Basic definitions

In order to make sure everyone’s on the same page for these blog posts, I think it’s important to outline some definitions that will be used frequently in my posts. A lot of these are taken from the Writers Guild of America‘s (WGA’s) Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA), with some other thrown in. Please keep in mind these are just general definitions and many will be elaborated upon in later blog posts.

I’ll break these up by topic to keep the information as concise as possible.

WRITING STEPS

  • A treatment is an outline of a story written for use as the basis of a screenplay, anywhere from a few pages to dozens of pages.
  • A draft is a complete script in continuity form, including full dialogue.
  • A rewrite is a set of revisions that make significant changes to the plot, storyline, or interrelationship of characters.
  • A polish is a set of revisions that make changes to the dialogue, narration, or action, but not including a rewrite.

TYPES OF SCREENWRITING

  • A screenplay or script is the general term for written material for translation into a motion picture.
    • If the work is intended as a movie-length (approx. 90-120 minutes) work, it’s called a feature.
    • If the work is intended as as a work for television, it can also be called a teleplay. Depending on the intended length of the show, a teleplay might further be described as a one-hour or a half-hour. Half-hour situational comedies are specifically called sitcoms.
    • If the work is generally intended to be less than a half-hour, it’s called a short.
  • An original work is one that’s specifically conceived for translation to the screen, while an adaptation is a work that’s translated for the screen from source material in another medium (e.g., books, comics, articles, songs, historical events, etc.).

EXHIBITION SOURCES

  • Theatrical projects are those actually released in movie theaters.
  • Network television projects are those that are released on broadcast networks identified by the FCC, e.g., ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox.
  • Cable television projects are those that are released on channels found in cable packages, e.g., AMC, Comedy Central, Lifetime, MTV, TNT, USA, etc.
  • Pay or premium television projects are those that are released on channels that require a specific subscription to view, e.g., HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc.

COMPENSATION

  • Guaranteed compensation is money that is committed to be paid regardless of the outcome of the writing or the project.
  • Optional compensation is money that might be paid if the company elects to proceed. This is typically used in relation to additional writing steps, where a writer might be hired for a guaranteed rewrite, and then the company has the option (or not) of continuing to use the writer for an option polish.
  • Contingent compensation is money that might be paid if a particular objective trigger circumstance is reached. Contingent compensation can be further broken down into three categories:
    • Deferments are money put off until a specific point in time. For example, if you normally get $100,000 for a rewrite but agree to take less money up front for a particular reason, you might agree to take $75,000 guaranteed, and defer $25,000 until, say, the movie gets funding.
    • Bonuses are extra money paid upon the attainment of certain conditions. Common bonuses are paid for being awarded writing credit, upon the start of principal photography, when the box office returns reach a certain amount, etc.
    • Participation is a percentage or fraction of a percentage of the profits of a film.

I will blog in much more detail about writing compensation in a future blog post.

WRITING CREDIT

Writing credit is comprised of two parts: story by credit is “distinct from screenplay and consisting of basic narrative, idea, theme, or outline indicating character development and action,” while screenplay by credit is “individual scenes and full dialogue… [that] represent substantial contributions to the final script.”

Written by credit is used to indicate the same writer is responsible for both the story and the screenplay.

There are a few other unique credits like screen story by and adaptation by, so credit will be discussed at length in another blog post.

 

Even though these are really general definitions, hopefully it will give new readers and those unfamiliar with the entertainment industry a solid foundation for future reading.

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