What does it mean to have your screenplay optioned?
[NOTE this article has been referenced or cited on BlueCat, ScriptTips, SimplyScripts, so you may recognize portions of it.]
A producer wants to option your script. Should you do it? What are the considerations? Here’s one guy’s opinion.
Part I of II [Click for Part II: Eleven More Things To Think About When Negotiating Your Screenplay Option]
Now that I’ve been through the option gauntlet a couple of times, I get asked about the experience and the process. It’s a little humbling, cuz I’m just a lucky guy with one indie sale and a few indie options, but I know how much I appreciate when I stumble across some good first-hand info, and figured it would be a good idea to share what I know. So I thought I’d gather my notes together here, in the hopes that it’ll prove useful to others. This is no substitute for having an attorney, mind you… more on that later. But I wish I’d had this list.
Of course, I’m no lawyer, but I did pay one (a really good one, too!) to represent me in my deals. I wanted to learn, so I was involved in the negotiation process, and reviewed each round of revisions on the offers and eventual contracts, asked lots of questions, and took lots of notes. I asked the attorney to mark up the contract with all the items of concern or negotiation he could think of… then I had him go over them with me, and explain things to me that I didn’t understand. I picked out the points I wanted to ask for, and removed items I felt were over-reaching or I just didn’t feel like I needed.
I don’t plan on being so involved in future deals. But now that I’ve got a handle on the basic vocabulary and have some sense of what it is I should be looking for, at least I won’t feel like an outsider in my own negotiations.
Part I is the basics… what is an option, how to respond, and what to expect. Part II is a list of negotiation points and terms that I’m very glad I know about now, and you might like to know about as well.
1 – What is an option?
Producer Bob stumbled across your script on your site, or at InkTip.com, or in a screenplay competition, and has approached you with an offer to “option” it. What’s that mean, exactly?
Granting a producer an option means granting them the exclusive right to develop the script… to try to raise the money to make it, get talent or a director attached, and otherwise exploit the property with the end goal of making your movie. Any time within the option period they can “exercise” the option, and buy your script for an agreed price.
Sounds great, right?
2 – Should you take the option?
Getting optioned is exciting. But it doesn’t mean your film is going to get made… it means someone wants to make your film but doesn’t have the resources yet. If they did have the resources, they’d buy it and make it, right? So what you really want (short of actually selling the screenplay) is to have it optioned by someone who has a high likelihood of getting it made. Because while having a script optioned is great (and it is great, don’t get me wrong) having a script produced is even better. Not just for your ego, but for your career.
Remember too that your scripts are your product, and have value. They’re an investment for you, and like any investment, they should be working for you. I assume that you don’t just write them and stick them in a drawer… you show them to people, put them into contests, post them on screenplay sites (like InkTip.com), right? You want them out there representing you, if not to get sold, to at least be working as writing samples.
But during the time the script’s under option, you’re likely restricted from any further exploitation of your own. That’ll probably include submitting it to any more contests, and certainly means not showing it to any other producers. When your script is under option, it’s “off the market” and is no longer working for you. Now the option has to be working for you, by being more valuable, more likely to lead to production, than having the script “on the market”. So, you want it optioned by someone who’s really got the goods to make things happen.
3 – It’s okay to say no
If you’re approached by an unknown producer with no resources, no previous credits, no financing and no connections, and thus a limited likelihood of getting to production, it’s okay to say no. Your script (assuming it’s a good script, and of course it is, right?) may be more valuable to them than they are to you. If you option to this producer, your script may no longer be working for you anywhere, either inside or out of the option. That does you no good at all.
But you don’t have to say no. There may be good reasons to take said chance with Mister unknown resourceless producer… more on that later.
4 – Get a lawyer
If you’re considering taking the option, let me say this first:
Get a lawyer… not just any lawyer, but an entertainment attorney. I promise you, they will handle things you never dreamed would need to be handled. They will ask for compensations and protections that you didn’t know existed. And you will be better off for it.
Second, partner with your lawyer. I’ve heard people complain long and hard about how their lawyers screwed up deals for them, lost them money or projects or investors. Your attorney works for you… they’re the pro, don’t get me wrong, and avail yourself of their wisdom, but be sure you’re involved enough to sign off on what they’re asking for. In the end, if you let your attorney ask for too much and screw the deal, it’s on you.
Where do you find a lawyer? I can only tell you how I found mine. My first option deal was a no-lawyer friendly deal with a producer I knew from a previous film (I was an art director). I signed an option contract that looked fair to my unschooled eye (and it pretty much was), and it ran its course. When the producer wanted to renegotiate an extension, I took that as an opportunity to look for an entertainment attorney, because I figured it would be easier to find a good one when I could say “There’s an offer on the table… can you help me?”.
Then, I reached out to other screenwriters I know, asked for references, and was recommended to a great attorney in Beverly Hills. I was able to contact his offices, reference this other writer’s name, and say “So and so referred me to you. I’ve got an offer on the table. Can you help?”
The short answer, I guess, is network for recommendations.
5 – Why do you get paid?
So if they’re not making your movie (yet) why do you get paid?
Your script is Intellectual Property (IP), and he with the best IP wins. No script, no movie. (Well, that’s not entirely true… plenty of films go into production with no script, but they’ve usually got big stars or big producers behind them. Iron Man comes to mind as a recent example…) IP has inherent value, and potential value. The inherent value is that it’s legally defensible property that you own and control the rights to. The potential value is, of course, what its resulting film (and all that might go with that… merchandise, novelizations, sequels, serializations, TV series, etc.) will be worth.
When you option the script to a producer, you’re transferring your rights in the IP — and its inherent value — to that producer to use as her own. It’s no longer yours for the period of the option… it’s now an asset in the producer’s portfolio. Even if the film isn’t made, the rights to that asset — control over the potential — are of value to the producer. Why? A producer with “a portfolio of ten good producible scripts she’s got exclusive rights to” is in a stronger position with potential financiers, studios, production partners, than is a producer with “no rights to any scripts.” Make sense?
Because you’re giving up an asset with value and taking it off the market, and “loaning” the value of that asset to someone else, you should be compensated.
6 – How much will you get paid?
Your option contract should include at least two numbers: the option price, and the purchase price.
The option price is what you get for giving the producer temporary and exclusive rights to your IP, and taking it off the market. The option price is traditionally 10% of the purchase price, and is yours to keep no matter what happens.
The purchase price is just what it sounds like: at some future point defined in the contract, should the producer raise the funds and resources to make the film, she will “exercise the option” and buy the script from you. This should be prior to the start of principal photography, but could be another negotiated date.
The option price (what you’ve already received) may be applied toward the purchase price… say the purchase is 50K, and you’ve received 5K as the option price (10%). When they exercise, they’ll give you the other 45K. Should they never exercise, you keep the 5K as compensation for being “off the market”. But again, this is all negotiable.
So what is the purchase price?
That’s the trick, isn’t it? If you’re in the Writer’s Guild (WGA), I believe the union minimum right now for a feature script is in the neighborhood of 76K. Of course, the WGA does understand that small movies can’t take that hit, and they’ve got low-budget agreements for those kinds of productions. Ask the WGA for more info – they’re pretty accessible folks, even for non-members.
I’m not currently WGA, and I’m assuming you’re not either. So what do we ask for?
One rule of thumb says the script should account for about 3% of the budget… so if your script is a little indie film that’s being shot on weekends for 50K, figure $1500. A 2MM movie? Shoot for a $60,000 purchase price. Find a balance, and don’t cripple the production with an unreasonable percentage. Be a partner, and an asset, not a financial liability. Instead, negotiate those alternative compensations. Wouldn’t you like to have owned a little backend piece of Paranormal Activity?
7 – What about those “dollar options”?
Again, if you’re in the WGA there are restrictions on how little you can accept… but we’re not WGA. So we’ve got the freedom to strike any deal we want.
The producer may ask you to option your script to them for very little or no money, and while many writers may disagree with me, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. There are good reasons to take low dollar or free options, especially when you’re early in your career — so long as you’re confident that the producer has a reasonably good chance of reaching production, or you’re otherwise going to get some good value and experience from the option. There’s value in getting the opportunity to work with certain people, for instance, or in being allowed to participate and gain experience in a production role.
