Selling a screenplay to the studio system is getting more difficult. Budgets are shrinking and studios are making fewer films. The temperamental independent world is slowly sputtering back to life. Only to collapse again. What’s a writer to do?
It’s a well known fact that studios have a preference for pre-existing works in another medium such as comic, graphic novel or novel. If you have interest in your manuscript from a reputable publisher, you are a hotter commodity, before it’s even in print. This doesn’t apply to self-published books. Unfortunately, this route contains too many vanity projects to afford you much bargaining power.
Your printed property also has more avenues for commercial exploitation than a screenplay. If you’re a first time screenwriter, the best case scenario for a sale is WGA minimum scale plus 10%. This amounts to a little over $50k. Not too shabby, you might say.
Consider the alternative scenario. You have written a novel and attracted interest from a serious publisher. Bonus points of you trigger a pre-emptive bidding war. But let’s not ahead of ourselves.
You will get an advance and royalties based on the sale of the book. It’s unlikely you’ll receive any back end profit participation points after selling your first screenplay. Selling a book can earn you anything from $100 to millions of dollars depending on the size of your advance and how many books you sell.
It is a risk, but you can hedge your bets to create additional revenue streams. Separated rights mean you retain the movie or TV exploitation rights of your work. Since a publisher isn’t in the business of producing material for the screen, they can’t normally request them as part of publishing rights. If they do, they must pay extra. But why would you sell your screen rights to a publisher with no track record of screen production?
Imagine approaching a production company with interest from an unpublished book from a major publisher? That’s the next best thing to approaching them as the author of a best seller. You’ll most likely be offered more than WGA minima for your screenplay.
Interested producers must pay you for the screen rights of your book. Figures upwards of $1 million dollars are possible. You get paid even if the film doesn’t get made.
If it does get produced, you also receive a producer’s fee. You don’t participate in the physical production of your work. Receiving producer credit is simply a formality since you own the screen rights exclusive from your book publisher.
Furthermore, publishers and producers can co-ordinate their activities for tie-in releases. The cover of your novel suddenly has the film poster artwork on the cover and it’s released within a specified window of the film release.
Then there are merchandising rights. These apply both to selling your screenplay and selling your book. These are typically around 5% of profits.
Selling your work as a series of books can only happen in this medium. You can’t sell all the screenplays in your series. Book deals typically range from 1 to 3 book deals of the series. Three picture deals are becoming increasingly rare and may not allow for a series of screenplays.
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