So you finally finished, polished, and have done the final edits on your screenplay, and now there is some buzz around your project! First, congrats! Pat yourself on the back. Pop champagne. Or take a nap. You deserve it. But… what happens now? In this article, we are going to break down everything you need to know about option agreements and script development. Let’s jump right in!
WHAT IS SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT?
So before your precious baby can make it to the big screen, it has to go through a process called script development. The script development process can best be described as the time frame that it takes to be optioned or purchased and the start of filming. So what does this mean for you, the screenwriter? Well, each script development process is different. But what we are going to discuss in this article are the basic fundamentals that every screenwriter should know.
EVERY LITTLE STEP
Below is a broad overview of the different types of script development deals:
• Outright purchase
• Option Agreement
• Spec Development Deal
• Show of Interest
Now, let’s look more closely at each type of deal.
It was once a common practice for scripts to be purchased outright. But as the budgets of film productions grew, this also increased the financial risk. Studios and producers saw it as a risk to throw money at just any writer or script. Script purchases in current times are usually reserved for big-time writers who have already proven themselves. But in the rare case that a newer writer finds their script being purchased outright, here are the basics of what you need to know: There is a contract required, payment is upfront, and writers are paid for rewrites. Something to also be aware of: Sometimes the script is bought outright and if the studio feels the original writer cannot handle the rewrite and another writer is brought into the mix while the original writer is given their check and sent on their way. This can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if the project is your baby, but it’s one of the truths of being a screenwriter in Hollywood.
An option agreement is a contract between parties. For this example, let’s say the agreement is between a screenwriter and a producer. An option agreement gives the producer exclusive permission to develop, shop, and package your screenplay and to acquire the necessary elements to produce your movie. This can mean finding producing partners, a director, financiers, talent, etc. An option agreement shows that a producer is serious about your screenplay as the producer may pay a small fee to essentially borrow your screenplay for a set period of time, usually between 6 months to 2 years. It is also important to note that a writer might not get paid at all during this time, which sucks, but that can be the way the of business. Prepare yourself. While a contract is required and payment can be upfront, a writer is unfortunately not paid for rewrites or the further development of the script for the producer to package it. Of all the deal types, an option agreement is the most realistic and what you should be aiming for as an up-and-coming screenwriter.
SPEC DEVELOPMENT DEAL
Any time a writer writes something without a deal in place, it is called a spec. A spec development deal occurs when a writer agrees to write a spec script under the guidance and direction of a director of development (these are creative executives at studios, networks or production companies) and/ or producer. A spec deal generally means no upfront money, no contracts and many rewrites with the hopes that once the script is in good shape, it will be bought and go into production. Writers can also be hired as writers-for-hire, which means they get paid to write the spec. And though they may or may not continue on with the project after writing it, if they do, the writer gets an additional fee if purchased. As a screenwriter, it’s not the most ideal situation but can really pay off in the end if everything goes to plan.
A SHOW OF INTEREST
A show of interest is when an executive likes your script, however they may want you to come up with a variation of the script that includes more of their specific vision. This typically happens before they make any type of real commitment to the project. A show of interest is probably the least favorable of the options as there is no guarantee that the work that you put in will be rewarded. Subsequently, there is no money upfront, no contracts and no payment for rewrites.
It is important to note that no matter what deal you are in, always stay true to yourself. In any of these situations, the writer must advocate for themselves. Writers need to know what their boundaries and goals are for their project.
Also, if a screenwriter isn’t in a deal, they can always pitch their project(s) somewhere else. For example, just because an executive shows interest, doesn't mean change your screenplay to address their notes. If this is the best home for it, consider it. If not, take it elsewhere. Writers can get stuck in the “notes from folks who aren't paying” cycle forever.
GET PREPARED WITH THE PROFESSIONAL PEN
The script development process can be a somewhat daunting and frustrating process, but the more polished the project is, the greater probability of success there will be once it hits the big screen. Before a writer can get into any of these processes, their script has to make it past the readers and then to the executive that will only give the script about 15 pages to prove the story is interesting and the writer is professional before deciding to pass on the project. Want to make sure your script is in tip-top shape before sending it to producers, managers or studio executives? Then be sure to check out The First 15 service where our Story Experts will analyze the major story beats in the First 15 pages of your screenplay to be sure the execs will keep reading.
Written by TPP Story Expert Khadija Roane