search post to become the most popular item of the weekend, but it's been shared quite a bit since I posted it on Saturday. And with that, I do hope that all of you who are submitting to the contest are reading the official rules in full. There's a lot of it, but you'll be saving yourself a lot of time if you read it all, as well as understand it, before submitting, so that you know what exactly you're getting yourself into, and can decide if it's worth the effort.

So consider this just an FYI...

For example, I read it myself yesterday, as I considered entering the contest, and here are a couple of items that turned me off:

First, item # 7 states:

As part of the Agreement, the Grand Prize Winner will agree [to] a standard eighteen (18) month Rights Option on the Grand Prize Winner's Script. The fee payable to the Grand Prize Winner for such Rights Option is $1,000. In no event shall AFE be obligated to any entrant and or winner in the Contest for any amount greater than $1,000 for the initial Rights Option as detailed in the Agreement. Should a potential Grand Prize Winner choose not to accept the terms of the Agreement, he/she will forfeit the Grand Prize in its entirety and the Sponsor will have no further obligation to the Grand Prize Winner.

Which means... if your script is chosen as the winner in either of the 2 categories (30-minute comedy or hour-long drama), you have to agree to, amongst other things, essentially sign away the rights to your winning script for 18 months, for a paltry $1,000! So for almost 2 years, Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment production company or ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment (the organization Overbrook is partnering with on the contest) can pretty much do whatever they want with your script, and all they'll be obligated to pay you is no more than $1,000, during that period.

And if you don't agree to all the terms of the winning prize agreement, you'll forfeit everything - meaning, even the $5,000 grand prize, as well as the hour-long meeting with Overbrook that all comes with the package.

Unless I'm just understanding that incorrectly, that's pretty much what it reads to me.

In addition, under item #9, there's this:

Each Entrant into the Contest hereby irrevocably grants the Sponsor and its designees, the non-exclusive,irrevocable, perpetual, royalty-free right to use, copy, transmit, distribute, adapt, modify, publish, delete, display, perform, make derivative works from, or otherwise exploit the submitted Script in anyway so long as the Sponsor (or its designees) does so for purposes of: (a) Contest administration; (b)judging, (c) prize fulfillment; or (d) advertising or promotion of the Sponsor. This grant of rights shall apply in any media, now known or later invented, throughout the universe, regardless of the commercial or non-commercial nature of the use at issue.

Essentially saying what I said above - that during those 18 months, they can do whatever the heck they want with your script, in whatever format or platform, and your payday will be no more than $1,000.

The official rules don't say anything about what happens after the the 18-month period expires (usually when an option expires, the rights go back to the creator; but I didn't read anything about whether or not you would, in any monetary way, profit from whatever is done to your script while they own the rights to it, whether during, or after the option expires), nor are there any items about being credited for the work that you do, in the event that your script is chosen as the winning script. Meaning, if they adapt your script, or "make derivative works from" it, the credits may not necessarily read "Written By: Tambay Obenson" for example. So, you'll walk away with your $1,000 option fee, plus the $5,000 prize, and that could very well pretty much be it. Unless winning leads to more work... but that's just not something you can count on.

Also, under item# 9, there's this:

Each Entrant understands and acknowledges that the Sponsor has wide access to ideas, designs,and other materials, and that new ideas/Scripts are being developed by its own employees,suppliers, and/or business partners. Each Entrant also acknowledges that many ideas may be competitive with, similar or identical to the Submission and/or each other in theme, idea, format or other respects.

This is pretty standard in agreements like this. To translate, what they are saying here is, "if we produce a TV series, film, web series, or whatever, that has any likeness to the one you submitted to the contest, you can't sue us, because we've got our own creative team working on material, and we have a deep well from where we come up with our ideas, which just might look like yours."

Like I said it's standard stuff. But you should know that. And, by the way, this applies to EVERYONE that enters the contest, not just the finalists, or the winners. So, you may not win, but your script isn't necessarily protected. Just be aware of that.

So, let's just say, ultimately, you're getting paid a total of $6,000 ($5,000 grand prize + $1,000 option fee) for your script, and that's it. At worst, don't expect anything more. At best, a door or two could open for you. So if you're OK with that, then go ahead and submit.

