Freelance Writing Agreements For Television by Pamela A. Schechter, Esq.

Over the last several years, there has been a boom in animated television production. Many of my clients have been hired as freelance writers for various series and one time projects. Although some of the projects only last for a short period of time, I always demand that my client receive a Writer's Employment Agreement. These agreements are not complicated but your rights in a very significant way.

The first part of the agreement usually outlines the parties to the agreement. The parties often consist of a production company and the animator the company is hiring to perform writing services. In addition, the type of project and the writer's responsibilities are described in great detail. For example, if the writer is being hired to work on a television series, the name of the series and the number of episodes is listed. The services for a television series often described in the agreement are developing a concept, writing and delivering a certain number of scripts. The services are subject to the approval of the producer of the series or another executive in charge of the production.

The number of different drafts of the scripts the writer will have to create and the date each draft must be delivered to the production company should be clearly delineated in the agreement. This is an aspect in a writer's agreement that is always carefully negotiated.

The length of time the animator will be working on the project should be clearly defined. Usually, the work begins on the date of the agreement and ends at an open date in the future at a mutually agreed upon time or when all of the services that the writer must provide are completed.

Compensation amounts are also an important issue to be negotiated. Usually, writers are paid a certain amount per completed script. In this situation, the writer does not receive the money until a completed script is delivered to and accepted by the production company.

Depending on the type of project, the production company sometimes wants to have the right to option the writer's services in the future. For example, if a television series has the potential to be renewed, the production company will want the exclusive option to have the animator write for the next season. Usually, the production company has to exercise the option within a certain period of time and for a definite amount of compensation. In most agreements, the way in which the production company notifies the writer that it is exercising the option is clearly described.

One of the most important clauses in a writer's agreement is the credit clause. Most production companies will promise to give a writer a specific credit such as "Written By." However, it is unusual for the production company to promise where exactly the credit will be placed or the size of the credit. The production company usually has complete discretion in this area.

Because the writer is a freelance employee, the production company will have an extensive clause acknowledging that all of the material he created for the production company belongs to the production company. This is usually called a work for hire clause. The writer states that the production company is the author and owner of all of the scripts that the writer has developed. In addition, to protect itself, the production company has the writer assign all his rights in the scripts to the production company. The production company also requires the writer promise that the company can change the scripts in any manner it wants.

To further protect itself, the production company will state that it has no obligation to use, produce or exhibit the work the writer creates. It's only obligation is to pay the writer for the work he has completed.

Although a freelance writer's employment agreement is not usually complicated, it is important to have an entertainment attorney review and negotiate the agreement for you. The deal may be simple, but you must always protect yourself and make sure you are getting the compensation, credit, and terms in the agreement that you deserve.