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  • I am being optioned - help!
    by tramsleeper at 09:20 on 08 September 2011
    Hello everyone,

    I was a bit confused where to place this so I hope I got the right place.

    I am about to sign an option agreement for the development of a TV sitcom. I wrote and filmed a pilot a year ago and I have been trying to get the series sold since. I have had good reviews but not yet a pay cheque - you know the score.

    However, a production company are persuading me to sign over 45 percent copyright. For this they will try to get the series made. They have all the contacts basically - many more than me. They already believe they have someone to fund production of 6x26 episodes (season one). All the rights revert back to me after 1 year should nothing happen.

    I am giving this away as a free option - as at least there is the hope that the series will be developed and sold. And I retain 55 percent (which isn't too bad I think).

    However, I am very new to this game.

    I was just wondering if anyone had similar experiences of TV optioning and whether - all things considered - I was doing the right thing?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks P

  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by EmmaD at 09:37 on 08 September 2011
    Tramsleeper, how exciting, but eek!

    I'd suggest getting in touch with the Writers Guild ASAP. The Society of Authors would also be able to help, but WG are more broadcasting and script oriented. I don't know what the joining regs for them are, but I hope they can help.

    I've no idea what's the industry norm for this kind of thing, so can't comment - prose writers aren't usually expected to give up their copyright. I can imagine that it's not unusual, and the time-limited aspect is reassuring. But really, really, do get some professional advice...

    Emma
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by GaiusCoffey at 09:51 on 08 September 2011
    No specific experience, but a basic business principle; you do not give rights away, you exchange them.

    Whatever about the specific percentages, you should at the very least ensure that they the option is only granted in the event of a successful sale which they have played a significant role in negotiating.

    I would see this very much like the agent role for an author and it is just as important to review (and get advice on) any agreement here as it would be with a literary agent. Make sure that you are not offering more than is reasonable, and that there is a clean exit clause for both of you if it all turns sour.

    For writing, there are places like the Society of Authors who can offer advice (EmmaD is a better person to ask than me, but a friend who I recommended it to was very pleased by their advice when he signed his first 3 book deal recently). I don't know whether they review script contracts, but if not, there is doubtless a similar organisation for script writers who does.

    G

    <Added>

    Crossed with Emma; what she said.
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by cherys at 09:52 on 08 September 2011
    I agree with emma D. exciting but don't let eagerness devalue the worth of your contribution. Get professional advice, starting with Writers' Guild.

    And post on here, asking for professional scriptwriters to offer their advice. There must be some. Jubbly, you around?
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by EmmaD at 10:00 on 08 September 2011
    The other thing to do, once you're up and running a conversation with WG or SoA, would be to try to get an agent to represent you. A good moment to try to get an agent, if there's interest; unlike a production company, an agent works for you.

    I am still reeling from the following story, told to me by the agent involved (not my agent):

    Writer submits MS to publisher direct; big name editor offers a contract for a small amount. Writer accepts verbally. While contracts are being sorted out, but not yet signed, writer realises having an agent would be wise, and gets one. Big name editor rings agent (they know each other): "Listen - I gather you've taken on Writer. We'll make her a great offer for the next contract, but would you let me f**k her over for this one?". Agent refuses, and contract is re-negotiated...

    Emma
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by NMott at 10:16 on 08 September 2011
    Just looking at it from the other angle, it is very hard to get a foot in the door in screenwriting, so, although 45% sounds a lot to hand over, if you deline then you get to keep 100% of nothing.
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by KateB at 20:30 on 08 September 2011
    You should get advice as this sounds very odd.

    I'm a screenwriter and director and this is how it works for me: an option contract simply means you give a producer permission to seek production finance. It's for a short, set period of time. Really it's just you saying you won't go to anyone else. Whether they're paying you or not. Everything should return to you if they don't succeed. Absolutely everything.

    I've never given someone a percentage of copyright. If the producer succeeds in raising finance, you can give a producer all sorts of rights later, (merchandising etc) but the main thing they pay you for is the right to turn your script(s) into a film/tv series.

