Attachments to Screenplays

You’ve probably heard people throw around the word “attachment.” But what is an attachment? It depends on who you’re talking to.

To most people in business or academics, an attachment is a second document that is appended to a main document. To people in the motion picture industry, however, an “attachment” is a person. But not just any person.

In simple terms, an attachment is someone (other than a writer) who has become involved with developing a screenplay to production and must be hired when production begins. When someone in the movie business says there is an attachment to a script, this is usually what they’re talking about.

The writer of the script is not an attachment because the writer is the principal—the originator of the script the attachment is attached to. An attachment is typically a producer, a director, or a lead actor, but it could be anyone who can help get a production made or, at least, funded.

Usually, attachments are made because the script is good, but the writer is unable to get it to the “right people.” (Occasionally, the converse is true: an established writer might attach someone because the writer wants to give that person a break into the business.)

How are attachments done?

Often, an attachment is a producer or lead actor who has optioned the screenplay, in which case there is a formal agreement in place and nothing more needs to be done.

Sometimes, especially among friends, attachments are informal. The writer’s friend helps the writer promote the script and they agree the script won’t be sold unless the friend is hired for a specific job in the production.

Other times, a person to whom the writer submits a script (such as a producer, manager, or agent) will attach themselves—they show the script to someone else who has the power to get it made and say they’re attached. The writer may or may not know about this.

If the writer does not know the other person has attached herself, he may be surprised later to find he can’t make a deal because the prospective buyer has already been given the script by the surprise attachment. This can lead to awkwardness and, sometimes, a legal dispute.

For writers, the smart thing to do if someone offers to show the script to other people in exchange for being attached is to put the agreement in writing. And if the writer doesn’t agree, she should send a letter (preferably via fax or mail) to the prospective attachment saying so, to avoid awkwardness later.

Occasionally, particularly in the case of star actors, the attachment might refuse to agree in writing because they do not want to be legally obligated to the project. But if you are a struggling writer and they want to help you, accept whatever help they’re willing to give and don’t be too concerned.

What to include in an attachment agreement

A long-form contract isn’t required just to attach someone (that is, if the “attachment” isn’t optioning or purchasing the screenplay). Generally, both the writer and the “attachment” will need to sign formal agreements with the buyer later when the screenplay is sold. The writer should tell any prospective buyer that an agreement with the “attachment” is required.

The attachment agreement can be a simple writing between the parties to record their mutual understanding of what is being promised. This can be done in a page or less, and the parties should sign. (If there is more than one writer, all writers should sign.)

The important things to include are: the date of the agreement, the names and addresses of the parties, the name of the script, a description of the job function the “attachment” has been promised, what the “attachment” is promising to do for the writer in exchange for being attached (known among lawyers as “consideration”), and how long the agreement will last.

Of course, as I said above, you might have a verbal agreement—the problem comes in proving what it is. Often, the parties either understand things differently or change their minds. So, avoid verbal agreements.

© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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2 Responses to “Attachments to Screenplays”

  1. BG Ring says:

    Really great information! I always wondered why people were talking about attachments, but didn’t want to sound stupid. Now I know not to let people say they’re attached to my script unless we have something in writing.