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Script Optioning

Greetings all,

I've recently been browsing through various scripts available and ran across one (finally! Most of 'em suck! Sad truth...) that I'm very interested in shooting. What sort of things should be included in such a deal? What is a decent price for this sort of thing? I've never done this before so any suggestions would be most welcome! Thanks!
Well Shaw... I know people that are willing to write a script or allow you to shoot theirs and not have to pay a thing. What about writing your own?
What sort of script are you looking for? Feature, short, no budget, tiny budget, small budget?

Heck I might even have one of mine you could shoot. That would be vary interesting so sit and watch my story shot by someone else. :pop:
I've optioned my scripts for as little as $1 and as much as $2500 for six months stints. There is no set figure. I used to think that the more money spent of the option, the more chance the script had to getting made, but the $2500 option didn't pan out and I optioned a script recently for $100 for six months and it looks like it's going into production in Jan. 2005 with a budget of $750,000.

If the writer has an agent, expect to pay more. If the writer has been produced ,and not by himself on DV for a total budget of $500, but by a serious producer, expect to pay more. If the script is by an unproduced writer, I wouldn't pay more than $100 for six months. (Unless the script is best you've ever read and there's other's interested. Again, you can see there are no set rules.) I'd set it up as a six month deal with a renewal of another six months if you fork over another $100. After a year, it's time to renegotiate.

This is for feature scripts.

That's the thing with optioning, you really have to make the writer feel that you will be giving the script a chance to be made and made right. I can't help but think that many unknown screenwriters (myself included) would option their scripts for very little if they feel the project is in good hands. Convince the writer that his/her script will be done justice and you may not have to put up much.

The key with optioning is not how much you pay for the option, but how good your contract is.

You are buying a set lenght of time for which you have exclusive usage of the script. Within that period you have to get to first day of principle photography. The writer's fee normally gets paid or at least part paid at that point.

Because there are always more scripts than producers willing to make them, optioning is a buyer's market. The part where you have to make a significant investment is in getting your contracts written. You can't afford to use boilerplate PACT contracts, because they don't keep up to date with changes in the law.

If it's a feature, make sure you give yourself a realistic time to exercise the option, two to three years is standard, here.
RE: Option

Shaw said:
Greetings all,

I've recently been browsing through various scripts available and ran across one (finally! Most of 'em suck! Sad truth...) that I'm very interested in shooting. What sort of things should be included in such a deal? What is a decent price for this sort of thing? I've never done this before so any suggestions would be most welcome! Thanks!

Not exactly sure what you're asking... I assume you mean what legal agreements should be in your option contract?

Here's an example of a standard option contract form:

Screenplay Option Contract

As for a price... It's totally negotiable.

Here's an example of a standard option contract form:

Screenplay Option Contract

Whatever you do, DO NOT use this contract without taking proper legal advice. It commits you legally to obligations and expenses that you may not as an indie want to take on board. For instance you may not want to commit to 2% of your budget on first day of principle photography, or to the cost of the audit to establish budget in the first place. In fact, just by having that clause in the contract, if you decide to do an ultra-low budget production and self produce, just having that percentage option that in the contract, could leave you open to a bad faith law suit from the writer.
You may decide to negotiate a fixed price deal, with staged payments, some on first day of principle photography and the rest of it deferred until sale. (assuming you don't have pre-production distribution). Getting the contract that is right for your production and to protect your company, needs to be done by a proper media lawyer.

There is no such thing as free or cheap contractual work and sorting it out in court, when you get it wrong, is always more expensive than getting it done right in the first place.

The way you do this, is you tell your lawyer what you are intending and what you want to achieve with the contract.

i.e. - I want the exclusive rights to develop this project for 12 months and first refusal on a second year, should I need it. I want to pay this much for the option and I don't want the writer's fee to be tied to a percentage of my budget (or I do and I want my ass covered if I decide to do this ultra low budget and produce it myself)

Then listen and the lawyer will tell give you advice. If possible use an established media layer. Someone here must have one that's US based. Mine's UK based and although he's good on international law and does business in the US all the time, you need someone who's closer to home.

Get them to quote you for the cost of the work before you commit to anything and tie them down to a fixed cost for the contract.

Remember, no matter how good your film is, not matter how big your "name' actor is, if you get to the point where you are just about to sell your picture and the distribution company has even the slightest doubt about your film's contracts and your rights to sell it without litigation, they will bury your picture. You'll be lucky to be in a position to show it to your mother without geting sued and you'll have wasted three years of your life.
i have something awesome to offer

i hav been working in the industry for ovr 10 years in casting and past 2 yrs worked on my own projects ..one already has a producer who bought in it at 250,000.00 and now working on my next project which i am looking for more to buy in ...call 905.383.3978 or email ..treschic@mountaincable.net

thanks Francesco
Greetings: Treschic Film Studios.

