I understand filmmaker’s concerns with protecting their scripts. Sometimes it’s to keep an ending secret till it hits festivals. Sometimes it’s the fear that someone with immediate resources will take their story and proceed to production before they do. It’s certainly possible that either of these scenarios could occur, but the less known you are, the less you have to worry about this happening.
Now, I’m not saying you should post a copy of your script every Starbucks bulletin board in hopes some visiting producer will read it while he waits for the barista to finish his gingerbread latte. You should take all the precautions you can to protect your work. What bothers me is how anal writers and filmmakers get over keeping their scripts a secret, yet they have no problem blurting out the entire plot of their film before the script is even written.
Let me set the stage for an example:
You’re at a party with other filmmakers maybe discussing what the best Coen movie is (Barton Fink) or which has the best universe Star Wars or Star Trek (Battlestar Galactica). Eventually someone, probably six PBR’s deep at this point, asks what you’re up to and you begin to describe your film career. Not to be outdone, your new friend begins to tell you about the idea he just came up with for the perfect film. It could be anything, but it’ll almost certainly involve aliens and a twist at the end that is totally different than a million other movies because this one has aliens.
Too many people seem to have no problem discussing with complete strangers future films they have absolutely no ownership over, while sparing no expense at protecting scripts they already have copyright over through simply writing them. Nothing is stopping someone from stealing an idea. Ideas are not yours.
Hell, I’m convinced I came up with the idea The Wrestler. It’s a great film, I know, I invented it in my mind. The only difference was in my film it was a boxer and the budget was $120 because that’s all I had in my account. For all I know whoever wrote that film was sitting in the Denny’s booth behind me at four in the morning while I regaled my friends with my million dollar idea in one of my many whiskey induced tirades.
There’s nothing wrong with telling your new film idea to your friends, your family or whomever you have a long-term, genital-rubbing relationship with, just make sure you can trust them. Remember, screenplays are tangible. Ideas are not. You can’t claim thoughts.