How Do You Submit an Original Idea or Screenplay to a Studio?

Jul 01, 2019

Idea Lightbulb photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash

You have a brilliant idea. You write your own original screenplay, you submit it to a studio, and it becomes the next big movie. Your name is everywhere… every major designer is begging to dress you for awards season… you win the Oscar! Wait a minute, is that five-time Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio in your living room?

Wake up: you're dreaming (especially about Leo's five Academy Awards). I hate to burst your bubble, but even the submission step isn't quite so simple. You have two options when it comes to submitting your work, and neither is perfect.

Your first option is to go it alone and try submitting your idea to a studio without help. The problem is that most studios won't take unsolicited submissions, and even if they do, most have submission agreements that they either make you sign or that are part of their terms of use.

What's the big deal with submission agreements and why should you think twice before subjecting yourself to one? Submission agreements are basically an insurance policy for the studio, making sure that if they come up with an idea for a show, they don't get sued later by every person that submitted a remotely similar idea. But this means that you, in submitting your idea under such an agreement, likely have to give up your rights to bring a claim against them if they really do use your idea and then neglect to pay you.

If that doesn't sound great, your second option is to get an agent or lawyer. This may be a bigger investment up front, but studios generally won't subject you to a submission agreement if you submit an idea through an agent or lawyer. What's the benefit? You retain your rights in case the studio decides to take advantage of you - rights like contract rights and copyrights.

Let's talk through this for a second. You have an agent who submits your idea for you. The studio loves it but uses your idea without paying you. What now? Without a submission agreement in place, you can potentially bring a claim for breach ofimplied-in-fact contract. This means that you submitted your idea with the requirement that you get paid if it got used, they knew that when they accepted your idea, and then they used your idea but didn't pay you and are breaching that contract that is implied through the chain of facts. See why this is a useful right to retain?

While neither option is 100% perfect, submitting through an agent or attorney is the best way to make sure you get your work in front of studios while also retaining your rights so that your hard work is protected.

Next week, we will talk about what to do if someone steals your idea.


Pfeiffer Law Corp's core business is entertainment. The center of that core is social media. We represent YouTubers, Instagram Influencers and brand ambassadors.

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