Sunday, March 24, 2019

Optioning Your Screenplay to a Producer

Hey all!

Happy Sunday! I'm sitting at my computer desk sipping my tea, light streaming in through the windows, enjoying a little peace and solitude. It just feels like one of those days where it's great to be alive. It also feels like one of those days to share some helpful advice with up-and-coming filmmakers who might be trying to get their first script off the ground. I often get asked a lot about optioning material -- how it works, what to know, things to watch out for, how much and how long to option the material for, and so forth. To address all of those questions in a comprehensive manner, I wrote this little ditty below, which was first published last month at Funds for Writers. It also includes a link to an actual agreement template I use when optioning material. Check it out and hopefully it will give you some insights into the process. In the meantime, I'm just going to go back to enjoying this beautiful day :)



Optioning Your Screenplay to a Producer

Mark Heidelberger / 2019-02-02

Congratulations! Not only did you finish writing your 120-page cinematic opus, but you have a motion picture producer interested in bringing it to the silver screen. You’re ready to sell. Ready to see your name on the back of a director’s chair. Ready to chow down on craft service while Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams deliver your prose… But wait, not so fast. What’s this agreement the producer’s handed you? An option? He’s not buying it? What does this mean? Well, let’s break it down…
What is an option exactly?
An option agreement is an industry-standard document that interested producers give writers when they’re not quite ready to buy the script, but don’t want anyone else to buy it either. Maybe they don’t have enough money yet, aren’t sure they can get it made or don’t know what the budget will be (and the budget often determines the writer’s fee). An option simply gives the producer the exclusive right to purchase the material at any time during the term of the agreement. Here’s a sample option for reference:
What do I need to have in place before optioning my script?
First, make sure the script has been registered with the Library of Congress’ Copyright Office. This is crucial for your protection and necessary for the producer to prove chain of title to the eventual studio or distributor that picks up the film. Information on copyright registration can be found here: For added protection, you can also register it with the WGA. Lastly, if the story is based on a real-life person, make sure you’ve acquired their life rights.
How long should the option term be?
Options can last however long you and the producer deem appropriate. Just remember that no one else can buy the script while that producer holds the option, so it may depend on your level of trust or how badly you want to work with him. One or two years is a fairly standard initial term, and it’s not unusual to have a one-year extended term triggered by the payment of an additional fee and written notice from the producer of his intention to renew.
How much money should I ask for?
Again, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Options can be as low as one dollar or as high as $10,000. As long as there’s consideration – something of value going from you to the producer and vice versa – the option is valid. The size of the fee will likely be based on the stature of the producer and how big the expected purchase price will be, but for a typical indie, $500 to $1,000 is common for the initial term. You might also negotiate a percentage (say 5-10%) of the expected purchase price. However, remember that the initial option fee is usually applied against the purchase price; so, if the producer pays a $2,000 option fee and the final purchase price is $20,000, he only owes another $18,000 to buy the script outright.
What other elements should be part of the option?
You certainly want the producer to lay out terms for exercising the option, including the purchase price, your writer’s credit, the notification procedure and exactly what rights he’s acquiring (just the film rights or also sequels, television, and other ancillaries). The compensation details are perhaps the most crucial though and should reference bonuses, backend participation and, if appropriate, fees for sequels, spin-offs and remakes. If the final purchase price can’t be determined yet because the budget is still undecided, ask for a percentage of the budget with a floor (i.e., 2% of the budget with a minimum of $20,000).
What are those short-form documents at the end?
The short form option and short form assignment are standard addendum to any option. The short form option, which states the deal between the parties in the simplest terms, is recorded with the copyright office by the producer so that outside parties know the material has been optioned. The short form assignment, also recorded with the copyright office, lets all parties know that the producer is the new owner of your material upon his exercising of the option. Proof that these documents have been recorded is also necessary for verifying the chain of title.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

7 Ways Entertainment Writers Can Maximize Their Online Presence

I have had a pretty prolific, ongoing relationship with the Funds for Writers website, creating content for them that's intended to benefit anyone writing for film, television or other media. One of my recent articles featured ways for writers to boost their presence on the web. I try to provide tangible and practical insights that can be of real value for people. Check out the article below...

7 Ways Entertainment Writers Can Maximize Their Online Presence

Mark Heidelberger / 2019-02-22

Writing a noteworthy feature film or television script is challenging enough, but as an up-and-comer, standing out in a crowded marketplace might be even harder. Tinseltown is chock full of novice scribes angling for a shot at the spotlight, creating fierce competition as everyone jockeys for attention from a limited group of agents, managers, and producers. With all this, it may seem hard to find a good friend in the entertainment business, but the internet can certainly be one if you know how to leverage it.
1. Blogging Creates Belonging
A solid first start is creating your own blog or website. Blogger by Google is 100% free to use with a sub-domain and offers reasonably-priced upgrade options. Additionally, free website builders like Wix, Weebly and Site123 offer the chance for a professional-looking page with equally affordable hosting fees available. Once created, use it to write regularly about your endeavors, from new projects to contest wins to your latest Hollywood party-hopping adventure. Over time, it will create exposure and ensure people have a place to reach you.
2. Social Media: No Longer Optional
Get on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But don’t just tweet or post about successes on your personal page. Follow others in your field. Join filmmaking groups. Use the platforms to network with producers, directors and other writers, seek collaborations and work opportunities, share important resources and get invited to events. Yes, it’s difficult to speak highly of yourself in such settings without coming off as pretentious, but until you have an agent or manager doing it for you, the next best thing is to generate the support of an online community who can help by sharing your posts.
3. Those Mysterious Spec Script Marketplaces
Several reputable marketplaces exist where writers can showcase speculative material for potential buyers. Some of the most prominent include Inktip, Spec Scout and The Black List. The former allows you to list any treatment and/or script for a nominal fee while the latter two sell analysis services that result in high-scoring scripts being promoted online. Indie producers seeking affordable and often specific material from writers will check these sites. (Side note: Writer-producers who are seeking financing can also list their projects on Slated if they can get admitted to the site.)
4. A Little Competition Never Hurt
Screenplay competitions are a viable way to generate online buzz so long as you perform well in them. The top finishers in well-respected contests like Nicholl, Final Draft, and Scriptapalooza – usually quarterfinalist level and above – will be mentioned on their websites and in various online promotional materials. Script Pipeline, going a step further, offers finalists in their competition both development assistance and online circulation of the material to a network of producers, agents, and managers.
5. All Publicity’s Good Publicity
Seek out opportunities for free publicity in online trade magazines, screenwriter blogs, and entertainment podcasts. Find an angle that makes your material or personal story unique and pitch those site proprietors on why they should give you a platform. No good at pitching? Well, you’ll need to work on it because it’s an essential skill for writers in Hollywood. But in the meantime, hire an affordable short-term publicist like October Coast to help you find such opportunities.
6. Shoot Something!
Not all online exposure has to be written. Writing for the screen is just the first step in the process of creating a much more layered audio-visual product. Shoot a scene from your script yourself to share on YouTube or Vimeo as a way to show your scripting skills in practice. Better yet, see if you can convince an indie filmmaker to shoot a short or do a web series based on your material. Once you have any sort of produced credit, you can submit to have a profile on IMDB, perhaps the most referenced online resource there is in entertainment.
7. Be Down with the Cause
Consider ways your material might be able to attract the attention of partner groups like charities, non-profits or other special interests. For instance, if your script features a lead with autism, you might be able to attract the support of autism foundations that can help provide online exposure for the story. Material that is inspirational, purpose-driven or based on a true-life figure is often the best fit for this.