If you choose to take the dollar option, just bear in mind that you should be reimbursed for that additional concession. In addition to your purchase price, consider negotiating for other compensations, like backend points, or a higher purchase price, or box office bonuses, a first right of refusal on all paid rewrites, the sequel, remakes, etc. Or consider retaining some or all of other rights in exchange for the dollar option, like the novelization, video game, or merchandising rights.
Or at the very least, if there’s little or no money up front, shorten the option period. Mitigate the “off the market” time you’re willing to endure for zero dollars.
8 – How long will the option be?
Options run 6-12 months (usually). At the end of the option period, the producer may have an “extension clause” they can exercise, to get another 3-6 months or more. But if they do, there should be another payment involved.
At the end of the extension, if they really want to hang on to the script, they can ask you to do another extension, or renegotiate the option, or whatever… but then it’s up to you.
All of these numbers are negotiable… how many months, how many extensions, how much additional payment. You’ll want to balance your desire to work with the producer, the time off the market, the likelihood of production, and make a deal you can live with… because once you sign, you’re obligated.
9 – Will they change my script?
In a word, “Yes”.
Every script, by every writer established or new, will go through changes. During my first option, among many other changes, all the characters had their genders reversed, and (I kid you not) a scene with a giant flying corncob was added. Yup. It all made sense to someone somewhere, and those changes, if they appease the right people, are probably bringing your project closer to production. I mean, come on, people don’t add flying corncobs for simply no reason, do they?
Don’t be married to your script. Filmmaking is a collaborative artform, and your option makes you a part of a team. If you’re so in love with your story and will suffer heartache (that money or a produced credit can’t solve when it gets changed), then put it in that drawer and don’t take it out till you can make it yourself, your way.
Negotiate yourself as the writer of any rewrites, polishes, and punch-ups that might be necessary. Maintain some creative control. Especially if you’re doing one of those dollar-options.
But don’t underestimate the value of having more eyes on your work. There’s a lot to be learned by seeing what another writer does with your stuff, and maybe (just maybe) you’ll like the experience. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll end up sharing credit with a writer of note. And that’s not a bad thing.
If you can, negotiate to protect your credit. Look into the WGA guidelines for which credits mean what. Understand that if WGA writers are brought on to massage your work, they’ll be treated like WGA writers, possibly to your detriment. More on that in Part II.
And this is important – negotiate the rights to any changes or alternative versions created by the producer or on behalf of the producer during the option period. In other words, if the script reverts back to you, so should the rights to any changes made to the script while the producer had it. Otherwise, you’ve got your script back, but the producer potentially still has rights to their version… and now you’re in competition with another version of your script that you don’t control. That’s not a place you want to be.
*EDIT* I received further clarification on this from a well-positioned Hollywood exec and consultant. Check out the post “Who Owns The Rights To Your Screeplay Rewrites“.
10 – So why option?
If you were a producer, wouldn’t you rather spend a little money to guarantee your exclusive rights to a great script, and spend a year testing the waters with financiers, production partners and distributors, than buy a script outright for ten times the money only to discover you can’t gain any traction?
As great as you and the producer might think your script is, the production environment is fickle. Deals fall apart all the time. Movies go in and out of production like fashion and fads. The option lets you and the producer partner together with limited liability and obligations well defined, to try to bring your project to the screen. A carefully written and executed option contract makes for good and honest business partners… and that’s what you are, in the end.
So here’s my philosophy. Enjoy the option for what it is: a vote of confidence in your hard work, and an opportunity to learn and network.
Dream about the option turning into a sale and a produced script… and plan for it in your option negotiations. But from a practical standpoint, consider the option the endgame. The option is a great opportunity to learn more about the business, to meet new people, and make new connections. Take full advantage of it (as much as the producer will allow) and be a participant. Producers (many of them, anyway) want to work with writers who do more than just deliver a script and wait for a check… they want a creative partner. Negotiate your right to rewrite and polish, and attack it with everything you’ve got. Prove yourself a team player and a saleable writer.
This industry is all about relationships anyway. If the movie isn’t made, you’ve spent a year on someone’s radar, in this producer’s office, on the phone, meeting her contacts, and showing yourself to be a professional who delivers and is willing to work and play well with others. You’re in her rolodex, and maybe she’ll refer you to her pals.
That may just prove to be payment enough, when it leads to your next big deal.
In part II, you’ll learn many of the terms, clauses and points of negotiation I’ve become familiar with, so that when you’re talking to your attorney (and your potential producer) you’ll have at least a little vocabulary to lean on.
126 thoughts on “10 things to think about when you option your screenplay”
Wonderful info, Chip! Thanks 🙂 This bit woke me up “if your script is a little indie film that’s being shot on weekends for 50K, figure $1500. ”
I know it’s still great to have something produced, but we all know how much time, effort, and creative energy goes into writing a 90 page script, even if it’s a low-budget “banger-outer”. Suppose if you could whip it up in a few days the $1,500 would be easy to swallow. Or, if you do the math and want to earn $100/day as a writer that would be 15 days to pen it ($50/day for 30 days… and limitless permutations of such a formula). Many ways to slice the pie… only one way to eat it 😉
I know it’s not all that simple. Just thinking of ways to approach a low-budget project.
Yeah, don’t do the math… it’ll discourage you. 🙂 It’s definitely a balance though. If Steve Buscemi is making the next “Lonesome Jim” on his off-time, maybe it’s worth it?
LJ budget = 500,000
3% = 15,000
Maybe focus on films in that range and above… 🙂
Getting involved in a 50K film would mean token payment ($1500) plus producer credit, guaranteed writing credit, backend well defined, and first rights of refusal on rewrites, sequels, etc. Maybe box office performance bonuses too. So, if it hits (Paranormal Activity?), you’re taken care of.
I would rather make that small amount at a job and make the dam movie myself.
Thanks for the Heads Up Chip your the Greatest! It is always awesome to run into much needed knowledge,we do not always know it all! There will always be those who will try to “prey” on the innocent that may not know what a good and smart approach should be to get to the next level.Thank you once again,I appreciate the information and I will keep it close by…Sincerely yours, John F. Gonzalez. http://www.MyFamilyvsMarineCorp.com
Very interesting! I can’t wait for part 2! Thanks!!
Whew…worse than my WA plumbers certificate exam…I think you have to remember all your stuff though…Good for you!!!!
RE: Saying no…
I had a produced, well, producer who wanted to option one of my scripts. After having done very well in another area of entertainment, and after a number of low-budget hits, said he felt it could earn him the credibility he craves, perhaps an Oscar. High praise, right?
Budget would be on the order of $3-5m. Mmm-kay. Industry standard puts the sale price for any script, let alone one that a producer is banking on to give him critical acclaim, at 3-5% of the budget. His offer for this must-have script?
$25k. Oh, and $10.00 for the option.
My agent and I countered with $100k, on the low end of the range, $10k option. Producer said he doesn’t negotiate. Take it or leave it. I left it, saying so in the most professional way possible, letting him know I’ve earned more for an option on more than one occasion than he offered as purchase price.
He replied that I should be ashamed, after all, he had to pay someone to write up the contract, this after having already told me he’d written up the contract/offer himself. And the kicker? Said bad karma will come back to bite me.
Whether we want to work with someone or not, don’t sell yourself short. You’re the one who wrote the script they want, so remember that a workman is worthy of his wages. And a $1 option is the first one to go on the back burner; the one the producer was willing to invest in, that’s the one s/he’ll focus on.
Yow… what a story! Yeah, I think you did the right thing though. Sounds very similar to my first option… which I took, but ultimately walked away from in the end once the exercise offer came in at half the amount contracted in the option. Oh, let these decisions bring future positive karma to us! 🙂
WoW! This feedback was insightful and eye-opening! I loved the way it was handled. I’m a newbee in the industry, so I am seeking all the wisdom and knowledge I can find.
Great info Chip! I really appreciate you taking the time to give tips to even those writers who haven’t yet gotten an option but want to know the best way to proceed if/when it happens.
Can I ask how your producer got wind of your script? Was it posted on InkTip.com or a scriptwriting contest or what?
Hi, Nate –
My first option came from a Producer with whom I’d worked… I was art director on a small indie film, and the writer/producer was developing a slate of films. He got wind of my script, read it, and optioned it.
The second option came through InkTip.
Glad to hear the article is helpful… I’m happy it’s been so well received.
Best of luck!
