A couple of Bang2writers messaged me yesterday via email and FB chat, asking about NDAs and release forms, so I thought it might be of use to repeat it here for anyone else who might be wondering.
What is an NDA?
NDA stands for "non disclosure agreement". This is something PRODUCTION COMPANIES may send out with its scripts to readers like me. This is not because they are afraid *I* will steal their script, but because they are afraid rival companies will get the heads-up on their project... Essentially it's a note to me saying I shouldn't talk (or tweet, or Facebook, or write blog posts - as if!) about their project for a certain period of time (usually between 1 and 3 years, to allow for development/production). Projects with NDAs are usually "packaged" - which usually means they have a cast attached, a budget drawn up, maybe they've even started production or are in post production. Since SO MUCH MONEY can be involved in filmmaking (even "low budget" pictures can be upwards of two hundred thousand pounds to make), NDAs can be a good idea. That said, even packaged movies sometimes will not ask me to sign NDAs - it's just not good manners for me to talk about someone else's project, never mind leak details and I never would, anyway.
What is a release form?
A release form is a "permission to read" document and again, something a PRODUCTION COMPANY may ask a writer to sign before they will consider reading his/her script. Usually the release form will ask the writer to not hold the company liable for any SIMILAR projects they may develop that's NOT the writer's script in question, after it has been read by said company - or, in other words:
If we read your script... then make a film that's not your script but is *like* your script... You can't sue us.
A lot of new writers believe release forms are so ruthless production companies can RIP WRITERS OFF with abandon. This is not the case. The production company is instead merely protecting itself from lawsuits from those new writers who believe all prodcos are out to rip off writers. After all, given the amount of ever popular ideas and similar specs doing the rounds, there is a stronger than average chance a writer *will* see a similar idea to theirs go into production and then go off on one legally about it. Better to sidestep the problem before it becomes an issue - hence release forms.
As a writer, should I send NDAs out with my spec?
Absolutely not. For one thing, there's a strong chance people will not read it! It's considered paranoid and frankly, unprofessional. As a general rule, Bang2write does NOT read specs with NDAs attached from individuals as I believe it contributes to this bogus culture of paranoia regarding copyright. Whilst this has meant some writers have then said "Well I'm not sending my script to get read by you", I can honestly say I can't even remember when this last happened, so I think avoiding NDAs works - I'd wager many more writers are realistic about this issue NOW than say, five years ago.
As a writer, should I sign release forms?
The more release forms you see from production companies, the more you will see they're much the same: the language, what they set out, their intention. And certainly, if you want to be read in America, you will more often HAVE to sign release forms than not (they don't seem as big a deal over here). That said, if you happen to see a release form that sets alarm bells ringing in terms of being considerably different to what you've seen before, or if you've never seen one before and aren't sure what to expect, then simply ask someone who's dealt with them before - there are so many online groups on Facebook, LinkedIn and of course #scriptchat on Twitter, you will more than likely have your concerns answered before the day is out.