Finally, under item # 2 (Eligibility):

Entrant, if selected as a potential Finalist, must consent to a background check as a condition of eligibility and as a condition of being designated as an actual Finalist. Such background check may include (but is not limited to) investigation of criminal or other arrest or conviction record, and any other factor deemed relevant by Contest Entities to help ensure that a Finalist’s participation in the Contest will not, in Contest Entities’ sole discretion, bring Contest Entities into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule or reflect unfavorably on the Contest Entities. If requested, each Finalist agrees to sign waiver forms authorizing the release of personal and background information. Contest Entities reserve the right to contact any person or entity, including any third party referenced in the background check.

Likely also standard stuff in contests like these, but I'm just making sure you're aware of it. In essence, they'll do a background check on you, including criminal, but, also possibly a credit check, even though it doesn't say so explicitly. However, this states that you'll have to agree to a potentially thorough background check, the extent of which is really up to them. Not that I'm implying that there are a bunch of folks who'll fail a background check, but the question you have to ask yourself is whether you'll be OK with that kind of prying into your personal (and professional) life, just for a contest, in which the most the winner appears to be guaranteed, is $6,000.

Also, understand that there might be some item on your personal record that you may not think will be a problem (or that really doesn't seem like much of a big deal); however, they could still use it against you if they feel that it might pose problems for them later on (whether or not it will, is another story). So be aware that you could be disqualified for any number of reasons that you may not even be aware of currently, believing that you have a spotless record, BUT your script still will not be *protected* as stated under item #9 above.

This is not to deter anyone; but over the years, I've read (and we've shared) several stories about lawsuits that really have no merit, often because one person didn't properly vet the agreement that they signed. So, just an FYI, and an encouragement to those considering entering the contest, to read everything in the official rules, and all the fine print.

I'm certainly not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV, so there might be even more *problems* with this contest than I could identify, in reading the official rules.

In short, make sure you know what you're getting into!

For the full list of eligibility requirements, as well as how to submit your entry, click HERE.

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  • Rowan | March 22, 2013 6:19 PMReply

    Optioning a script and owning the rights are two different things. They cannot move forward and do your project without OWNING the rights first. An option means that for the stated period of time, they are the only ones allowed to purchase the rights from you, if they mean to move forward with your project. So no, you don't get only $6000 if they make your show. You get $5000 for winning the contest and $1000 for an 18 month option (that time frame is pretty standard) where you aren't allowed to pitch or sell it to anyone else.

  • E. Joyce Moore | March 19, 2013 10:20 PMReply

    Sounds so familiar. Sounds just like Tyler Perry's 34th Street extension of TP Studios. They sent me a very similar agreement, except no money for that option. But the rest is exactly the same. Fortunately I had someone who verified this is exactly what they were saying; that I should feel honored they took the time to steal what I wrote. I passed on it.

  • Kevin | March 19, 2013 10:14 PMReply

    I agree with this post about the fine print and being aware of what one is giving up if entering this contest and that $6,000 and loss of ownership is not cool. BUT (there's always a BUT, right?), the people fortunate enough to be selected as winners may not get much up front, but they will get EXPOSURE and INTRODUCTIONS to industry folk, right? That alone is certainly worth more than $6K and blindly beating one's head against a wall trying to make headway, right? Also, if your work is awesome enough to be selected as the winner of THIS contest, you're not a one shot pony, right? Meaning, if you created one piece of awesome work, you can create additional pieces of awesome work, right? (I see you, Shonda Rhimes...). So, the takeaway for me, is submit if you have an idea. Overcome the fear, win the contest, take the $6K do the best you can for the 18 month period and continue to write more awesome stuff that you totally own and can pitch to the newly established network of connections you've made by winning the contest. How cool would that be?

  • Johnny | March 26, 2013 10:58 PM

    I'm with you Kevin. Not the least bit nervous about sending my work it. I did it w/no reservations. If I win the 6k great, all that means is that now I can show em my main shit. If I don't win I know I'll be pretty damn close to the top. Maybe then I'll hear back from those 100 queries I sent to Overbrook. LOL! Really folks you're taking life a little to seriously. Get your script read, and keep writing.