Hey Chip! Great article. Very informative.
I’ve got an Option Offer on the table from a small indie producer. He’s got about 3 other scripts under option right now. He’s offering a measly $50 for the Option Price, $75k for Purchase Price, 2.5% and ceiling of $250k for Production Bonus, and Option Period of 12 months with option to extend for two more 12-month periods.
I countered with requests for more in pretty much every area. The Producer went over my requests with his attorneys and got back to me with his response… Basically turning down everything I asked for… with reasons for why he can’t offer more.
The big kicker: I requested that I maintain the right to publish a novel of the same story at a later date. His response: that he will retain the right to novelization but will give me First Right of Refusal for the novel and will negotiate the terms of that deal in good faith…… Gotta be kidding me…. No option money up front AND won’t even budge on letting me retain the right to publish a novel about MY story.
Honestly, when I talk to the Producer by phone I get a good feeling about him. He SEEMS like a decent enough person and SEEMS to be completely in love with the story. But when it comes time to negotiate or talk contract terms…. He’s unwilling to move an inch in my direction, even though he’s said many times “We’re gonna do our best to meet you in the middle.”
Any advice? I know a Dollar Option can be a good thing, but I do feel like he’s asking to keep too much and give me too little.
Also, he says he figures the budget would be about 8 million and could climb higher…. Which means my numbers should probably climb higher as well, right?
Hey, ATB – sorry for the delay.
Wow… potentially 3 years off the market for $50? (unless you’d be paid for the extensions… but at $50 each, still, 3 years for $150?)
3% of an 8MM budget is 240K, right? So at 75K you’re feeling well below average — less than 1% of budget.
BUT, if it gets made at 8MM, you’ll actually get 75K + 200K (2.5% of 8MM) or $275K — ABOVE average.
Think of that as a standard purchase at 240K, plus a 35K production bonus. When it’s stated like that does it still feel unfair?
Only you can answer that…
But you really have to assume it WON’T get made. Focus on the tangibles, the ‘most likely to happen’ scenario, so long as the ‘best case but most unlikely scenario’ feels okay. So what you actually have in hand is up to 3yrs off the market for $50. In my mind, in exchange for such a loooooong time off market and such a loooow option price, you should get to retain something… like literary rights. Or, no ceiling on the production bonus. Or shorten the period… only ONE extension. You get the idea.
Good luck… let us know what happens!
Very helpful articles! I have a feature script on inktip and I have a producer proposing an option. She spoke of a “right to shop agreement.” Just curious if you have had any experience in this area. Thank you again for your insights; Very helpful!!
Glad it helped. Great timing on the ‘shopping agreement’ question… I just had one of those proposed to me, so I’m researching the details. Once I have a handle on it, I’ll be writing up a new posting. Keep your eyes on the blog…
Thanks. I can send you a copy of the one I have if you are interested for comparison purposes. My inquiry is from a Canadian producer. Scott
I simply typed – “screenplay optioned means …” and you came up.
I will be monitoring this page like it was a new friend. Like most folks who love their own creations, I’m sure it will be well received as a movie. I’ve written with high profile “attatchments” in mind and NEEDED to have heard what you are saying. I can’t afford a McKee seminar these days but I’m trusting that getting educated here at the business end is doing the right thing.
Thank you kindly
Wonderful site. Very helpful info. I have entered one of my scripts to Page International. Hoping for the best. Inktip is yet another option. But I can see the cost ramping up as hopeful writers, like myself, try and list with as many venues as possible. Is there a real, not scam, site where producers/directors go when seeking new material? That would be a good thing.
So thanks again for all your good guidance. Now, as for your test to determine common humanity. I live in Maine and our Governor, Paul LaPage, could probable have a staff member come up with the right answer but I am confident he still would not be considered sentient. If you are not familiar with Mr. LaPage please go to the Portland Press Herald’s website and check out the recent pieces on this serial fool. You may want to raise the bar a bit. Maybe adding nines.
Glad it’s helpful. Yeah, it’s hard to know which sites are worthwhile for writers to post on.
Check out the CineSpin site for a list of screenwriter’s sites, several of which are marketplaces.
Re: Are you human? I’ll consider adding 9s… And sorry about your Governor.
Hi Chip, maybe you can help me, what’s the rights fee in option agreement? The producer wants to option my script for 1 dollar, and a really small purchase fee and production bonus, but rights fee is pretty decent. But I have no idea what it is
New to me in my experience, but a quick Google search seems to indicate it’s just another name for the purchase price. But in your case that doesn’t seem to jive.
Are you selling it for TV use? I did see some reference to a ‘rights fee’ for projects destined to TV — something like 3x the option fee (unless you take that $1 option then it’s prolly not just $3…) but this is because you ALSO get paid a fee ‘per half hour of television runtime’…
That’s all I got. Wish I knew more… but great question, thanks! Good luck!
Great stuff to know about. Advice fledgling writers will value when the time comes for a negotiation.
Hope I get to need it soon!
We optioned our script!! But get this, don’t laugh, for one year with the option of 2 extensions. Last option extension was for $4500. We are at the end of our third year at the end of March 2012.
The producer LOVES the script as much as we do, is having it rewritten again and wants a new option deal.
How do I handle this? Don’t have an atty.
Hi Anne –
No laughing here. I’ve made similar deals in the past.
First, congratulations on getting optioned, and extended, and getting paid something more than a dollar for it. Lots of screenwriters would love to get that far.
I don’t know enough about your deal to really give informed advice (plus I’m not a lawyer)… but I can raise more questions.
As I said in the article, the script is NOT working for you out in the marketplace right now. You can’t use it to enter contests, or shop it to other producers. The only value it has is that it’s in the hands of someone who can get it made, which of course is what you want.
Right now, you’re in the power position. The producer has skin in the game (cash invested with you), has presumably invested effort to develop the property, and wants to retain rights to it to justify those investments. And YOU hold the keys. You’re not contractually obligated to do anything other than take your script back next month. Anything more (new option or extension) is up to you.
Of course you want to be a team player and remain in this producer’s good graces (assuming they’re a valuable contact and / or friend) but you do want to protect yourself.
So to decide if you should re-option it, think about these things (in no particular order):
What’s the likelihood it gets made?
— Producer’s track record
— Success with raising funds for this project to date
— Getting talent or other above the line attached
— Other momentum it’s gotten with this producer
If after three years NONE of the above have happened, I’d seriously reconsider staying with this producer. I’ve had a script with one producer now for two years. So far as I know she’s done nothing to move it forward, and I’ve lost two years. But she’s had the inherent value of rights to my IP in her portfolio of properties for two years. Nice as she is, it won’t stay with her when the option’s up.
If after three years there IS some momentum – a portion of the budget is raised, talent has signed on, distributors have signed on, then consider extending again for a LIMITED time. Maybe six months with a six month extension. Have a talk with the producer and see how far along they really are, and what seems reasonable to maintain momentum but still limit your continued off-the-market losses. Knowing there’s a short deadline just might give them the incentive necessary to exhaust all their resources.
Can your continued cooperation net you something more out of the deal?
— Can the producer or her colleagues help you with finding an agent or a manager? With introductions to other producers who might be interested in your other properties, or provide writing assignments? If they believe in you enough to hang onto your script and put so much into it, they should feel comfortable giving you introductions.
— Are you getting a fair percentage of sales price for your options? If not, and they want your script bad enough, negotiate a better percentage of sale price for this extension.
Was your first deal a good one?
— If there are any stipulations in the first deal you’re less than satisfied with, now’s your opportunity to renegotiate them — either in the form of a whole new option, or as addenda to the extension.
Do you think a non-exclusive shopping agreement is something that might work? Still let them pursue development resources but leave you free to entertain other options? Probably not, but something to consider.
I don’t know what to tell you. Three years is a LOOOOOONG time. It’s a tough situation. For me it comes down to likelihood of production, and momentum generated to date. If those are looking good, I’d try to keep it moving forward with a SHORT extension and a few extra perks.
Good luck… keep us all posted.
My writing partner and I just signed a 90-day “Shopping Agreement” for our family adventure/comedy screenplay with The Robert Evans Company of Paramount.
We hired an (older) entertainment lawyer to help us with the contract. The agreement is fine, and your excellent column helped us know what to ask for. (Though we are now looking for a different lawyer—[poor thing didn’t understand computers]—but that’s another story.)
