Taking a break from reviews today to go over something forum members have been asking about.
Now, this isn’t a “be all, end all” type list, but since human nature leads us to LOVE Top 5 or Top 10 lists, I defaulted to the lower. (Top 10 would have led to me rambling, and everyone hates Long-winded Hank.)
Recently I had the privilege of speaking with a producer that wanted to option one of my newer scripts. Privilege quickly turned to confusion, with the mutually beneficial conversation we had over the phone resulting in an option agreement that felt more like indentured servitude.
So after you check the option price, and then purchase price, what else should you look for?
1.) Rights and Revisions Revert Back to Writer
Aside from being a bad attempt at alliteration, this is probably the most important thing to confirm is in the option.
What happens to your script if it never gets purchased when the option expires?
For me, I thought it went without saying. I wrote the script. I made the revisions. I keep it all.
More often than not, yes, BUT if it doesn’t explicitly say the rights come back to you (or that the producer keeps them) you may want to ask your agent/lawyer and discuss a counteroffer with granting you said property.
2.) First Right of Refusal on Sequels
You’ve beaten the odds on optioning your script, and now it’s an even longer shot that your script will make it to the big screen.
However, movies are made all the time, and with Hollywood LOVING existing audiences, if your story turns even a small profit, the producer will start thinking sequel.
Who gets to write it?
Audiences paid REAL MONEY to experience the world plucked from your imagination, so of course you want to be asked. But what does it say in the agreement?
(*NOTE – Along these lines, push for clarification on any compensation for TV, Based on, etc. More often than not first time writers don’t get a piece of that pie, but it never hurts to ask.)
3.) Option Duration
Anything over a year, and you should raise an eyebrow.
In fact, if you’re brave enough, ask if there’s a specific reason for that length of time.
12 months is standard, but 6 months is better.
Realize it takes time to build the momentum needed to secure a director, financing, cast, etc. and pieces won’t fall into place as fast as you hope. As long as progress is being made, you’re good, and there will also be a clause that allows the option to be extended for another fee should development run long.
Like most business ideas though, people are always REALLY excited in the beginning, and NOTHING can go wrong early on. If you pass that 6 month mark though, and the producer lags replying to emails, doesn’t answer your calls, or the project stalls, chances are your script is dead.
Don’t give away extra time at your own expense. Sure it sucks, but focus on the positive; you optioned a script and can now add that fact to your résumé.
Change the title. Make use of the revisions. Move on to pitching it with your new scripts.
(NOTE* Reference the fact that you’ve optioned screenplays in the past. DO NOT query/pitch saying, “This work was previously optioned,” because no matter what went wrong, the person you’re pitching will be wary.)
4.) Exclusive Writing/Consulting Services
The producer is hiring you to more or less be a writing consultant.
As changes are suggested, it’s your job to incorporate them into your story. (Sometimes even if you don’t agree with said changes.)
But here’s where I respectfully disagree with some professionals, I shouldn’t be writing for anyone exclusively.
To suggest I can’t multitask is insulting.
Producers are generally actively developing multiple projects, so why shouldn’t we be allowed to do the same?
I’m grateful to anyone who’s interested enough in my writing to consider paying for it, and as rewrites are assigned to me I always deliver in a timely manner (less than a week or two, depending on severity), but require my undivided attention and that will cost you.
Am I blowing this out of proportion? Probably, but based on that previous agreement I referenced when starting this article, writers should never sell themselves short.
(Maybe the reason artists starve is because they’re bad businesspeople.)
Corporations have agreements called IP Assignment Agreements, Work Assignment Agreements, etc. (My business partner and I actually just had an Invention Assignment Agreement drafted for the app I mentioned.)
Essentially it’s this. You work for Apple in product development. You give them great new ideas, they pay you a salary. You sign an agreement saying ANY ideas you develop while working at Apple are the intellectual property of the company.
(Being heavily invested in Apple, I’d prefer more originality to copying Samsung, but back to my point.)
Be careful here. If you feel the fee being paid to you is greater than or equal to your self-worth, than it’s not an issue.
However, if you’re curious what happens if you accept the option with Producer Y for Script A, but during that option period Producer Z wants to option Script B, clarify it with a professional.
5.) Doing it “My Way” Does Not Translate to “Going It Alone”
Frank Sinatra might have done it his way, but he had a team with him along for the ride.
So should you.
Don’t have an agent when an option is presented? Ask the producer for suggestions. (Legitimate professionals will have a contact or two.)
That doesn’t work or you just want an educated brain to break down all the legalese for you? Hire an entertainment attorney.
Sure it may cost you a hundred bucks or more, but this is a business agreement you’re about to enter into. Not having things spelled out beforehand is a bad idea.
Rule of thumb, the dumbest question really is the one you don’t ask, so consider a small sacrifice of pride for peace of mind.
Contracts generally spell things out, and before you decide whether or not it’s in your favor, you need to understand it.
Want more helpful tips on querying? How do you do it? Where do you send them? Follow this link to our Querying Forums.
And be sure to check out our Notes Service, where I give my detailed thoughts and suggestions on your script.