Wednesday, December 07, 2011


I dread reading a screenplay every time I'm asked to sign an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) by a writer wanting me to read their work.

I've signed five NDAs in the last three months and four have been totally unnecessary. So why do people get so paranoid their idea might be talked about and stolen when they really don't have anything to worry about? What do they think I'm going to do read their script and think 'by Margret Thatcher's balls that's a brilliant script, I'm going to steal it and make my fortune?' As if!

The WGGB suggest you simply put a little © by your name on the title page and leave it at that and I agree. There is no need for NDAs because anyone who wants a long and successful career in the business WILL NOT steal your work! If they did their career would be over the instant word got out. No one would want to touch them...NO ONE!

I could understand if the people in question were Hollywood writers with potential blockbusters on their hands (not that they would come to me anyway), or production companies with a project nearly ready to go, but why do new writers in this country insist on having a reader sign an NDA before they send out their script? And I have to be brutally honest here, it's usually the average scripts that come with the NDAs, the ones that don't have a killer plot worth talking about in the first place. That's not to say I haven't seen some very well written screenplays after I've signed an NDA.

Besides you can't protect an idea. Once you've written a screenplay it's your intellectual property by law, but the idea can still be written in a different way, with different characters by someone else. I can guarantee that while you're coming up with your unique blockbuster of an idea there are hundreds of other people, maybe even thousands, having the exact same idea at the exact same time. As if to prove this point earlier in the year someone pitched me an idea for a TV series to see if I thought it was any good, then last month I read the EXACT same idea had been made into a Hollywood film and was due for release soon.

So if anyone is reading this and is thinking of sending me their screenplay to read, don't ask me to sign an NDA before hand, it's not needed...honest!


Adaddinsane said...

Why do they do it? Because they're naive* newbies.

Personally I'd tell 'em to get lost - in fact by signing an NDA you are putting yourself at risk, because if you wrote something that was similar that got produced they might come back at *you*.

Any agent or producer in the UK or the US would instantaneously reject anyone who wanted an NDA signing. What the US companies demand (in some situations) is that the *writer* sign a waiver agreeing that any similarity between the work they're submitting and anything produced by the company is coincidence.

*I did use the term "ignorant" but felt that was a little too harsh. Though it's more accurate.

Dominic Carver said...

"Personally I'd tell 'em to get lost!"

I'll never turn paying customers away, my children would starve. Besides I read one last week that was sent with an NDA and the writing wasn't bad, the plot just needed better direction.

I honestly don't see the point of NDAs for anyone other than production companies.

Dominic Carver said...

Well it seems the tide of opinion flows in favour of not reading anything that comes with an NDA, so from now on that is exactly what I'll do.

Adaddinsane said...

What they need is educating; they need to understand that writers have the same ideas all the time, and nobody is going to steal their script.

For example, I had a TV pilot planned - then Lawrence Timms came out with something almost identical. Although we know each other we'd never discussed it.

It happens.

Dominic Carver said...

Here's and excellent blog about the problem of NDAs by dear old Bangers:

About Travelista Closet said...

They are not naive, nor are all of them newbies..far form it. They actually they go by this mantra "Don't trust, put it all in writing". If you think you can trust anyone with whatever you tell them, then that's the first mistake. I am an entrepreneur and a filmmaker. An NDA is used A LOT whenever you are about to share intellectual property or specific information linked to a new product that has yet to hit the market. Now, why should it be different for those in the film industry (it's really not that different in reality). The right kind of film story can be a huge money maker, make your film high profile, and can drum up the kind of influence that can make or break the rest of your career. Anyone who says "It's not like you have a Hollywood Blockbuster",well that person is showing his/her newbie status when they say that. These days, you can be a low budget indie and become a household name, thanks to the lower cost of production equipment and the internet. One film story can make you a Hollywood favorite. So, what do SMART business people do? They know how to put their "babies" in writing. Contracts are used in business dealings, partnerships and/or other collaborations all the time, and even for the smallest details. Plus, I have come across plenty of people, who have worked in the film industry for years who require you to sign a NDA. Many of even the film score composers I know have to sign a NDA. If i had dime for everytime I have been told by film composers, actors, and others that "Hey I can't tell you much about the film until its finished.". So, I don't know why you would think that its silly. Too many filmmakers are requiring it to be done. Listen, its business..nothing personal. If you can't handle contracts like a NDA, then its your decision to not read it..but I can tell you I see it becoming more and more common.

About Travelista Closet said...

Here is a reference link to a casting/actor community blog of why NDA's are used before some auditions.

Unknown said...

The author, whether good, bad or needs whatever took years to develop his or her questionable talent and this terrible script. It takes you all of a second to scrabble a terrible scratch of a signature. Want to go far in the right direction? Conjure up a little respect. The right one needing only a consoling word and a real sig might trip by your wretched soul one day.

Dominic Carver said...

Bit harsh, Ed!