We are based in New York City. The producer is moving to NYC this week.
The producer at REC is very friendly and accessible. Our question is, what do we do now? How can we help him? Should we be suggesting directors and actors, etc.? (Our agreement states that HE must inform us in writing of all pitches, who the script goes to to, etc.)
Should we be actively looking for agents or managers now—even though everything is self-manageable at this point?
Is this the best time to find a new lawyer—even though we don’t need one yet?
We feel like this 90-day period is going to fly by and we missed an opportunity to light a fire under this project, or, at least, get our foot in the door.
Of course, we will ask the producer what we can do to help.
But we don’t want to come off as pathetic, trivial writers when querying agents and managers. We can just hear them, “Oh, you got a shopping agreement? That’s ‘nice.’ Come back when you have real news.”
What is the best use of our time right now? (We had one night of drinking after we signed the agreement.)
George Sanders & Shawn Curran
Hi, George — Sorry for the delay in replying. You’re already 2 weeks into your 90day agreement now. How’s it going?
First, congratulations on the agreement. I’m sure it feels good to get that “professional acknowledgement” – enjoy it. It’s well deserved.
Regarding what you can do to help: Ask. I don’t mean that to be flip… but demonstrate your desire and willingness to be team players by checking in, and asking “What can we do? We want to help. We’ll make phone calls, send emails, milk our contacts, whatever it takes to move the project forward.” They may not want you to muddy the waters, or they may appreciate your offer. You may end up with a task wholly unconnected to writing, but still get great experience in some other aspect of development.
Re: Pursuing agency – I haven’t cracked that nut. I just sold a feature that’ll be going into production in the Fall. I’m using that to finally reach out and look for an agent. A shopping agreement may or may not be equivalent in an agent’s eyes but it can’t hurt. Even if they say ‘come back later’, now you’ve got an invitation to ‘come back later’. Baby steps.
I’ll also reiterate what I said in my reply to the post above yours: Can your continued cooperation net you something more out of the deal? – Can the producer or her colleagues help you with finding an agent or a manager? With introductions to other producers who might be interested in your other properties, or provide writing assignments? If they believe in you enough to hang onto your script and put so much into it, they should feel comfortable giving you introductions.
Good luck — and check back in to let us all know how it’s going.
I’m new to this country and to screenwriting. I”m a Middle Eastern who has deep knowledge in both American and Middle Eastern culture. I am trying to use my knowledge in producing enternaitment materials, especially through screenplays. My question is does the writer have to physically be present with the producer and agent in order for a deal to be made? Because I live in Ohio which is 8 hours drive from NewYork City and I am wondering if I could make deals with long distance producers.
Hi, Ali —
The short answer is yes… people do build and manage screenwriting careers from locations that are not Hollywood. See the comment above yours… screenwriters who have gotten interest in their work, while living in the NYC.
The long answer is, it depends. Much of the Hollywood industry is built on relationships, and sometimes that means schmoozing… meeting, drinks, being at the same parties, attending the same functions, making yourself *present*. If what you want is a Hollywood career, and you can’t move to Hollywood, prepare to visit with some regularity (once or twice a year?) to meet people and build relationships. Attend film festivals (and go to the parties!) to meet other writers, producers, directors.
All this applies in NY too… and a Hollywood screenwriting career isn’t the only kind. There is plenty of film production elsewhere, particularly in NYC. And there’s TV too.
I think your unique perspective may make you stand out in some circles… if it’s what interests you, I’d make that a selling point, and nurture relationships with filmmakers who show interest in that kind of narrative. Reach out to producers and directors who have made films with mid-Eastern themes that you’ve enjoyed, introduce yourself, just to acknowledge their work. Let them know how it’s moved you, thank them for their insight into the cultural narrative. Don’t ask for anything, just start building real relationships.
Also consider positioning yourself as a cultural consultant (if you feel qualified) who can offer story feedback on cross-cultural narratives. This may also net you some valuable contacts.
Just spit-balling here. But the lesson is, reach out. Build. Nurture. And find ways to make yourself, your experience, and your skills, valuable.
Good luck! And please stay in touch and let us know how it’s going for you.
Thanks for your informative answer. I am new to this career , and I’ve always thought that working with Hollywood is writers’ biggest dream. But you pointed out that there’s plenty of markets out there, I am curious to know some names or perhaps be guided to where to look ; I searched on WGA and wasn’t very helpful.
Also, as I was reading the comments above, I saw someone who said their play is optioned for $50; I dont know if thats something common or not, if it is , then it’s very disappointing.
There are filmmakers all over the country. Your area surely has some film orgs of some kind… check with the local visitors’ bureau, film commissions, etc. Check the state film commission. Local colleges. Film fests.
Or try Google:
options, yes it happens regularly. Remember, most (99.9%) of all spec scripts never sell or option, much less get made. At best they’re your writing samples, to get work on assignment. There are reasons to take the $50 (or $1) options. If you read my articles, you know my thoughts on that.
Again, good luck in Ohio. I’m sure you’ll find your niche.
This site is great. Very informative for someone like me who is trying to crack this industry.
I am from London, England. I am writing a screenplay and rather than restrict myself to British producers, I would also hope to be able to reach out to producers in Hollywood. Is this realistic since I am in the UK with no plans (at this stage) to move to Hollywood?
Glad you find the site valuable.
You can see in the comments on this thread and its followup (11 more things) that there are folks doing okay remotely (not in LA). It’s not impossible, just harder. It’s all about a great script.
This is very helpful stuff, thanks.
What’s the ballpark on attorney’s fees to handle the option deal/contract? I guess the rub in accepting a zero-dollar option is that you have to eat those costs… and as a new writer, you probably don’t have a huge pool of cash under the mattress!
Any advice on asking the production company to cover attorney’s fees in lieu of cast ‘option’ advance? What’s been your experience?
My attorney charges hourly… between 200 and 300 dollars.
I didn’t use an attorney on my last sale, as it was a simple short contract, and I felt I knew which few clauses I really wanted addressed.
Attorney’s fees in lieu of cash? Meh… I’d rather keep it simple. Pay your lawyer, get paid. Up to you though.
Thanks. Would you refer your attorney to me?
I work with Eric Feig. http://www.agmblaw.com/
Best of luck.
I have been given a six-month, non-exclusive option by an older, award winning producer, for two of my scripts. While it sounds good on the surface, I wonder if I’m being conned. The querry was sent to his production company, but he wanted to read the script as “consultant” and if he liked it, he’d option it. He was paid to read it. He liked the first script and sent a one-page non-exclusive option contract. While talking about it, I mentioned another script and he advised me to sent it, same deal, for a “consultant” fee… I sent the second script and he raved about it. He thought it was great, “deserved to be made…” “The best script he’s read in a long time…” and was non-exclusive optioned, too.
I felt uncomfortable in paying him, but his reputation is good and the awards legit – However, after reading this site, I’m wondering: a one-page option? There is nothing about who’s he’s contacting and frankly, he’s not saying. The best I have gotten is “a couple of directors are reading it.”
I know I am unproduced, but does this behavior past the smell test? Is my time being wasted on this producer? Is it normal for a lack of communication to occur while trying to get funding? I don’t want to be a pest and badger the guy, but is this situation normal?
Any comments would be helpful.
This is a common question, and my answer ended up being pretty long and thorough, so I’ve turned it into a post of its own.
Please check it out here!
Hey Chip. I have couple questions. Would being an illegal resident have any affect on any deals? Im working on a script and it’s not a low budget one. I’d say it’s close to Iron Man budget. Anyways, I wanna know when and how I get bids on my script. And if my script is a potential blockbuster and I know it. Can I put a price on my script that I think what’s worth?
I’ll try to be brief.
1) Whoever you sell your script to, you’ll be entering into a legal contract. I am not a lawyer, but I would assume that your resident status is some kind of factor. Truly don’t know.
2) You want to know how to get bids on your script? Write a kickass script. I don’t mean to be flip. Understand that most spec scripts DO NOT SELL. They function as writing samples that lead to assignment work. Particularly big budget tentpole scripts, because studios generally DO NOT TRUST a 250MM dollar investment to an unknown screenwriter. That said, those few tentpole spec scripts that sell get multiple bids because they kick ass. If your script really kicks ass, is a potential blockbuster, they will find you. You can help them by entering high profile contests (again, if your script kicks ass you will final, and producers notice finalists). READ THIS ARTICLE for a very recent example of what happens when a spec script truly kicks ass. Your phone will not stop ringing.
