Screenplay Option & Purchase Agreements. What You Should Negotiate

On the rare chance that a producer has purchased your screenplay outright, you won’t need to read any further.

The reality for most screenwriters is that a producer will option your film script. This is analogous to renting a house. They pay a sum of money for the exclusive right to exploit the property for a period of time, usually six to twelve months. If the option lapses, it can be renewed, usually for a higher price.

This allows the producer time to test the value of your screenplay in the marketplace. If a producer wants to produce your screenplay, the purchase price is stipulated in the option agreement. The option amount is usually offset against the purchase price.

It’s always exciting when a producer shows interest in your movie script and it’s tempting to agree to the first offer without examining if it is right for you. The film world is a collaborative one, so there is no need to bow to all the producer’s demands especially if it’s your first sale. Make your requests reasonable. A seven figure upfront deal with back end profit participation isn’t reasonable.

Here are some elements to examine in your screenplay option agreement or purchase price with a potential buyer:

  • What is their credibility? Do they have imdb credits and references?
  • Can they reasonably raise finance?
  • How long is the option? The shorter the better. It’s the producer’s job to secure talent and financing during this period.
  • What is the price of the screenplay option? Typically it’s set at 10% of the purchase price, although dollar options still exist. Some producers pay more for an option to allow them more time to secure finance and a sale.
  • Try to obtain the WGA minimum to allow you to join the WGA. If the production company is a WGA signatory, screenwriters will automatically receive the WGA minimum, at the very least.
  • Is the price fixed or a proportion of the production budget? If the latter, aim for 2-3% of the budget with a price floor and ceiling in place.
  • Are there any back end points or profit participation scheme?
  • Are there any reserved rights such as book or stage play or merchandising? This is referred to as separated rights.
  • What is the credit process? Will you share with another writer? If so, who’s name comes first? Will your name appear in all publicity materials?
  • Screenwriters are typically offered the first chance to write the sequel. If not, you can typically request 50% of the new writer’s contract amount.
  • You should be given the first opportunity to write the remakes and sequels.
  • Negotiate prices for additional polishes and rewrites.
  • Request representation and warranties to prove you own the rights to the script.
  • Request audit and arbitration rights?
  • Now the fun stuff. Request invitations to wrap parties, premieres, set visitation and a DVD.

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