  • dee | March 19, 2013 1:26 PMReply

    WOW...Overbrook is giving 1 winner ONLY $6000 and in return they receive THOUSANDS of entries that all could be possibly be used for there own good. Thats a bad deal!!!!

  • Rowan | March 22, 2013 6:22 PM

    Out of those thousands of entries, maybe 15% of them will have more than the first few pages read. Any contest that shows you how to format a script means you'll get a lot of no-talent, no-expereince writers, some mildly talented writers and about maybe 30 people with chops. I don't envy the readers who have to slog through all of the poorly written and badly formatted scripts to find the few that are readable.

  • Rowan | March 22, 2013 6:22 PM

    Out of those thousands of entries, maybe 15% of them will have more than the first few pages read. Any contest that shows you how to format a script means you'll get a lot of no-talent, no-expereince writers, some mildly talented writers and about maybe 30 people with chops. I don't envy the readers who have to slog through all of the poorly written and badly formatted scripts to find the few that are readable.

  • J. "Vootie" Fred Muggs | March 19, 2013 3:54 AMReply

    Good piece, Tambay. I, too, can bottom-line this "contest": the A-lister who consciously AVOIDS working with black directors now wants to "help" aspiring black filmmakers? Yeeeaah, ummm, no.

    Think I'll be submitting my free ideas to the Will Smith company? Think again, son.

  • CAM Jr | March 18, 2013 11:06 PMReply

    TAMBAY, I thank you for "looking out" for your readers; however, if ANY of your readers are entering this contest for the money, they're FOOLS! Plain and simple. The soundest reasons for entering ANY Hollywood contest is for the EXPERIENCE and for the POSSIBILITY that those who are IN the game will recognize YOUR undeniable talent and welcome YOU into the game as well. It is my humble opinion that the MAIN reason young dancers don't audition for So You Think You Can Dance; or singers, for American Idol, The Voice, etc; or writers for this Overbrook contest, is a small but POWERFUL, four-letter word: F-E-A-R! Fear that they're not good enough. The PRIZE for winning this contest ISN'T $6,000. It's the KNOWLEDGE that top, industry professionals said, "You're the BEST of all we've seen!" It's the REALITY that you have created something new to add to your repertoire! It's the PRIVILEGE of adding the moniker, "GRAND PRIZE WINNER of Overbrook Entertainment's writing contest," to ALL your future submissions. And, last, but most assuredly not least, it's the POSSIBILITY that your writing talent WILL NOW make a way for you unlike FEAR, PESSIMISM and EXCUSES EVER will! So let it be written. So let it be done.

  • ALM | March 19, 2013 9:19 PM

    @ Cam Jr: We realize the value of networking with major players in Hollywood. Making all of those contacts is worthless if you end up submitting a screenplay that becomes a sleeper hit like "Juno" did. If your screenplay later goes on to make $40 million, you deserve the lion's share of that money, not Overbrook.

  • CC | March 19, 2013 6:40 AM

    **Standing and applauding** Now that was a perfect example of moving outside the "group think" mentality that permeates throughout -- some of the conversations -- here at S&A.

    CAM JR didn't bring money to the floor, he ushered in WISDOM!

    And, a defining message within his word can be found in the words FOOLS and MONEY. It's a fools errand to seek one's ultimate rewards through money.

  • Jela Oba Okpara | March 18, 2013 10:37 PMReply

    Also sometimes if you submit through your attorney you forgo these rules. Submitting through your attorney also gives you a bit of legitimacy.

    At this point we should all have at least one attorney cousin or relative that can handle that for us.

  • ALM | March 18, 2013 9:00 PMReply

    The prize money is really low, and what's to stop Overbrook from blacklisting a person once the option runs out?

    Chile, stick to Indiegogo and Kickstarter and do everything the hard way.

  • Rowan | March 22, 2013 6:32 PM

    I've work in the TV industry for a long time. No one runs around blacklisting people unless the person being blacklisted did something really egregious. Plagiarism is a great way to get blacklisted in this town. Once a writer is known to have stolen credit for other people's intellectual property (I'm not talking paying homage, but actual outright theft), no one wants to work with him/her anymore. They're a real liability and their name is Mud.