3) You can put whatever price on your script that you want. It’s worth what someone will pay for it. If it’s a kickass, high profile, tentpole blockbuster, it will be a WGA signatory production, and minimally you will get WGA standard. You may be able to negotiate more. Or you may price yourself out of a sale.
Wow! Thanks for the tips man. Now I have a better understanding on the issue. Your answers were what I espected. You were very helpfull. Keep it up man. I promise I will keep in touch. I think I should have a final draft by the end of this year, hopefully. Thanks again .
Chip! Thanks fr da help.well it seems uve got loads of experience workin wt inktip.com so ll appreciate if u can help.I intending uploading my script on inktip bt don’t ve enuff money fr d magazines plz tell if it ll b of any use n also if a movie bcms a huge success cnt d writer get additinal pay? Thanks
By ‘magazines’ do you mean paying Inktip to have your script appear in their industry mag? I have no experience with that. I don’t know if there is a demonstrated higher rate of requests for writers who pay for that service. But I’m sure you can ask Inktip.
Inktip also offers two newsletters: Paid (Preferred) and Free.
If your script is on Inktip, it’s available to all member producers to find via site search whether or not you’re also paying for the ‘Preferred’ newsletter or magazine listing.
Some producers go beyond the site search and pay Inktip to run ads in the newsletter telling what kind of scripts they want. If you think you have a screenplay that fits what they’re looking for, you can respond through the inktip site, calling that producer’s attention to your screenplay — Whether it’s a screenplay posted on inktip or not.
If you’re paying for the preferred newsletter, you’ll see all the ads and be able to respond to them.
If you’re just getting the free newsletter, you will see all the ads but you can’t respond to all of them… only one or two.
Hope that helps.
I recently read that less than 4% of all screenplays optioned are ever produced. Is this true?
You asked about how many OPTIONED screenplays get produced. The answer is NONE. SOLD screenplays get produced, and there are far far fewer SOLD screenplays than OPTIONED screenplays.
90% of all spec scripts suck.
Very few are good. Few of those option. Very few of those sell. Few sold scripts make it all the way through production and into any kind of distribution.
For a dose of the real numbers READ THIS ARTICLE from my Twitter pal UnknownScreenwriter: The Odds of Selling a Spec Screenplay. Read the whole thing. And the comments.
There are 250,000 spec screenplays in circulation at any one time. (remember, 90% suck. That’s 25,000 readable scripts in competition)
About 50 (let’s call it 100) spec screenplays sell each year.
100 out of 25,000 screenplays sold.
That’s not 4 percent. It’s .004 percent.
The numbers are flexible and there’s a little math voodoo (read all the comments on that blog to get a better picture) but the numbers are grossly accurate.
Now, out of those 50 (let’s call it 100) sold specs, very few will get all the way through development hell and made.
In the end, I believe the answer to your question is “I wish the number was that high.”
Yeah man UNK rocks… #screenwritingwtf
How are you ? It’s been a while.
I’ve been thinking recently about the movie industry, and came to three questions that don’t seem to make sense.
1) Why would any producer buy a screenplay if he or she isn’t going to produce it ? I read somewhere that only 10% of sold plays are actually produced, even 300k plays.
2)Why would any write not want to join the WGA if they’ve got set prices for screenplay ? Which is, I think, 4k for optioning.
3) I read your answers above and took a quick look at your blog on odds of selling… the odds are extremely disappointing; if someone actually got the talent and wants to work his/her way up to top, what’s the best route to take?
Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us newbies. I’ve read every single word of both articles and all of the comments. They have been very helpful and enlightening.
I have a little bit of an exception to ask you about, and want to thank you in advance for any words of wisdom you can provide.
A location manager came to my house looking to use it in a film for Lifetime. We hit it off and started talking about the book I’m writing. It’s a true crime novel about a high publicity murder case. The book is based on the 75,000+ pages of discovery and other assets I have (voluminous) He was very interested in it and set up an appointment with me to discuss producing it. The book is not finished. Hardly. What I have is a very large compilation of data, a timeline and ideas – there is more than one book to this case, and it can go in a few directions. There is no screenplay, either. Therein lies the “exception,” part of my question. What is there to “option?” So far, it seems what we have is a “Shopping Agreement” or a “Dollar Option” …
Although I told you this guy is a location manager, he has inroads to Sony and Lifetime (and other studio) execs and has already put his feelers out to his Sony contact. She responded that she had tracked this trial and will look into it.
So far, I haven’t queried any agent or even put together a proposal to send out and market it to anyone else – this is the first I’ve come to actually having something happen with my project. I’m excited that I have at least made it passed the difficult steps of getting it into a producer’s hands and with such interest on his part!
So far, I have given him an (unsolicited) one page “Introduction” to the book and a very lengthy list of “Assets” (the discovery materials.) He wants to send the Introduction to Sony. We’re getting somewhere…and both of us agree we need to work fast because of the timeliness factor.
What I want to know is what, if anything, I can look forward to as far as payment? I will be writing a synopsis and the treatment, but Lifetime will only work with their pre-approved script writers, so even if I were to write the screenplay, they won’t be using it. Sony will probably do the post production. He’s looking to make this a “Lifetime Original Movie.”
He knows I’m looking to make money and not just get, “Story by…” credit. I would like a little advice as to how I can get compensated for my part in this production.
Thanks a million!
This is pretty much an “ask your lawyer” kind of question. But here’s my take:
I presume since this is a “true crime” story about a trial you mean it’s a story from real life, about real people.
It’s my understanding that it’s not always required to have rights to a true story… see all the “unauthorized biographies” that come out. But in some cases you do need to effectively “option” the rights to people’s stories. This is a question for a lawyer.
I have to assume you’ve asked a lawyer that question, before undertaking all that research, and that either it’s not required, or you’ve gotten the required options… the exclusive rights to someone’s story? A principle in the trial?
So assuming you’ve got the necessary rights to the story, what have you accomplished?
“What I have is a very large compilation of data, a timeline and ideas. There is no screenplay, either.”
So you haven’t written anything yet. And ideas are not defensible IP. All you have is a collection of (presumably) publicly available information. While I’m sure that represents a lot of work, it does not sound to me like you have any actual IP that you own. Anyone could go do that research.
So far you have nothing of value for someone to option from you.
You say that Sony would simply have their own screenwriters write the screenplay… based on a synopsis and treatment that you intend to write from the research you’ve done.
That’s the definition of a “story by” credit.
If all you do is the research, and then write a synopsis and outline, I believe “story by” is all you can hope for. Nothing wrong with that. You seem to think that you won’t get paid for “story by”… but it is certainly something you should be paid for.
How much? If I’m reading the WGA schedule of minimums correctly, and you do in fact make the project for Lifetime (not Network), and it’s between 90 and 120 minutes, your “story by” credit would fall around $19,106 to $19,488.
http://www.wga.org/uploadedFiles/writers_resources/contracts/min2011.pdf [page 12 “OTHER THAN NETWORK PRIME TIME (ARTICLE 13.B.7.a., b., and c.)”]
But all of this is meaningless, because unless you own the rights to tell this story (or they aren’t required), and until you actually write something, all you’ve done is a lot of research that is not exclusive to you, and has (IMHO) no option value.
But as always, ask a lawyer.
Thank you for responding, Chip. As always, you are “right on.” I appreciate your going to the effort to look into the WGA schedule. I intend on finishing a book that’s “movie-genic,” so there will be a dual marketing advantage – the movie will help my book and the book willl help their movie (hopefully!) Therein lies the value, as well as any back end negotiations that apply, such as foreign rights, etc.
I have not attained an attorney yet, but have read publishing law. I will take your advice and seek one out. I will most certainly have one present if there comes a day when the book gets optioned.
Again, thank you….and I will continue to read your blog. You are a wealth of knowlege for us. I will let you know if this book/movie deal comes to fruition.
Great info, Chip!
