Optioning Your Script: Someone Wants To Make Your Movie

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Optioning Your Script: Someone Wants To Make Your Movie

Screenplay option agreements are both exciting and sometimes puzzling milestones in a new screenwriter’s career. The initial excitement of acceptance (instead of rejection) brings a flush of positive emotion. But the dense legal jargon in the contract is like a cold shower, that brings things back to reality.

Option agreements are basically like car rentals, with an option to buy. The producer gets the exclusive right to try and make your script into a movie, often for one year, sometimes six months, sometimes eighteen months.

Where many writers may understandably feel pleased, offended, or baffled is when the option agreement gets to the money portion. Here is where it’s vital to realistically assess where the optioning party stands in the business.

Are you optioning your script to someone with no produced credits? If so, you should probably reconsider, unless the terms are great. In most cases for newer writers, the first option agreement is probably going to be with a smaller producer who has a handful of produced credits.

Where writers can sometimes run into trouble is expecting the world on that first option agreement. This is it, you’ve made it, a real producer wants to option your script. Time to rake in the cash, right?

Realistically, it’s not. Option agreements typically come with limited upfront money, and often for smaller independent films even the purchase price for the screenplay (the amount the writer gets in the event the film gets made) is small.

The vital cost-benefit analysis screenwriters must make when they get to option agreements are questions of relative scale. Is this a producer in a good position to make the film? Is this script commercial enough that there may be other, better, buyers? If produced, what’s a realistic budget for this film? How does my fee compare to that budget?

Understanding the approximate scope of the most likely final product can help set appropriate expectations. If the script can’t be made for less than twenty million dollars, the purchase price should be significant (comfortably well into six figures, no matter what).

But if all the producer’s credits are in the two or three million range, and the script is for a low budget genre film, the purchase price is going to reflect that. Understanding the budget of your script, and the relative place it falls into in the market (and within the producer’s oeuvre) can be a great way to demystify option agreements.

Have you ever optioned a script? If so, did the financials meet your expectations? Please tell us about the experience in a comment below. Thanks.


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