Optioning film rights
June 7, 2006 4:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm finishing up a first draft of a screenplay adaptation of a novel. I've contacted the company who owns the rights to the novel and they told me to send a proposal for an option to the film rights. Has anyone ever had any experience with obtaining options to film rights?

The book was published in 1975. The author is dead. None of his works have ever been adapted for the screen, so I doubt if there is or has been much demand. The baseline for my proposal is $1,000 for a one year option and 30% of the purchase price. Does that sound reasonable?
posted by strangeleftydoublethink to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In 1989 I tried to secure the rights to an out of print novel by a dead author who had had 1 film made of his work 7 years prior. The film was a box office flop. I was told $7000 for a one year option; $250k for the rights. I tried to reason with the seller (dead author's agent) but he wouldn't budge.

Now, that author was Philip K. Dick and the book was A Scanner Darkly--however, at that time PKD was not very well known outside of the SF world (in Toronto I couldn't even find his books anywhere exept in a sci-fi book store), so YMMV. My point is that, depending on the quality of the work, the author being dead and the book being out of print can pretty much be irrelevant. In fact, in my opinion, a living author is probably a more reasonable person to deal with than someone representing the interest of his or her estate.

I gotta say that I do find it a bit strange that they're asking you for an offer. My understanding has always been that they would suggest a price and you could counter-offer, but perhaps another MeFite who works in publishing could better clarify.

The lesson learned from my experience is never adapt anything you don't already own the rights to. I wasted about a year on that script. Blame it on my youth.
posted by dobbs at 4:57 PM on June 7, 2006

30% of what purchase price?

I have a novel under option at the moment. My author is alive and one of his books has been adapted for the screen. My terms are essentially $10,000 for 1 year plus a bonus of $15,000 or so if the project is set up at a major studio. The purchase price is 5% of the production budget. Anything between 2.5-5% of the budget is standard.

$1000 is in the ballpark but maybe a little low, depending.

You should really use an entertainment attorney or an agent for this in my opinion.
posted by unSane at 4:58 PM on June 7, 2006

btw it is not strange to ask you for an offer, standard practice in fact. Their counter-offer will at least double every figure you open with.
posted by unSane at 5:00 PM on June 7, 2006

Keep in mind at all times that there is no justice in negotiations. The two essential aspects of any negotiation are deadlines and desperation.

Whoever has a deadline loses. Whoever is the most desperate for an agreement loses. The loser makes lots and lots of concessions to the winner, and gets the shaft. In an ideal universe it would not be so -- but we don't live in an ideal universe.

Sadly, you've already placed yourself in the loser's chair, and your negotiating "partner" (your enemy) knows it. Because you've already invested so much time and effort in writing the script, you are now the desperate one, and the agent you're negotiating with is going to use that against you.

He's going to try to stick you up, because he knows that he can get a lot from you in the agreement. You need an agreement more than he does, because if you don't get one you're out the investment you made in writing your script.

Dobbs is right: you should never have begun this project without first having obtained the rights to the property you adapted. But you didn't.

So bend over and grease up.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:25 PM on June 7, 2006

Best answer: Coming at this from the other side- having optioned film rights to books, unSane's experience seems right to me. Depending on the sales of the book (and not necessarily the name of the author) our option price ranges from $3,000-$10,000 for lesser known books with a purchase price of 5% of the production budget. I've also dealt with screenwriters trying to get the book on their own and ones who have entertainment lawyers. The entertainment lawyers make the process a lot less painful for both parties, especially if the screenwriter has never optioned a movie before. So if that's an option, I would suggest looking in to one. They should protect your interests and know what to look out for in a contract.
posted by rodz at 5:49 PM on June 7, 2006

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