I’ve optioned several feature-length scripts over the past few years, but recently I wrote some short scripts for the first time. A producer found one on InkTip and wants to option it and direct it soon. I’m pretty familiar with contracts when it comes to feature-length scripts, but I’ve never optioned a short. On one hand, it would seem much simpler. I feel like I could almost do it myself. I was just wondering if there’s anything I should be aware of when it comes to optioning a short. I know it doesn’t happen often, but I’ve heard of cases where a short film does well at festivals and gets noticed by some big-time producers who say “Hey, I want to work with those filmmakers”. So I was just wondering if there’s anything I can do to protect myself in case something like that happened.
I do have an entertainment attorney, by the way. And I will get her to do the contract. But I was just looking for a bit of advice/feedback in the meantime.
Thanks a bunch!
Congrats on your success… and I’m glad to hear you have an attorney.
The things I’d start out asking for what you really want… perhaps selling only the rights specifically to make a short film… retaining the rights to the characters and the story, and any other expressions of the property (feature, tv movie, series, etc).
From there, dial back to retaining the first right of refusal to write a feature based on the concept or the short. So they can make a short, but if a feature comes out of it, they need to offer you the opportunity to write it before anyone else.
Your attorney will find the right words and give more sage advice about the negotiation.
My last sale was specific to the rights to make a single movie from the script. Any sequels or remakes would be mine to negotiate. And I retained Literary rights (I’m novelizing it into a YA book right now).
Check out this recent John August posting on a nearly identical question… Selling a script, but holding on to the characters.
Thank you for sharing!
Greetings to everybody here and many thanks to Chip Street,
Chip, I found everything you wrote here is like a script writer’s little Bible, no kidding, really!
I’m a newbie in screenwriting and if I have an author block, then I read articles, blogs to learn more about what I do, and this helps to find ideas for character development, twists, killer loglines etc.
And you touch a business side as insider and this is most important.
Thanks once more.
Hi Alek – Thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you find the site valuable… please do come back around.
Hi Chip –
How are you?
I was wondering why you respond to some posters and skip over others. We have all read your blogs and look to you for feedback based on what we see as solid, valuable experience. If you don’t have knowledge or expertise in an area, please just say so.
Hoping it’s just oversight and nothing else.
I’ve responded to your original comment.
I must say though that it’s important to remember that I am under no obligation to reply to any comments… Even if I do have knowledge and expertise that’s relevant. This is a blog, not a service, and I try to make my original posts as thorough as I can possibly make them.
If I don’t respond to a comment, it’s not an “oversight”, as there is no obligation. Rest assured it’s because I either:
– am busy with my own projects
– am busy with my own life
– don’t feel I can add value
– simply am not inspired by the question (at that moment) to take the time out of my projects and my life
In those cases, please simply enjoy the articles I’ve published in the past, the comments by other readers, and any responses I have found the time to write.
I do hope the reply I’ve finally found the time to craft is valuable not only to you, but others as well.
Lovin’ this response…clear, honest, precise and forthcoming! I’m glad that I don’t have a false sense of ‘entitlement’, I realize you are not obligated to extend your wealth of knowledge and valuable time to a bunch of folks that you don’t even know. I appreciate your information and I’m learning volumes from your responses to other postings. Thank you for ‘keeping it real!’
After re-reading my comment, I need to apologize because I came across as an insolent brat. At the time I must have felt rejected and as writers, we are super-sensitive to rejection (at least I am.) I did not get any email notice that my question had been answered. Please accept my humble apology. I find your blog entertaining, informative, and worthwhile…and I DO understand and appreciate your having a life of your own.
All my best,
Apology accepted… I hope you found my reply (when I finally got to it) helpful.
I signed a two year producer agreement, he told me this was the only way he would read the script. Now I have to take my script off the market, the agreement saids he’ll let me know in a timely manner if he’ll represent it. It’s been two weeks and I haven’t heard anything, how long is a timely manner? This agreement also gives him the right to rewrite the script and make it marketable. If he accepts my script should I be paid an option? He seems like a great producer, his name is Rob Gallagher. Any info would be well appreciated, thank you.
I’m not exactly sure what you mean by a “two year producer agreement”. Does this mean:
– For two years he has production rights to this script even though he hasn’t read it
– For two years he is your producer of record, with first right of refusal (or some other consideration) on all your work – even though he hasn’t read it
– If he likes your script (once he reads it) THEN he’s got a two year producer commitment with you or your script
In either of the first 2 cases, I don’t think your situation makes much sense. Why would a producer want exclusive rights to a screenplay he hasn’t read, or to the future work of a screenwriter, any of whose work he hasn’t read?
Don’t take your screenplay off the market for nothing. Get something: money, or opportunity. (see the articles for details)
Don’t sign an agreement for partnership or representation with someone who has never read your work. You want to ally yourself with professionals who not only have legitimate respectable positions in the industry, but who have legitimate interest in your work, in working with you specifically, who believe in you, your potential, and your future, and want to be a part of it.
Someone who hasn’t even read your work isn’t that person. They just can’t be, by definition. Therefore, I don’t understand their motivations.
IF it’s the third case… that what your contract states is that he will read your work and THEN if he likes it and wants to represent it for two years, it’s still weird to me. Most of what I said above still applies.
I’m not making an ethical judgment on this particular producer… I don’t know him. But it’s a strange situation.
If he clarifies his thinking (and obligations) please come back and add to the conversation. I’d love to hear more.
BUT: that said, how long is “a timely manner”? That’s for him to decide. Now you just wait.
WHAT I SOMETIMES DO is this… if you’ve sent off the script, and haven’t even heard a confirmation of receipt, then after a few weeks you might check in with a “Hi. Thanks for asking to read TITLE HERE. I know you’re busy and will get to the script when you have time, but I just wanted to confirm that you’ve received it on 01/27/2012… I want to be sure it didn’t get lost in spam or elsewhere. I’m happy to resend it if necessary [or maybe just attach it again and say ‘here it is just in case’]. Let me know… and I hope all is well.”
I might also do some quick research, find a recent event (he just signed a client, just released a film, just got a great review) and include a mention of that. “BTW, congratulations on the great review in Hollywood Reporter… that was a nice writeup.”
Lastly, consider addressing the inquiry to his assistant or receptionist or etc… something like “PRODUCER requested to read my script TITLE HERE back on 01/12/2012… I sent it by email to ADDRESS HERE, and just wanted to confirm receipt. Can you let me know that he’s received it? I’ll be happy to send it again if necessary…” The producer might appreciate that you didn’t interrupt him directly.
I’m from Lebanon
I wrote a script last summer and I want to act in it but don’t know how to start. Any advice would be well appreciated.
I’m a producer looking to option a script from a writer who I believe is very talented and has written a very makeable script. I want to get the film made for 1 Million dollars and I’d like to offer him a $100 option for 18 months and a purchase price of $50,000. I also want to have the writer Direct the movie as well. He hasn’t directed a feature film but has directed plenty of theater and is an actor as well. I dont want to insult him with the option offer but I believe in the script and I intend to make it happen. I’ve produced a short film in the past but didn’t have to option it from the writer Director in the past. Im asking for advice from you because your blog is the most honest I’ve read and the advice you’ve given other writers I respect.
Should i try and find more money for the option? Or is this a fair amount to start with.
Also Im wanting the 18 month Option but I can make it a 12month with 2 years extension.
Im also an industry 1st Assistant Director with 17yrs experience and this would be my 1st major production.
Hi, hope this isn’t too late to be of value.
50K on a 1MM budget is generous… 5%. That’s an incentive for the writer to accept a low option payment. The option payment should be 10% of purchase, or 5K.
But if you’re confident in the script, you should be confident in the likelihood you can raise your funds, and shorten your option period to 6 months. Maybe 12 if you can get the writer to agree.
How much would you pay for the extension? There is generally a second payment to extend the option. And a two year extension is very long IMHO. I like the extension to be shorter than the initial option period… and contingent on verifiable forward motion. I’ve had options where the extension was contingent on the producer being in legitimate discussions with financiers. Consider a contingency on the extension, and keeping it to 3-6 months for an additional payment.
I hope you come back around and let us all know what you finally were able to arrive at!
Great information. Thanks to all who contributed. I have had an idea in my head for a while and played around with writing a screenplay but just never got around to it. I recently purchased Final Draft and am averaging 10 pages a night. Amazing what wine, itunes and writing can do for the soul.
Wow, what a great page rate! Congrats on getting started… Wine is definitely a great creative lubricant. 🙂 Good writing!