    Be careful...
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by tramsleeper at 10:48 on 09 September 2011
    Thank you all very much for your detailed and thoughtful responses. They have certainly given me food for thought.

    As all the rights revert back to me after 1 year anyway - isn't that enough protection? Just wondering.

    P
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by EmmaD at 12:27 on 09 September 2011
    As all the rights revert back to me after 1 year anyway - isn't that enough protection?


    By what LadyB's saying, it's not enough if they do a terrific deal within the year, and then have 45% of all revenue from this script for ever and ever even unto repeats on Channel 74+ in the next millenium, duvet covers and novelisations...

    Whereas, yes, I'd understood that selling (even for 0) an option is for a specific project, for a specific length of time. You only sell them the right to do the developing for that form for that medium, not for anything else, and give them a promise that you won't simultaneoulsy let anyone else do the same.

    Emma
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by alexhazel at 20:21 on 09 September 2011
    I have no personal experience of negotiating contracts, rights, etc. at all within creative media. However, it does seem to me that, if this company succeeds in doing a deal, 55% of that is better than 100% of the rights with no means of turning them into income. In the area that I do know, which is business, if someone goes looking for venture capital to start up a new business, it's quite common to have to give away a 49% stake in the business - forever, unless you can eventually buy it back - in return for the capital.

    Having said that, I can think of examples within the music industry where very well-known songs have earned their writers nothing at all because of them having to give away the rights for various reasons. For example, one of the best-known songs of the 1960s, Summer Holiday, has never earned Bruce Welch or Brian Bennett (the two Shadows who wrote it) a penny in royalties, because they don't own the rights to it.

    Alex
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by Ben Yezir at 22:07 on 09 September 2011
    For a start you don't sign over copyright, not even 45% of it. If that is the language they are using they are amateurs and stay well clear.

    Having been in your situation you need to be careful. Firstly by all means OPTION the material (as opposed to signing over the copyright), but do so for a strict period of time, say 6 months or 1 year at the most. Never sign it over for longer, or you won't be able to move it somewhere else if development stalls. I have had material optioned for a fee and again optioned for no fee, its up to you. However you should have some kick back in place so if you go into production, some money comes your way for the option rights.

    Ben Yezir

    <Added>

    And they have to option 100%, otherwise how can they make it? I mean which 45% are they getting - the first bit, the last bit or a bit in the middle. It's not like selling a fraction of a company or an idea - it's a script, so like a book 100% of it either gets published or not.
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by tramsleeper at 15:40 on 10 September 2011
    Many thanks again.

    I contacted Anne and the WGGB and she emailed me back within an hour (even though I wasn't then a member). I signed up for a modest sub and now Anne says she will check over the option contract. Really good service.

    I am not opposed to signing a free option, particularly as as other prodcos haven't exactly been hammering at my door. But I am aware that anything I sign now has the potential to affect me for a long time.

    This is a minefield - but you guys have been so helpful.

    P
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by tramsleeper at 15:42 on 10 September 2011
    Oh - and if you'd like to check out the trailer of my pilot, I'd be honoured:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmPw4BtfqQ8

    bw, P
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by eurostar at 20:15 on 10 September 2011
    Looks like a fun show - hope it makes it to the screen! (Sorry, I know nothing about optioning, but good luck.)
  • Re: I am being optioned - help!
    by Lamaha at 18:16 on 20 September 2011
    Hello! My first post!
    Just want to chime in with my experience.

    A couple of weeks ago I sold the option to my first novel. I sold it to an American producer for $500. She has 18 months to try and get funding,and then the option can be extended for a further 18 months.
    If she gets funding, I will be paid 1.5% of the budget, with a floor of $91000 and a ceiling of $150000.

    As the book is out of print and the offer came out of the blue I was happy to go along with her conditions and would even have given the option for free. I did have it checked by a Society of Authors lawyer who said it was OK. After that the producer went to my agent in New York and everything went very quickly; she paid the money and I am only waiting to get the paperwork through for US tax so I can get the money!

    I realise that it's very different for a TV script; just wanted to post my experience here. And to let you know that the SOA DOES look over option contracts; though the person there admitted she did not have very much experience.

    Anyway, congrats to you and good luck!