How do we get big $$?



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  • How do we get big $$?

    Let's say a producer at Warner Bros, for example, with top credits wants to read your script. It's a high concept summer action picture. Let's also say you have no agent. You got them to read it through a regular query. If they like it, what happens next? How do you get a big spec sale? Or do we not? Do they recommend an agent? Do you tell them you'll find someone to represent you and then have them call on your behalf? Would they option it? Would they outright buy it? I know that all of the above may happen. What I think I'm trying to ask, poorly, is can a first time writer, with no agent, still get a big payday from a studio/producer?

  • #2

    Anything can happen. If you ever find yourself in the (unlikely, but POSSIBLE) scenerio you outlined, you can find just about any agent to hip-pocket you and make a quick 10%, find an entertainment lawyer to make sure you don't get screwed in the fine print or just wing it and thank god he/she dropped such a bonanza on your head.

    Then call me and tell me how the hell you did it....


    • #3
      Re: Sure

      I'm sorry, Billy. I've been here for a while. Lots of crazy stuff happens in LA. But this... never heard of anything like this happen. So I can't really tell what the outcome would be. You can definitely get to a prodco exec without an agent. But your query to a studio exec won't get past the mail room. The best possible scenario - some assistant's trash bin. It's just not how studios work...


      • #4
        Re: Sure

        I clearly wasn't clear enough. Sorry. I meant a producer who has a deal with Warner Bros, not a Warner exec. If that producer loves your script, how do you go about getting a good deal? Six figures lets say. Won't they take advantage of you because you have no agent and just offer a bad deal? Or will they offer to option it first? And if you do option it, do you settle on a purchase price first? Are the only writers who get the six figure deals, ones with agents who've sent the script out and in a sense, gotten a bidding war going?


        • #5
          Re: Sure

          If they're interested to the point of wanting to give you money, you will call an agent or a lawyer or both and say, hi, I have Mr. Moneypants at Warner interesting in buying/optioning this script I wrote, how would you feel about brokering the deal?

          They will feel just fine about it.


          • #6
            Re: Sure

            Seriously...the odds of you getting a script to them (unless you know someone who knows that person and even I doubt they'll read it) are endless...second, selling a first timers spec for a blockbuster is like John Dead standing a chance in an election.

            Keep writing, make contacts, then sell your big concept. Selling a spec is really hard, even for the best Agent.

            And if you do prove me wrong and I hope you do, you wont have a problem getting any agent.



            oh...and KD has great advice!


            • #7
              Re: Sure

              Well, the reason I'm asking is because I have a script being read by a TOP producer(through a regular query) who has a deal and works on the lot of a TOP studio. And I was just wondering what might happen next if they really like it. And I'm not sure that my question has been answered. I understand that I can call an agent to broker a deal, but will that deal be made by me over the phone? Will this producer say "Okay, we want the script and we're prepared to offer you THIS, take it or leave it." Or will they say, "We want the script, do you have someone we can talk about it with?" And then the finances would be worked out then? Whatever. I don't want to talk about it anymore. I'm jinxing the whole thing. No need to answer.


              • #8
                Re: Sure

                You're the writer. They're not going to talk money with you unless you make them.

                Mr. Moneypants would call and say "Billy, we freakin' love it, we're going to attach Russell to star," and you say "That's awesome!" and you'll both chit-chat about how great the movie is going to be.

                After you hang up, someone in Business Affairs will call your people and negotiate a deal. Mr. Moneypants does not haggle. He has people who do that. And so will you.


                • #9
                  Re: Sure


                  The Wubat's reply is accurate. In fact, if you haven't yet given the producer the name of an agent/attorney, the Business Affairs person is going to call you to ask who will negotiate for you. You can tell him you're in the process of getting someone to rep you; you might even ask the producer or bus aff exec for a recommendation. You will then meet one or more agents and/or attorneys, and decide who you'd like to rep you.

                  Very rarely is a script purchased outright, even from established writers. Not to say it can't happen, but it's not usually good business sense from the producer's/studio's point of view. They know in the backs of their minds that love your script as they may, there's always the chance that something will happen to kill the picture for them, at least for a while... the star they have in mind dies, three other pics with similar themes/stories/characters tank, etc. And yet they've already laid out all that money...

                  The only scenarios that lead to outright sales are (1) producer and studio execs are totally besotted with your script and terrified that someone else might offer you a higher option. They are so desperate to have it that they'll actually pay the whole thing up front to make the deal. (2) You're such a big shot you tell them (via your rep) that you'll consider only an outright sale, and if they won't meet your terms, they can't have it... and you won't let them buy your next four scripts, either.

                  An option agreement specifies the purchase price, the length of the option period, whether they can pay you a 2nd option amount to extend the option (standard), any production bonus, backend participation, your participation in sequels & remakes, etc. Everything is negotiated up front, and it's all part of the option agreement. Including any additional writing they may want you to do.

                  Will you get a six-figure option? It just depends on how much the project is worth to them. Are they planning to have you do a little polishing? Or do they intend to use the basic story and hire a high-priced writer to do a major re-write? Your rep will know the parameters of the going market price.