    Other than that, were looking at other no-nos like threatening people with physical harm or filing a sexual harassment lawsuit because they made vagina jokes in the writers room of a show aimed at adults. But that's it. Winning a contest doesn't come close. If they want to move past development they can't even get into soft pre-pro without BUYING the rights. Options are just reserving the properly so you can't give it to anyone else while they make up their minds.

  • Dywayne | March 18, 2013 4:17 PMReply

    As a playwrite/screenwriter, who have produced and in preproduction to produce an upcoming stage play, I'm yearning for the day to see my work on screen. Because of CONTEST RULES such as this, I have begun preproduction to shoot an independent film in the fall, along with starting a Youtube channel for half-hour comedy. One thing that I always suggest to any form of writer is to protect your work 360 degrees. I years ago sent Overbrook Entertainment a spec script and because it was UNSOLICITED it was returned. I wasn't fazed just immediately concerned if my story line was taken. But it hasn't been and since then I'm very reluctant in dealing with Production Companies that have deeper pockets than I. You all did a superb job and shall be commented on the breakdown of Overbrook's rules and regulations.

  • Aaron | March 18, 2013 12:51 PMReply

    When I read this it made me step away from the contest because I do not have time to deal with the maze and f*ckery of Hollywood. I'll just start my own film company and gather a group of in-house screenwriters who will keep the rights to their scripts and reap most of the profits from the films from their scripts. No more of this follow Hollywood business f*ckery. We need to stop emulating their way of doing business and create our own way of doing it because that is plain ole white hollywood f*ckery and black folks just want to play the game the way they made it instead slapping the pieces off the chessboard and say f*ck you I'm doing my own thing, my way.

  • content puppetboy bitch | March 18, 2013 1:38 PM

    can't wait to see your slate of films. got my popcorn ready.

  • Aaron | March 18, 2013 1:23 PM

    Watch and learn that you do not have to be another puppetboy for Hollywood. If you do not have the confidence to do it on your own then don't try to discourage me from doing it on my own. If you are content with being their b*tch then have fun but I'm not going for it. Watch me.

  • curious | March 18, 2013 1:06 PM

    You do not have time for Hollywood, but you have time to compensate these unproven in-house writers for their material and labor out of your own pocket without any guarantee of future profit potential? Good luck with that.

  • Eric D | March 18, 2013 12:35 PMReply

    You should probably consult with a entertainment lawyer. This not an atypical contract. The language may be alarming, but is consistent with many contests of this nature. Additionally, I believe their company is signatory to the WGA and must abide by their minimum basic agreement should your project progress. Aside from that, if you believe the purpose of this contest is to ultimately steal unsuspecting writer screenplays, I would suggest from personal experience you are mistaken. I actually have sold a script that I wrote for a writer training program with Overbrook attached, and though the movie was never made, I was well compensated through the years.

  • Hassan Fvckry (@DLYDJ) | March 18, 2013 11:57 AMReply

    Great write-up, Tambay! Sounds like they are trying to snatch up some scripts to take to another universe? The language and the gall!

    Would Will Smith and co. explain this to the Grand Prize Winner? No. Why? Because reading is funfamental.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | March 18, 2013 11:55 AMReply

    If it's good enough to win a major contest then it's probably good enough to earn proper representation by someone -- an agent, manager or entertainment lawyer -- who can make a noise for you in the industry, while keeping creative and intellectual rights fixed firmly in your hand until you can actually discuss terms of surrender.

  • PureEGO | March 18, 2013 11:46 AMReply

    If you do win, the networking opportunity may be greater in the end. If you play your cards right and don't focus on money all the time.

  • Dankwa Brooks | March 18, 2013 11:27 AMReply

    Great detective work Tambay! A lot of people don't understand that "winning" may in fact be "losing" if you think you have more control over your script and its further incarnations than you think.

    Like Tambay said a lot of this stuff is "par the course" in Hollywood. Once you sell your script (usually for way more than $6,000) it's out of your hands. They could do what they want with that script once it's sold.

    That's why I switched majors in college from screenwriting to directing, to have more control over my scripts.

    There's an old joke in Hollywood "The young girl got off the bus in Hollywood seeking fame, but she was so dumb she slept with the screenwriter"

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