What Option Do I Have?
YES! You have a producer who wants to option your script. You finally have your foot in the door, right? Hold up a second.
My first option came when a contest judge sent my script to the semifinals but he wanted to beat the stampede and get control of it. I asked for some money to ink the deal. It was only $500. I wanted to know that this guy had something invested. He was offended but eventually he agreed. I felt like a working screenwriter the day I framed a copy of that check.
But once his connections passed on the project, he started to lose that raw enthusiasm. Then he wanted rewrites based on their feedback. I spent months trying to please anonymous critics. The option lasted a year and I felt helpless because I couldn't do anything with my script.
I went on to option four projects in the next four years. But that first one was the only time that I got any money. Every producer wanted rewrites. Only one kept me in the loop after I gave them the final draft. One even disappeared off the face of the Earth. I think he actually changed his name and started a new production company. That's not too shady is it?
Here are some things to consider if you get an offer for an option :
--Decades ago, writers used to get real money. Now producers like to use the "dollar" option. And it's a dollar that you will never see.
--The company must be credible. Anybody can put producer on their business card. Signing an option with Alan Smithee won't get you where you want to go.
--Read the contract. Are you willing to let your script go for a year? Are you willing to accept the purchase amount if the deal happens? Most producers will use a standard agreement that spins things in their favor. You can negotiate anything. They may say no but so can you.
--After signing my last option, I was mad as hell and I wasn't going to take it anymore. This producer was so excited about my script. He said that they only pick one project a year and wanted to make my movie. So, I asked for the same $500 that I got five years earlier. Suddenly he wasn't so excited about my script. He promised that I would be begging to take him up on his offer in six months. And within three months, he optioned four more scripts, which means he was a liar and I avoided working with a total dick.
--If a producer doesn't have to pay anything for a script, then they have nothing at stake. They can option twenty scripts. And those twenty writers are sitting at home, hoping that this is the opportunity that launches their career. It's not fair.
--If you do option a script, you have to be the kind of person who can let it go. It's just like a contest. It's no longer in your hands. Move on to another story.
I'm not trying to scare you. I'm just saying an option might not be your best option. If you get an offer, don't let that new car smell trick you into signing on the dotted line. Take a breath and think it over.
Next time I'll talk about assignments...