Are Sequels Fair Game?

Posted by Dina Appleton on

I am interested in writing a sequel to someone else's movie. I was wondering, do I need permission from the original filmmakers, or can I just write the screenplay and market it as one of my own spec scripts?

Margaret C., Far Hills, NJ

Dina Appleton & Daniel Yankelevits respond: Great Question. Here's the answer -- you are free to go ahead and write the screenplay -- but purely as a showcase of your work. Any potential buyer of the screenplay would be precluded from exploiting it in any commercial way without separately securing the underlying rights. Sometimes (though it's rare) a studio will love your idea for a remake or a sequel of a property they already own, which makes it relatively simple. In fact, this is exactly what producers do. For example, Brian Grazer may go to Universal and say: I have an idea for a theatrical movie based on your 1970's series, 'The Six Million Dollar Man.' Universal already owns the rights, and might go ahead and hire a writer -- or, Brian G. may already know that you have created such a script.

In order for aspiring television writers to secure representation (i.e., an agent or manager) or to secure employment, they are frequently told to write spec scripts for existing series. As mentioned above, this is purely for the purpose of demonstrating their writing ability. No buyer (other than the owner of the TV series in question) could actually exploit that script. In short -- if your question is, can I write (but not sell) the script, the answer is yes. If you are hoping to actually make a sale, don't count on it. Chances are the owner of the original property already has someone in mind to work on a possible sequel, and you will be hard-pressed to get such an owner to consider your work. And, vis a vis any other buyer (unconnected to the original work), that buyer is unlikely to want to invest in a property that cannot be used without separately acquiring the original work. Good Luck!

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