Membership in WGA "Writers Guild of America" is limited to those screenwriters who have had at least one script purchased. Their screenplays command about $ 250,000.00 and often a percentage of the gross.

Further details can be obtained from http://wga.org/

Your firm may have an interest in Mt. Soledad Love Story which received rave reviews from Blackwatch Productions, Inc. in Montreal. You can find the novel version on http://mountsoledadlovestory.com/

This story is compared to Love Story (1970) with Ryan O"Neil and Ali MacGraw which dealt with a father not approving of his wealthy son at Harvard living with a poor Vasser gal.

Mt. Soledad Love Story by comparison is current, controversial and has teeth.

Hi Treschic Film Studios and others interested.

The trick is to find a great screenplay by an unknown writer! Then you can use the WGA small budget contract explained herein.

Selling Your Screenplay
When the Budget's Way-Low

Theatrical screenwriters realize the lower a film's budget, the greater the likelihood for producers, or even your own agent or attorney, to say things like "with a budget this low, we just can't do this film through the Writers Guild." Let's face facts--no one is really shocked anymore when the words "low budget" and the more ethereal term "independent" are used to short-change talent. But what is your response? Are WGA deals really more daunting than non-Guild deals?

Signing a Guild Low Budget Agreement (offered for theatrical films budgeted under $1.2 million) does mean companies have to fill out signatory documents; if they didn't, we wouldn't be able to enforce what you've come to expect, including minimums, credits and residuals protections, or offer Pension and Health coverage. We understand first-time producers may be intimidated by paperwork, so the Guild's Independent Program not only explains how the Low Budget Agreement works, but shepherds companies new to the process through it. By the way, we find it interesting that often when actors are hired, many companies, out of necessity, find a way to become signatory to SAG to secure onscreen talent. Let's be clear; we are completely supportive of our actor friends. But lest anyone forget--no script, no actors!

Essentially, we feel (and hope you agree) that no budget is so low that you should sacrifice Writers Guild protections and benefits. That is why, a little over two years ago, the Guild began offering the Low Budget Agreement to both WGA members and non-members. As word about the agreement has spread, our signup rate for the past year has tripled from its first year. Several dozen writers have used the agreement with nearly all of their films being produced and a healthy percentage getting distribution. Further, emerging non-member filmmakers who used this agreement were able to join the WGA.

WGAw screenwriter/director Rodrigo Garcia (Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her) just wrapped production on his first Low Budget Agreement feature, Nine Lives. Says Garcia, "I wrote the script knowing it would be a small budget film. The piece has an unconventional structure and I thought it would be too risky to spend too much money on it, even if I could get it. So from the get-go I knew I would produce it under the WGA's Low Budget Agreement. I thought I could do it for about $300,000. It's grown a bit since, but it's still low enough to be covered by the agreement and it's really the ideal way to make this kind of film. This way or bust, since I didn't want to do it outside the Guild."

Here is a summary of how the Low Budget Agreement works: If you've written a screenplay and a producer is interested in buying and producing it, you may agree to defer all or part of your compensation. For films with $500,000 and below budgets, up to the entire purchase price, the first rewrite and the publication fee may be deferred. If the film is budgeted between $500,000 and $1.2 million, $10,000 of the purchase price is paid when filming commences, the rewrite may be completely deferred, and the publication fee is paid after credits are determined. We encourage writers and their representatives to negotiate over-scale deals and as much of an upfront payment as possible, and remind them that, at the least, Guild minimums stay in effect.

As of this writing, an original screenplay purchase minimum is $34,740, a non-original screenplay sells at $28,271, a rewrite is $16,965, and the publication fee is $5,000. The company may defer the remaining portion of money due until receipt of first revenue after production costs are recouped or commencement of commercial distribution, whichever is earlier. If you are a gross profit participant, you may be able to defer monies until profits start being paid. There are also enhanced creative rights provisions.

To get the full scoop, download the Low Budget Agreement Fact Sheet from our WGA.org site (search under "Low Budget Agreement").

Despite this agreement, we regularly hear anecdotes about under-the-table and pseudonym deals within this budget range--so if you have a completed screenplay on the market and hear a Guild deal "just isn't possible," call us; perhaps we can help. Also, please make sure your representatives are aware this agreement exists. Remember, "independent" and "low budget" can be uttered in the same sentence as "benefits and protections."

For more information, contact the WGAw's Independent Film Program at (323) 782-4731 or go to WGA.org.