View Full Version : Looking for advice re: option deal
07-21-2004, 12:43 PM
So... I'm a year out of school and have a script that had garnered some interest at an independent prodco as well as two independent producers just starting out. Everything was budgeted and things were beginning to proceed with me directing as well, with a budget of $1mill.
Now, a very reputable, long established producer has joined the fray and wants to option my work and get it made for under $5mill. He's a stand-up guy who's big on fostering relationships and new talents. And he wants to put some A-listers in 2 minor roles and find two unknowns for the leads (like Donnie Darko). The big question is whether or not I still direct.---is that something figured out in the option?
But there are other questions... I've never done this before but I know I need a lawyer but I don't know any. What should I expect (and I know the common answer is to get screwed.)? What should I make sure to hammer out and get in writing? Basically looking for advice on all fronts. I've been reading through other posts and have been picking stuff up but I wanted to pose my question and scenario as well.
This is all very overwhelming so I appreciate the help.
07-21-2004, 12:55 PM
I think you need representation to help you, not only hammer out the deals, but for advice on which potential offer is the best...
Ideally you should ask either the reputable producer, the indie prod co, or the independent producers for a referral to an agent, if there is a real option with real money on the table that shouldn't be that difficult.
AND/OR you should start shopping for an entertainment attorney, a referral would again, be the ideal way to go, although you can look at lists such as the one on scriptsales.com. But be careful, do your homework, try to find one that will work off a percentage, no more than 5%, of the money exchanging hands.
07-21-2004, 12:58 PM
Firstly, you should not negotiate anything on your own behalf. To do so would put you squarely at a disadvantage. You need either an agent or a lawyer.
Next, it is more than likely probably better to have your film made NOT with you directing at 5 million with a better producer than WITH you directing at 1 million. A 1 million dollar move is much harder to sell than a 5 million dollar movie. What that means is that even though you get the chance to direct, it doesn't move your career forward.
A 5 million dollar movie is still very low, but it might have a better shot at a sale. And getting something with your name on it seen is the game here. To help launch your career, "Written By" at this point might very well be better than "Written and Directed by".
Getting a lawyer isn't hard...all it takes is money. You might be able to find one who will do it for 5% of your option money, but if the option money is too low they will want to get paid for their time to negotiate and review contracts.
07-21-2004, 01:51 PM
I'm not sure if I misread.
The small producer had budgeted the production and was lining up financing, but they never actually had optioned the material? Is that correct? If they had not, that speaks to me about the level of experience and/or professionalism of the company.
I would reiterate to A) get a lawyer, and B) a likely writing credit is better than an almost-had-a-writing-and-a-directing credit.
07-21-2004, 02:30 PM
I don't really have any good answers for your question, just some Donnie Darko trivia (since you mentioned it).
Richard Kelly was able to make DD for $5 million after Drew Barrymore signed on and attached herself as a producer.
Richard's total paycheck (to write and direct) was $8000.
I have never heard him complain about the money, in fact he has said in many interviews that he would have gladly done it for free. (These comments apply only to the struggle to get a first project produced, after which, presumably, more lucritive offers would start coming in for new projects).
I would suggest adopting that kind of attitude, or just be grateful for anything that is offered to you at all.
07-21-2004, 02:32 PM
thanks for the replies. i'm talking to my former screenwriting teacher for a lawyer referral.
the smaller production company wanted to see a potential budget. they have a major independent film coming out in the next two weeks the success of which would play a factor in whether or not they would be interested.
the two independent producers are former schoolmates of mine planning on starting up their own production company with my script as their first film. but they, smartly, got it to the man who wants to option it. and I know that this guy will get it made, which, honestly, is more important than a directed by credit, since I can accomplish that at a later date. it's just hard to hand over the reins.
so now i just have to find a lawyer and make it out to LA to meet up with all these people. if anyone has a good lawer referral, please email me.
thanks again for the replies and any other advice is more than welcome.
07-22-2004, 03:34 AM
You might contact Independent Feature Project. There are attorneys who give special rates to members (and it's an organization that you should support anyway and that can be very helpful).
And everything is spelled out in the option. If your option agreement makes no mention of your directing, you'll be in the position of just having to ask, pretty please. They'll be under no obligation. Of course, you might convince them it would be a great idea.
I certainly agree, though, that the sure-thing production with a higher budget without your directing would be preferable than your directing a very, very low-budget picture.
Paul Brennan at the Law Offices of John Sloss in NY.
07-22-2004, 11:03 AM
has anyone had any experience with probono lawyers. here in Atlanta there's an organization called Georgia Lawyers for Artists that's made up of lawyers volunteering their time to help poor writers like me. they require a tax return to esteem your financial situation and then they do everything (except for photocopying, courier, etc. other fees) for free.
also, would it be better to use a lawyer in LA or does it matter if I use one here in Atlanta?
07-23-2004, 05:48 AM
Not that I necessarily mind you dropping the name of your lawyer, but I think it'd be better for him if you edited your post and removed his name post-haste. The longer his name is listed here, the more chances people will see it and try contacting him. And when he keeps finding out that you posted his name for all to see on the message board, he might not find it so amusing.
And for the record - I'm gonna hold on to the lawyer's name for possible later use :evil
Edited because I can't spell :p
He's not my lawyer. I only know his reputation. I wish he (or any of the lawyers in that office) were my lawyer!
07-24-2004, 01:41 PM
perhaps i should start a new topic for this question, but what are the ideal things i should seek in a contract. besides a good option price, payment for rewrites, and a good sell price...
here are some of the things i was thinking about...
1. since i live outside of LA, transportation and accomodations taken care of for me.
2. producer credit
3. points on distribution, sales, dvds, etc.
that's all i can think of right now. i think #3 is the most important because it could provide me with years of income (even if it's not a lot).
anyways, looking for any other ideas and peoples' experience with options. thanks again.
07-24-2004, 01:52 PM
... for starting screenwriters is the schedule for rewrites. If you're famous, you might get to limit it to just one (or none, for some people), but I think that even if you're not so famous, you can probably argue from 4 to 3 or 3 to 2, and you can negotiate the number of days you have to be available to do them.
Everything else that you could argue for, generally speaking, really depends on your bargaining strength (i.e., whether you have a lot of competing bids and whether your name can generate box office). But the rewrites are something which everyone needs to be reasonable about -- even if you're just starting, presumably, you're looking for work, and need to write more spec scripts, and have several things going at once, so producers do need to be reasonable about obligating you to be available to them.
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