Will Smith Undiscovered TV Writers Contest Entrants Should Read The Fine Print

Posted By Urban News Hour | March 18, 2013

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 orANA 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.

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!



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