                  As for a producer trying to take advantage of you... not if he's smart. He and the studio will want to cultivate a relationship with you. After all, if they really like your writing, they'll want you to show them your next script, won't they? If you feel screwed by the producer or the studio,what have they gained, except your determination to not deal with them again. Your rep will prevent this from happening; but he's not going to be able to get you the same kind of money as if you'd written their last smash franchise picture. Fact is, they know that you really want to sell this script... to them... and now. It's not as if you've already made millions, are highly sought after by every studio in town, and are willing to put this one in a drawer.


                  • #10
                    Re: Sure

                    Very rarely is a script purchased outright, even from established writers. Not to say it can't happen, but it's not usually good business sense from the producer's/studio's point of view.
                    I wouldn't be so sure. I recently made a statement along the lines of yours above, but apparently the opposite is true -- studios almost always purchase spec scripts outright and rarely are set-up deals structured in such a way as to make the actual transfer of copyright contingent upon the studio exercising an option during development. The norm when it comes to studios is an outright purchase, whether the spec's by a first-timer or established writer. That's what I've been told, at least.


                    • #11
                      Get a lawyer to negociate your deal - you're going to need one anyway. Ask the producer to suggest an agent for you, too. But for a new writer, what you get paid is similar to what something sells for on e-bay. If lots of people want it, the price goes up. If nobody wants it, you get the minimum price. No one spends more than they have to for a script - why should they?

                      And don't think of it as being ripped off - if they buy your script you'll have people all over town wanting to meet with you. Lots of job possibilities. Lots of places to sell your other scripts. And the *worst* deal you'll get will still be for WGA minimum, which is more than you're making at your day job (more than I was making). And all of those doors will be open to you for a while.

                      - Bill


                      • #12
                        Thank you. I feel like my question has been throroughly answered and I'm quite sure that I will not be needing any of the info, now that I've jinxed the entire operation.


                        • #13

                          Ah, I need for you to enlighten me, because I used to draft option agreements, as well as writer and producer agreements, at a studio and elsewhere (for prod co's). And optioning was absolutely the norm. In both TV and features.

                          One of the most important things people like me did was to "track" those options; i.e., continuously notify development and production execs which options were approaching expration. You'd give a 1-month warning (and maybe even earlier), a two week warning, 1-week warning, 3-day warning, etc. You have to let them know when the option expires, whether there's an extension available, how much it costs and how long the extension would be, usually how much money has already been invested in the project, and what elements, if any, may have been attached (and what the company's obligations to them are).

                          Presumably, those people confer about it if they haven't already, then the person who gets to make the decision lets B/A know whether to let the option expire (dropping the project), exercise the extension, perhaps negotiate another extension if there isn't an unused one in the agreement, or, sometimes, the decision is made to exercise the option, even if the project hasn't been greenlit yet -- that means paying the purchase price (less applicable amounts previously paid), so the company owns the script; i.e., its copyright.

                          Technically, the option usually needn't be excercised until the first day of principal photography.

                          I'm confused by your statement that (sorry, can't quote, I can't see it from this screen) spec scripts aren't usually optioned. They're the only ones that can be. If you're writing on assignment, the company already owns the rights (or has optioned them from someone else, if you're re-writing) and you're a writer "for hire," which confers no rights on you.

                          Since so many companies tend to develop far more projects than they actually produce, it makes sense for them to hold off paying a full purchase price until it's necessary.

                          There are writers who've sold options on the same scripts (novels, too) several times; the options don't get exercised for one reason or another (company can't get a rewrite they like well enough; the actor/director pair they optioned it for are no longer interested, etc.), so when the option expires, the rights revert to the writer, who's free to sell another option. I knew one of these guys once -- never actually sold a script, but lived quite well off his multiple option deals for a few projects. I think his agent usually managed to sell each option two or three times. Guy got discouraged, tho.

                          And Billy! Chin up! You have not jinxed it. You only jinx it when you brag to your best friend. Because (s)he will eventually turn on you and let you know in no uncertain terms that you're a nothing. Worse than nothing. You had a chance and you totally blew it. You're no good. Oh, the other sure jinx is telling your parents, who won't distinguish between an option and seeing your name on the screen real big, real soon, and they'll have all their neighbors watching the movie ads in the paper, week after week after month after year.


                          • #14
                            Jinxing --

                            Ah, the 'writer's jinx'... is anyone of us not sucked into that one once in a while?

                            Bill, it may or may not happen -- but enjoy the ride while you can.


                            • #15
                              Lulu, I can't enlighten you because I said similar last month -- I was under the impression that the majority of script 'sales' to studios were actually hefty options. I also stated that the official purchase price was often paid in the backend (as compensation for formal transfer of copyright) which may be incorrect regardless.

                              A received some thorough clarification to my question a few pages back on this board:

                              Set-up deals & purchase options:

                              my original comments in thread:

                              Six-figure option deals??:

                              I have a feeling I'm probably taking you the wrong way and that the majority of the sales on or in the trades or not options, but those (comparatively) rare occurrences you speak of when a script is acquired outright by a studio?