Yeah man… keep that up and get it all out and worry about fixing shit later just get the story locked in on that theme… and stay with the roller-coaster and the wine… That’s a good touch.
Good points all… I feel that most if not 99.(fill in the nines)% of Dollar/free options end like that.. But Think of the chances you took and no matter if it wasn’t meant to be. You never know, dude could have got lucky and had a meeting and bumped into some other dude who knew of this guy across the street who was looking for that next project like yours… I know it’s deep… But feel glad that someone thought high enough about your work to stake their rep on it. (even if it was earned in dinner theatricals) There was someone who was at least gonna try and that’s ahead of most other screenwriters, by leaps and bounds… Remember that…
Hi all…great tips. I’m a first time optioned writer just 6 months ago. The optioned agreement is as follows: $0 for the option and 3.5% for the budget, estimated at 5.6 mil. The savvy indie producer has a list of credits w/some name stars, but all he can get this time is foreign, presales, and tax incentives. We have no equity or development money for that matter. He also mentioned that he may be an inch away from getting out of the business completely (One too many disappointing leads I suppose). My question is this: do I ask to break the option agreement and start querying other production companies or do I query companies while using what he can bring as an incentive for collaboration? I’m new to the business side of things so any information regarding this matter would be helpful.
I just thought of something. Sylvester Stallone was originally offered $350,000 to buy the rights to his Rocky script. The movie had a $1000,000 budget. That would be 35%. The only contingency being that he work for free for all rewrites. Obviously it turned out to be a great investment but what do you say about that?
It’s unclear if Stallone turned down early offers or held out for the starring role. Much of the “Rocky lore” may be an apocryphal tale, as generated by the studio.
http://www.hollywoodtoday.net/2006/12/20/rocky-story-revealed-a-studio-myth/ (I’m still looking for corroboration for this story)
According to American Film Institute, “Stallone was awarded one percent of the gross for writing the film and two percent of the gross for acting in it.”.
That equity may be where the 350K figure comes from. But it doesn’t amount to a cash payment of “35% of budget”. It amounts to possibly a zero dollar purchase (until one of us can find a reliable source indicating an up front payment) against an equity stake.
So it was a great “gamble”, not “investment”, for Stallone. The studio, on the other hand, took no gamble. They got an automatic greenlight on any project under 1MM, and a small enough budget to sell to TV if they needed to, and still recoup their losses. Star or no star. Assuming the above story is accurate.
Hey thanks for the reply. I checked out the link and read the story. That story sounds far more believable than the underdog story.
I just finished a script in which the entirety is based on true life story events of two individuals that I know. However time chronological order of events have been changed and 75% of what actually happens and 99.9% of dialog has been fabricated and embellished along with name changes to protect anonymity. Would an option or rights to story still be in order to the real life individuals on this scenario? Please advise.
On my last post. I know what you would say. Talk to your lawyer. Im more interested in your professional opinion on weather I should seek all rights since I spent a year of my life writing it and if so do you think I would run into legal issues based on the scenario I described.
Sorry, Edward, but I really don’t know… a lawyer would.
As a non-lawyer, I would guess the answer is “no” you don’t need rights. But if you use the “based on true events” angle to pitch it, the first question from a prodco may be “do you have the rights” and then what?
I’d ask a legal expert.
Sorry but I left out one thing…. 99% of the incidents actually happened… This change anything?
Do you have links to any legal templates for options on scripts?
Hi, im writing as i have entered a contract for a production, that says they can terminate my contract whenever but nothing stated from my side. I want to leave as I am unable to commit after all. So I can just leave right? There is nothing stating my terms if I want to end the contract.
When a script is optioned or sold do they get only the hard copy or do they also get the digitl file? i.e.( final draft file or word file)
Edward – They’ll prolly get both. Certainly the digital file, likely in Final Draft. They need to be able to make edits and break the script down into a production draft… scene numbers, notes, etc.
Chip: Thank you for all of this information…and it’s because of your previous posts and your seeming willingness to help fellow writers that I’m hoping you can help me with a unique problem: I was asked by a friend and director to write a pitch script to be shot in the style of an extended trailer which he’ll shop around in order to fund a feature version of the same story. This started off as a few friends just making a short film…but now, I was told tonight, the producers (also friends) want to buy this script from me. It’s 30 pages, the budget is only $15,000…but I know this could turn into something big with the feature. My question is, how do I sell this pitch script and still make sure that the feature script to come later is considered as separate from this shorter version? I want to make sure that everyone knows that this story and these characters are my intellectual property and a feature can’t be made without me writing the script, even though they’ll own the shorter version, which contains all of the same characters, scenes, settings and plot. Also, I can’t afford a lawyer…and, though I didn’t think I would need one when working with friends, I’ve also been informed that my friends have a lawyer that will be brokering this deal. I know it’s not a lot of money and it shouldn’t be a big deal…but I don’t want to get left behind when the feature gets made…because that WILL be a big deal…and, I believe, very lucrative. I’m simultaneously excited and terrified. Thank you for any suggestions or thoughts.
Yes, it’s totally reasonable.
Your option can specify that they are buying only the short script.
It can specify that if they want to mount future productions (features, TV, web, etc) based on the story and characters, that you have first right of refusal to write those screenplays.
The price of those future unsold screenplays can be outlined… say, 2.5% of the budget.
You can also have a passive payment clause stipulating that if you choose not to write the future screenplays, or that you mutually agree for them to use another writer, you’re still paid some percentage (50%? 25%?) of what the payment would have been for the feature.
You say that the characters and story are your property. When the asked you to write this short, did they not come to you with a concept and character ideas? Or did you write it all original to you? If the latter, then yes, protect yourself. You can stipulate that you own some percentage of all future derivative works (graphic novels, whatever) based on your characters.
Fences make for good neighbors. Contracts help protect friendships. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for protecting yourself… remember, you’re protecting them too. The more explicit and fair the contract is, the more unencumbered their future projects based around this will be. There’s no fear that some legal squabbling will screw up a TV deal because they didn’t get a sound fair contract in place defining the IP. Having a good contract will make their future easier too.
Just be reasonable in your requests, and approach it like a business partner who’s every bit as interested in making a great short, and growing it into a great property, as they are.
Chip you said: “…Contracts help protect friendships. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for protecting yourself… remember, you’re protecting them too.”
And what about co-work’s contract? Say, I found a screenwriter-collaborator to work with on a screenplay…I have already pre-written synopsis, logline, scenes, gags etc and am going to put them on a table…
Do I need a protection of those parts before jumping into a co-work?
Alek – ideally, absolutely. You need to define how the two of you will be credited, and how you will split any payments.
For instance, your credits might be “Story by Alek | Screenplay by Alek & Mary”. But only if you’ve written a comprehensive story treatment or documentation. It can’t be in your head, or just a logline.
Note that there’s a difference between “&” and “and” — “&” indicates a writing team, “and” indicates two people who worked on the same screenplay (perhaps at different times).
So you should have a contract between you and the other writer. Define your “story by” credit, and the split between the two of you. Maybe start with a 60/40 split in your favor, with a clause that lets it go to 50/50 if the other writer also contributes substantial new story elements, characters, or etc.
Prolly best to defer to the WGA credit arbitration guidelines to determine that.
And I’d also consider defining the disposition of any future works based on the property. You can decide if, when the project sells and is successful and a sequel is floated, whether the other writer would also be included in any future projects, benefit from ancillary income, etc.
See the WGA site for more explicit details. Here’s a wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WGA_screenwriting_credit_system
Chip, many thanks, your advice could be my
guideline in co-work with others
Interesting discussion that continues 3 years already…
well, I see here experienced and newbies, like me. So, my question: is there someone who’d love to
collaborate on a script? I stumbled on some points there and thought that 2 heads are much better
This is a comedy. Title: Funky Auction. Based on real events when 2 competing gangs tried to win
an auction to buy a piece of a state land.
Very important: already there is a buyer who’s interested in option.
I use Celtx, but honestly, still it’s rare cases.
I’ve thought some very catchy dialogs and scenes that will force the viewers to fall down from a laughter.
Alek. How much do you have written? How many pages?
are you interested in co-writing?
well, so far I have few pages, but am going to holidays
where will go in for writing, hope till august to have
more stuff written.
