How To Option IP For Your Screenplay

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How To Option IP For Your Screenplay

Optioning underlying intellectual property can be a great way to add market appeal to your screenplay, but it can feel intimidating to newer screenwriters. It doesn’t have to be. Granted, if your target is a recent New York Times bestseller, it might not be easy. But short of that, plenty of books, comic books, articles, and so on can be optioned relatively painlessly.

The initial hurdle is legal. Unless you’re an attorney, it can be daunting to read a great article or a great book and then try and figure out how to get the rights. Hiring an entertainment attorney to do so might be cost-prohibitive, as well.

But you don’t really need an entertainment attorney to do this. You just need a legal document that grants you rights to the material for a set period. What you need, in essence, is a template. Let’s walk through this process, and how anyone, even without huge funds or an entertainment attorney serving them as a client, can achieve this goal.

Let’s say you read an article or a book you think would make a great basis for a movie or TV show. Again, the qualifier here is it can’t be the hottest book on the planet, or an article that’s getting a ton of buzz. In that case, you’re likely to be priced out of the market or simply overshadowed by a big company swooping in for the rights.

But if the article is in a more obscure publication, or the book is from an established author but perhaps not their top property, there’s nothing stopping you from reaching out to the author directly and inquiring about the rights. A simple bit of Google sleuthing can turn up an email or phone number for most people.

Now, let’s say the rights are available. Great! What next? Well, even if you don’t have an attorney, it’s almost impossible that you don’t know one. Is your wife’s best friend’s cousin a lawyer? Great! Call that person or email them, and just ask for a simple template rights agreement. You might even be able to find one for free online.

When optioning a piece of IP, most people understand that the upfront option money is usually going to be very low. If there’s no one else chasing down this particular IP, it might even be a token dollar (in other words, free).

With the rights to an article or book in hand, you immediately add legitimacy and market value to your screenplay. Hollywood, as has been well-established, is almost comically obsessed with pre-existing intellectual property.

Basing your screenplay on a book or article, which you hold the rights to, not only adds value to your script but binds you to the source IP. In other words, even if your potential buyer is more interested in the underlying source material than your script, you hold the rights, and are bound to the project.

All the way around, holding the rights to underlying source material is a net positive. Have you chased down rights to source IP? What has been your experience? Let us know in the comments below.  


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