October 2, 2016 by tcawood
A few people have asked me how I manage to sell and option so many short scripts.
My response? I usually laugh, and get embarrassed (what can I say – I’m a Brit!) Anything to move the subject along.
Others have shared their experiences of optioning/selling scripts, and their frustrations regarding what happens next. Or as is often the case – what fails to happen next.
As a result, I thought it would be useful to take a look at both sides of the coin, and share my personal experiences. Note: In this article, I’ve strived to be as ‘full disclosure’ as possible without discussing individual deals. And please keep in mind, this all relates to my experience only. Your mileage may vary.
Sales and Options
According to my calculations, I’ve written 48 short scripts and 5 features at the time of writing this (technically an update).
Of the shorts, 8 have been filmed, with 6 of the 8 available online. A further 12 of them are currently sold, or under option.
I say ‘currently’ because at least the same amount have been optioned in the past but not proceeded and the option has lapsed.
I’ve also written five scripts specifically at someone’s request. Only one of those has actually made it to fruition so far, but two other are in post-production. In the other two cases, the “commissioner” of the script proved unable to move the project forward, leaving me with the unproduced work. One of those has since sold to a different producer.
Oh, and one feature has been optioned to date.
Let me clarify what I mean when I use the terms Sales or Options.
Sale: Someone buys the script outright for money. And a contract exists to formalize that. OR you have your script optioned (see below) and it goes into production triggering its Sale.
Option: Someone agrees to try and pull the resources together to make the script within an agreed-upon window – normally 6-12 months – with agreed payment to follow that turns it into a Sale.
A further note regarding options: Unpaid options, or free options are usually offered by newer producers or directors (sometimes students) who don’t initially have funds available… or just want to ensure they can get the project off the ground before sinking capital into it. Any agreed payment for such deals is often only a percentage of the profits the short may make, rather than a defined monetary amount.
Options that turn into Sales normally have $$ paid. They may also include bonus $$ upon start of production, things of that nature. Note: Whenever I can, I make a point to obtain a percentage of the profits on the backend as well. Shorts usually make no profit at all. But I want to be included in case it goes viral, or blows up some way!
When talking with a Producer or Director, I ask if they have a budget for purchasing the script, then go from there. Why? Because I strongly believe a writer’s work has value. We spend time, effort and emotional energy on every script we create. So we deserve to be compensated when it’s possible.
Contract and agreements, I tend to play by ear. Some people will disagree with this strategy – and I do wish to stress I only do this for shorts.
When payment is involved, there’s usually a contract. I don’t use a lawyer or agent – just my common sense. Knock on wood… it’s worked. So far!
With options, I email an outline of my terms to the Producer, and make sure all parties are in agreement on the terms.
A quick note when it comes to both types of agreements (both email and signed): don’t be scared to ask for anything you consider right and fair. And never be afraid to say no, if you’re not comfortable with a deal.
As to what contracts contain: that’s always different! Usually, they’re drafted by the Producer/Buyer. On a couple of occasions, I’ve been asked to supply them. In those circumstances, I just retrofit one I’ve already got. If you don’t have one on hand, Googling for templates also works.
For me, the essential elements are these:
- What rights are you granting to the producer? e.g. Sole and exclusive, region specific or worldwide?
- What does it extend to? e.g.: is it just this script, or does it grant rights over sequels, remakes, etc (you should definitely try to keep these rights.)
- Make sure the contract specifies how long it’s for.
- Make certain payment terms and amounts are included – plus timings and delivery mechanisms (Paypal is one great method– though they do take a cut.)
- If in doubt about a clause, seek clarity before you sign.
- Very, very important note: if and when I get to this stage with a Feature script, I’ll be seeking professional legal advice.
I shot the short “TXT M” from my own script – precisely due to frustration with how long it can take films to get made!
So for those who’ve sold/optioned scripts and now wait in limbo. Please believe: I feel your pain
But in the end, there’s very little you can do. Producers and Directors are not doing it to you on purpose (as much as it may seem that way!). No, there’s a whole host of reasons it can take awhile before an optioned script goes into production.
- They have a window – which just so happens to be 6 months away.
- Their plans change. Many short film-makers have other jobs. Your short is just their passion project, which can only be done on their off time.
- Resources and/or finances change. Or disappear.
- They flat-out change their mind.
Of course, none of those reasons make the process any less frustrating… however how valid they may be. My advice. Patience is a virtue. Practice it. Often and wisely.
As a side note: it’s often interesting to see how willing or unwilling the film maker is to involve you in the process. In my experience, I’ve had audition tapes sent to me for my review. Rewritten scenes as required. Advised on prop selections, etc. Even if the producer prefers you take a ‘hands off’ approach, there’s no harm in letting them know you are keen to work with them, if desired, so as to better understand the process.
But once a script is finally produced, everything comes up roses.
Well kinda. But not really. Among other things, one learns about (drum roll)…
Post-production is where a lot of the magic happens. Film editing. Sound effects. Colour correction. Music, titles, credits. And more.
Needless to say, that can take awhile. So you’ll need to practice your patience again.
Please don’t interpret any of this as a complaint. If I didn’t think it was all worth it, I wouldn’t have written all those scripts. I’d have found something to do with more instant gratification.
But it’s good for writers to be aware of the potential bumps in the road. Factor them into your expectations.
Thank God – The Damned Thing’s Filmed!
Yes, that day has finally come. You’ve been sent a Vimeo link, or a DVD of your film. Now you can relax and soak in compliments from your jealous friends.
Well. Sorta. But then you watch the film – and your over-critical ID chimes in.
Because, unless you directed and edited the final movie, it’s very, VERY likely it won’t be exactly the same as what you envisioned in your mind’s eye.
Reasons for changes are unending. Budgetary concerns. Dialogue can be altered. Casting may not be your taste.
And make no mistake – there’s nothing you can do about it… unless you morph into a Director, and insist on making scripts your way.
So focus on the positives!
- You conceived a great idea.
- You had the creative skill to distill your ideas into a successful script.
- You had the gumption and fortitude to get that script into the hands of a real film maker, who thought highly enough of it to invest time, effort and money to make it a reality.
As a result, you’re now watching something that has your name in the credits. You’re a produced screenwriter, which is no small achievement. No matter how arduous the journey was.
As for my own stuff? Well, I keep plugging away, and will broach every opportunity to push and promote my scripts. But there’s no magic involved. It’s just an established plan that’s worked for me. So far:
- Have a decent idea. Follow it up with a decent script.
- Get feedback to make sure that script is as good as it can be. I mostly use Simplyscripts and Stage 32. Both are invaluable to me!
- Get your script listed everywhere (I’ve discussed go-to links in my previous articles.) But for the record, Simplyscripts and Inktip have given me the majority of my success.
- Refresh your listings. Change your loglines. Always keep working on the scripts.
- If someone requests to see one of your works, make sure you use it as an opportunity to build relationships. They may not ultimately want the script they ask for. But they may like your writing, and choose something else you have. Or ask you to write something for them.
- Always, always – persevere.
Carry on reading for the next in the series and check out my new book for expanded and updated info – How to sell your screenplay