I’ve spent decades now doing my own writing, while trying to get paid for it as best I can, and also “writing for hire,” where payment is agreed upon and the work is not my own, despite the fact that I’ve done it. I’m not in any practical sense the author of the work I do for hire: copyright, control, and other aspects of authorship are held by somebody else, per contractual agreements. I just write it.
Legally, that is, “authorship” refers not to who did the work but to who owns and controls the product and the rights in it. You’ll see this at the end of closing credits on a movie: “Columbia Pictures [say] is the author of this motion picture for the purpose of copyright and other laws.” It means that the Hollywood studio that distributes the film has become its author, per contract, regardless of the degree to which the film was actually made by others. Assigning authorship is a price of getting film distribution.
My work-for-hire contracts often involve restrictions on disclosing anything I know about the work and how it was done, including the fact that it was done by me. So details will naturally be lacking here.
But it’s interesting to me that film directors don’t have this issue: A director might pitch his or her own favorite idea for a movie he or she wants to make or be approached to take on a directing role in a project that’s already in development. Either way, unless the director funds the thing himself, or otherwise has a producing role, or unless there’s a very unusual deal involved, if the project is underway, the director is in a way working for hire. Successfully pitching your own film idea doesn’t get you copyright on the resulting film; it gets your idea bought and you hired to do it.
The supposed downside, compared to book deals, is that the director is legally not the author. In a book deal for something I pitch, with my name on it — unlike in my writing for hire — I retain copyright, control, and many of the subsidiary rights.
The upside for filmmakers, though, is huge. Continue reading