For the record I DO respect the amount of time and effort put into novels and screenplays by their authors, as I know how hard I work myself.

However, I won't sign an NDA unless the script is about to go into production. My reputation is very important to me and my honesty and the level of service I provide are integral to that. I would never betray a client's confidence and don't need to sign an NDA to prove that. If the client insists on an NDA then I turn the work down. I don't want that writer then picking through my work and calling me a plagiarist when they come across something that is similar to some of their work I've read.

New writers spend far too much time worrying about their idea being stolen and not enough time worrying if their execution of that idea is good enough!!! No one of repute is going to steal your work!!!! End of!!!!!

Waitforyesterday said...

I respect everything everyone has stated here as we are all entitled to an opinion, and if no one was beyond reproach then there would be no need for such measures as NDA's, as the proof is in the pudding as there was a lawsuit recently over M.I. Ghost Protocol. The bottom line is I don't know you, and you don't know me. Does an NDA stop someone from stealing or plagiarizing a script?No! but it let's both parties know it will be harder for the transgressors to profit if it is re-written or directly taken and used. I don't agree with the idea that there are exactly the same plot lines out there, although they may be similar. Dave Semenko and Wayne Gretzky played on the same NHL Stanley Cup teams....with all due respect to Dave, were they the same grade and pedigree of player?
You may have to go through a lot of scripts to get that one good script as it is a game of numbers, but that one script is what makes Agents their money. I am not an expert as a scriptwriter who is now trying to get one of my projects noticed and into production, but shouldn't you get an idea from a treatment if the script is even worth a read? I am seriously considering going the idie route because I don't want something I took so much time to develop to be misused or turned into something I am no longer proud of. Ask Zak Penn if he was one hundred percent proud of the end product of " The Last Action Hero ". I respect the fact that Agents work hard to get a project bought, I guarantee that the great scripts took a lot more time and work to write in the first place. Agents have the power when going through the Hollywood route, that is not in dispute, but maybe using technology and getting investors is a safer way to get what the real writers want, which hopefully is their vision realized. We all need to make a living but I didn't write my ideas into a script for just that. If everyone had the ethics and love for the craft like say... Keanu Reeves, there would be no need for NDA's. You can say what you like about Kenu; but his talent is unquestionable, and he loves the craft so much he gave up most of his payday from the Matrix trilogy to the crew! He has given up millions to be able to get the right actor for his movies! That is the guy that myself and uncounted others would like to be in business with, and to finally read their scripts....unfortunately Keanu and people like him are a little untouchable. It all comes down to money with Hollywood, and it is the reason writers are scared to submit, and why occasionally scripts are plagiarized. It all comes down to integrity and talent. The people with the least integrity usually have the least talent. I really wish that someone with a good solid script that still has mass appeal could feel confident to openly submit their work.

GI1908 said...

Omg thank you because I am new to this film writing business but I am a contract manager by profession so my IP I would typically protected by an NDA. It's good business period. Why would film business be different. Very interesting perspective on the non believers of NDA.

Unknown said...

No need for discussion if you sign the NDA and move on.
I agree with the comment that you don't appreciate the work put on a piece of writing.
Of course people can have very similar ideas simultaneously, but just like you take a vaccine to protect yourself from, even if the chances of getting sick are low, everyone sleeps better with it.
Not wanting to sign an NDA doesn't tell me you are a trust worthy person, all the contrary, it tells me you're not. -- I had a chance to present a piece of work to a very big producer - then in that case, I don't care about the NDA. I trust someone who's been in the business for 50 years - but otherwise - the NDA is not hurting anyone.

Antonis said...

If you don't want to sign ndas, you will have to write your own scripts

Dominic Carver said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dominic Carver said...

FERNANDO - Asking someone to sign an NDA tells me the writer is paranoid or overly precious about their work and best avoided.

An NDA should be signed if the script is attached to a production company and/or finance is in place. This would be to protect what the production company have in development to help prevent other companies developing similar projects at the same time.

The only example of an NDA being needed would be if you're working on someone's life story.

Unknown said...

Not sure if my first post uploaded - I am a newbie and it provides interesting reading... i have a couple of original ideas - has anyone got a good NDA template before i have a meeting with an agent (which is already lined up)

Dominic Carver said...

I seriously wouldn't bother with one, Nathanael, you'll just flag yourself as an amateur. And if you don't trust the agent why are you even meeting with them? Forget about NDAs and spend more time on your writing, that will help you more.

Unknown said...

We do not sign NDAs, nor do we ask for a signature. It's un-ethical and if someone were to steal your idea they would be done in this industry. Everyone knows everyone. The only time an NDA would ever be used is once the film hits production. Your script is copyrighted and WGA registered, that's good enough. Imagine if every author who wrote books asked the customer to sign an NDA at purchase. NDAs are mostly used for intellectual property, if used for script reviews, auditions or castings it's mainly a scare tactic. 👍
Got a great idea and wanna collaborate. Holler!