Writing Plays/Screenwriting/selling a story idea


QUESTION: Hello Mr. Pearson
Sometimes I see on TV show or movie "Story Idea by" or "Based on a story idea by"
Is it possible to sell a story idea and protect it so it isn't stolen?
I have a great idea for "Sherlock" series.

ANSWER: Hi Demetrius,
There are some hard realities about breaking into television that you should be aware of.  Ideas and scripts for television shows are not bought from writers unknown to producers or networks. Scripts for television shows are written by staff writers, who typically have long lists of writing credits.  Breaking into TV writing is a long tedious process, and you need to do a lot of writing and "knocking on doors" before it could possibly happen.

Do you have the kind of persistence and determination required?

Also, almost all the writers working in television live either in Los Angeles or New York.  I doubt that it's possible for a newbie to break into TV writing if he or she does not live in one of those two places.  If you're a Canadian or an Australian you can create a TV career in those markets, but it's even tougher there.

I'd be happy to send you much more extensive material from my archives that will give you details.  When you've read it all, please feel free to e-mail me (barry@createyourscreenplay.com) with follow up questions.

My best advice to writers starting out on a career is to write prose and get published.  That is, short stories, novels, magazine articles.  There are many hundreds of markets for these on the internet and in print.  Some pay, some do not.  Don't quit your day job.

If you're determined to write for TV, write a 90 page spec feature film first so that you can show it as a sample of your work.

I'll look forward to your e-mail.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Lets say I had no screenwriting experience but I was watching my favorite show. I could say "what if there was an episode where the captain went back in time and with his knowledge helped win the civil war and then.." (assume its a good idea)
Would someone pay for a  detailed story idea itself, and not a script?

Hi Demetrius,

Television series productions have a structure and protocol designed to create the scripts they need.

Typically there is a team of writers who all pitch ideas for the season, and there is a "Show Runner" who co-ordinates and controls the writers. This team meets often and brainstorms the ideas, the overall story arcs, and the screenplay assignments.

I don't know of any television series that needs (or will accept) story ideas from you or me, or anyone other than their own writers.

By the way, you should know that "ideas" in and of themselves do not have copyright protection.
The only thing that is protected by copyright law is what you write down concerning your idea. That could be is a description of an idea, a sketch of a character, an outline, or a screenplay.

If you want to learn more please e-mail me at barry@createyourscreenplay.com so I can send you attachments of the details I have in my archive regarding writing for television.

All the best

Writing Plays/Screenwriting

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Barry Pearson


I`m a credited writer on nine feature films. My latest movie, IRON ROAD, which stars Peter O'Toole and Sam Neill, opened as feature, then aired as a four-hour miniseries on network television. Sun Li, the Chinese star, won the best actress award at the Roma Fiction Fest recently. www.ironroadthemovie.com) I’ve produced more than 300 episodes of television drama, including 13 episodes of Deepwater Black, and 106 episodes of Katts & Dog (Rin-Tin-Tin, K-9 Cop in the U.S.). I've answered over 1200 All Experts questions!


I've been in the business of writing and producing feature films, television series, and MOW's for over 20 years. You can check me out at this URL http://www.createyourscreenplay.com/aboutbp.htm

You can find my books on Amazon. See DON'T LET ANYONE STEAL YOUR STORY (http://tinyurl.com/StoryStealers)which is a stripped-down readable summary of copyright, full of entertaining anecdotes and real-life examples. Read about the true horror stories that clearly show you what you need to do to avoid the misfortune of having your literary material stolen. Find out: * How to take simple inexpensive steps to protect yourself, before, during, and after you write your literary work. * How copyright law applies to writers of literary works. * How literary works enter public domain, and how you can use it to your advantage. * What aspects of literary works are protected by copyright, and what aspects are not protected. * How to create documentation that will prove your copyright entitlement in the event of an infringement on your rights. * How you can protect yourself if you are contracted to write for television. You’ll also get a FREE sample of an Option and Purchase Agreement, a contract used in the acquisition of rights in a literary property—a contract that you and your lawyer can customize for your property. Written by a writer, for writers, Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Story will help you protect yourself against plagiarists and anyone else who might infringe your right of sole ownership. ------------- Also on Amazon, my book of four short stories, THE TWENTY-BUSHEL RACER. A man’s redemption from bitterness enables him to become a loving father. A teenager discovers the importance of his attachment to the people in his life and the place where he is growing up. A man, who has for years considered himself a coward and a betrayer of his comrades, musters the courage to stand up against a pair of would-be assassins. Two young men, who grew up in the same town, meet unexpectedly, reminisce about a girl they both loved when they were boys, and unveil a truth that changes both their lives.

Master of Arts degree (Drama)

Awards and Honors
Among my awards are Best Screenplay, Best Picture, at the International Film & Television Festival of New York for THE LIFE AND TIMES OF EDWIN ALONZO BOYD, Best Screenplay, Feature Film, at the 12th International Film Festival in Sitges, Spain for PLAGUE, and a Special Jury Award, Feature Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival for PLAGUE.

©2017 About.com. All rights reserved.