Next: to get into some details, please, visit this
and you’ll know script logline and even some synopsis details
I don’t know if this is allowed here, so, let’s converse via my page (click my name and you’ll get
there and then send me something there)
Well option is good only at http://www.Amazonstudio.com they buy the script from you for $300.000 and than if you beat the box office they pay you $300.000 more that’s nice for the new writers. I love options Farzin Youabian a writer and Director.
I tried to follow your link…”Server not found” there was an answer there
I’m an aspiring screenplay writer but I live in Puerto Rico. So, I don’t have many resources I can use in terms of producers and I was wondering if someone could help me out to have my breakthrough, or whatever. I’m currently writing a script and am developing about 5+ other stories that I want to write. I’m very passionate about writing and about film making and passionate about movies in general. I would gladly appreciate the help. Thanks.
Can I send out my optioned script to other producers to get reads?
No. The option gives the producer rights to your intellectual property. It’s not yours to continue to shop, unless and until the option is up.
Nor should you put it into contests.
BUT: Check with your producer. They might want your help in soliciting the partnership of other producers to come onto the project. Chances are, they’ll want to control actually sharing the script, but in any event, you can always ask.
Thanks, Chip, for the reply.
Hi Chip: Hoping you can help… When I rejected a producer’s no-money option, he countered with a non-exclusive financing agreement. He said this would give him the right to shop the material while I have the rights to shop to others. First, why would a producer make such a deal? Is it to prove to financiers that paperwork is done — that he has rights to the script? Is it better for a writer to sign a non-exclusive than a no-money option? It seems like a no-brainer, but maybe I’m not aware of something — and that is why I seek your knowldge.
Sorry so long in replying. Hopefully you found guidance elsewhere, but —
Yes, shopping agreements are common. (never heard it called a financing agreement but I imagine they mean the same thing — someone correct me if I’m wrong.)
Essentially, it does exactly what you stated — the producer has your permission to represent your screenplay to potential financiers, talent, production partners, etc. However, they don’t have exclusive rights, and NO PRICE SHOULD BE INCLUDED in the contract. (I suppose a simple percentage could be … something like “purchase price shall be no less than 2% of budget” or something. But generally, no.)
The point is, if they find someone who’s willing to come on and finance, and get production going, then they have to come back to you and say “ok, we got somebody willing to finance if we can negotiate the purchase with you.” Now is when the negotiation takes place, and you can choose to accept or not accept.
Clearly this puts the producer on shakier ground … imagine trying to sell that deal. “Let’s make this great script. I don’t know if I can secure the rights for sure, and I’m not sure what it’ll cost, but shall we give it a go?”
Nevertheless, it happens. Sometimes I think it’s more to the producer’s advantage than yours… she gets to look like she’s got a portfolio of properties she can shop (adds to her legitimacy) … but you have someone out there shopping your property to a bunch of prodcos and talent who, were it being presented by a more influential producer who can afford to actually PAY for an option with you, might be interested. So this no-money producer is *potentially* poisoning the well for you. In other words, once someone has said no to a project, they’re unlikely to listen to another pitch later, even if it’s from a new producer who paid for the rights. “I already passed on this. Why would I say yes now? There’s the door.”
Good luck, Tony. Let us know what happened….
Have to admit when I first got on this page I thought I would waste my time reading what some wannabe confesses as facts. The fact is this all makes sense and I’m glad you posted it. I’m working my derriere off to ensure this script is the best I can do before submitting it, but when I do, I want to ensure it is given serious consideration, without allowing myself devastation in letting go. As you stated, they will change it.
But if your only contacts are Facebook and LinkedIn connections, never having actually met any, where does that leave me? Any suggestions?
A director/producer loves my script and offers me a free option in order to start raising funds for a micro-budget film. His idea is to make it as a vehicle for getting noticed as a director.
The good thing is I retain full rights to the script (even if the film gets made), which means I would be able to sell it for a bigger production, before or after the micro-budget film is made (my fantasy is that if it gets done and turns out to be a decent film, it could attract the interest of a bigger production company to do a remake). But he’s offering only a minimum of 5k, or 5% of the profits or the production budget (whichever is bigger). What do you think?
Hi Chip Street
thanks for the awesome advice. I created an option agreement and send it on to a small production company (Canadian). I hope to hear from them soon. Your suggestions and assistance is strong, precise and perfect!
thanks again, Irene Hamilton
100 out of 25,000 is 1 out of 250 which is .004 which is .4%. While .4% is not great odds, it is 100 times better than .004%. Script writing, like blogging and twittering, is, sadly, mostly write-only. If anyone agrees to read your script and they actually read it through to the last page, you have been done a huge favor. If they recommend someone else read your script, well, your odds are starting to improve.
the article is very useful CS.. thank you.. my query : I am a foriegn writer.. but have a screenplay for Hollywood studios.. will i be equally benefited as an american writer and equally reachable to a studio either to get optioned or purchased..
Great article, i appreciate your taking time to write it.
Nearly same to the Q above, i don’t live in USA and i finally finished my screenplay, i plan to register it in WGA but is that enough! what’s next, to be honest it’s all about quick money…appreciate any advice…thanks
Sorry for this very late reply, Abdo. If you plan to shop your play in the US, I’d recommend also registering it with the US copyright office. It’s cheap, and it offers more real legal protections (so I’ve read) than WGA registration. The WGA reg helps with things like credits arbitration, and *might* help prove precedence, but the US copyright office provides legal precedence of prior art. http://www.copyright.gov/
Great insight, thank you! I have a quick question: If I’m the writer and producer of a script, and I have a co-producer that’s working with me, who technically owns the rights to the script…me or both of us? Can I option the script to myself as an individual (not corporation) so I ensure 100% of the creative rights?
Hi, Narinaj – sorry for the late reply. I’m no lawyer, so don’t depend solely on my opinion. Do you and your co-producer have a business entity incorporated? If so, seems to me that entity could ‘option’ the property from you as an individual. But that sounds sticky to me and I’d def ask an entertainment attorney. It’s worth $300 for an hour’s consult to work out these details so you and your partner can concentrate on making an awesome movie instead of on suing each other… 😉 Good luck! Sorry I can’t be more specific!
Regarding: “You say that Sony would simply have their own screenwriters write the screenplay… based on a synopsis and treatment that you intend to write from the research you’ve done.”
* IS IT POSSIBLE TO EXPOUND UPON THE ABOVE? * (For folks w/DYNAMIC treatments, being held back by incomplete screenplays) Many thanks for your your help!
I see this article is 7 years old, but it’s one of the best I’ve read on the subject. Here is another one I found very informative.
Happy you found it valuable! Thank you! I’m certain most of it will remain evergreen for some time… thanks for the link to Medium / Stage32… that’s a reliable resource as well.
I got screwed. I wrote 90 episodes of a Vampire Tv Series. My agent told me to sign the Transfer of Rights paper. Hum, Now it was sold to Tyler Perry Studios. I didn’t get any documents. No paperwork. No money and my agent is on the run.., somewhere on a tropical beaches…
Why does production company ask that material be pass to them through an agent, manager or attorney? Can I just have any Entertainment Attorney send my script to the production company?
I suspect they’re trying to protect themselves from certain liabilities (like writers’ claims of ‘they stole my idea’ and etc) by including an industry professional in the submission process. Those reps will make sure writers’ works are registered and protected, etc., and set the writers’ expectations, so the prodco is at reduced risk. But more likely they’re also trying to ensure that they’re not inundated with sub-standard amateur content they’ll need to wade through. A legitimate manager, agent, or attorney has their own reputations to consider, so they work with artists they have faith in and whose work they think is professional and will sell or gain that writer assignment work. So the production company may feel they’re going to get a better quality work if the agent, manager, or attorney is ‘vetting’ the work before it even gets to the prodco.
Can you have just *any* attorney rep you? Sure, any who will take you as a client and rep you to their industry contacts. Again, they’re not going to burn their contacts repping work that they don’t believe in, so you’ll have to find an attorney who wants to work with you.
I have a deal on the table for a movie with a million dollar budget. There is merchandise involved and a purchase agreement and licensing of the character. My entertainment lawyer and the producer’s entertainment lawyer have been going back and forth with red lines and blue lines for 6 months now. i’ve paid my lawyer about $40,000 so far… This is my first time and I don’t know how long these negotiations take. Does anybody know how long these things take on average? Is this normal or taking an excessive amount of time? I just want to sign the dam thing and get the dam movie made.