Ashley: Welcome to Episode #227 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer- director Fritz Bohm. He just did a fantasy thriller film called Wildling starring Liv Tyler. We talk about that film, how it all came together and we also talk about the early days of his career and how he got his start in the business. Stay tuned for that interview. Towards the end of the podcast I’m gonna talk about option agreements. I get questions about option agreements all the time and I thought I would lay out some of my thoughts on them, so stay tuned for that. I wanted to give a quick shout out to Script Society. They’re running a mentorship program that I wanted to tell you about.
Script Society’s online screenwriting mentorship program is an eight-week course that will take you from idea conception to a completed first draft. This program is unique and you will receive detailed feedback on your work every week. The purpose here is to provide realistic deadlines that will keep you on track and suggestions to improve your work. You can learn more about this at www.scriptsociety.com. The next session begins June 4th 2018 and will be filling up fast. If you use coupon code- mentor101 you’ll get a discount when you check out, so don’t forget to use that coupon code. I will link to all of these in the show notes so don’t worry about writing this down now. Just find episode 227 of the podcast. If you wanna learn more about this you can go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for Episode Number #227. Again I will link out to Script Society and I will put the coupon code there as well.
If you find this episode viable please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode incase you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for Episode Number #227. If you want my free guide- How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional log line and query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. A quick few words about what I’m working on, a quick update on The Pinch, the crime-thriller feature film that I wrote, directed and produced last year. I’m still working on the poster, I think my original poster artist wasn’t quite up to the task.
He created a first version which I wasn’t crazy about and as we started to go back and get notes his responses got less and less frequent and I think it’s time for me to basically move on and start over with a new artist. I have been slowly trying to finalize my plans for distribution. Right now my plan is to release the film first through the podcast right here. It will probably be in the next few weeks so just keep an eye out for that announcement. And then I’ll be rolling out the film once I’ve kind of released it here through Selling Your Screenplay then I’ll be rolling it out to the typical platforms, iTunes, Amazon…all of those various platforms. Again, stay tuned for that announcement.
In terms of what I’m working on in terms of writing, I’m just about finished with the show bible for an animated kids TV show I’m working on. I’m gonna get notes tomorrow on that show bible in my writers group and then I will be writing the pilot episode over the next few weeks. So writing, that’s what I’m working on. I’ve also been doing some producer type stuff over the last couple of weeks. The kids TV show that I wrote last winter and I’ve talked about that a couple of times on the podcast. I’d say that’s kind of hit some speed bumps. One of the producers is sort of stepping away from the project so I met with the main actor/producer last week just to see if he might be potentially interested in me coming on as a producer.
He seems open to that idea so we’re discussing that and maybe I can keep the project moving forward. This is a project I like a lot so anything I can do to keep it moving forward I’m happy to do. As with most things in the business it’s really just a matter of raising the money and the current producer, the actor-producer, he’s got some leads on this. Obviously I can potentially bring in some money and bring some leads on this but it’s just a matter of pushing the project forward. I do think it’s a great project and hopefully we can keep things going. So we’ll see how that works out. Anyways, that’s what I am working on, now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director Fritz Bohm. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Fritz to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Fritz: Hey, thanks for having me.
Ashley: To start out maybe you can tell us a little bit about our background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Fritz: I originally grew up in Germany but only the first three years and then my family moved to New Jersey, and then we eventually came back to Germany in the early ‘90s. I basically grew up soaking in all kinds of ‘80s movies and TV shows like a sponge and then in my teen years it became clear that I wanted to be a filmmaker so I started doing short films and later visited a film school in Munich in Germany and during that time founded a production company where I started out as a producer in the German entertainment industry. I also did a lot of post-production supervision basically to keep my production company afloat together with my partner [inaudible 00:06:29] and then at some point it just became inevitable that with my love for fantasy driven films and fairytale stories that I would need to go back to the US and see if I could make it the entertainment world. At some point I did that and then Wilding is the first result of that decision basically. We’re talking about four or five years.
Ashley: Okay, and I noticed on IMDb you’ve done an enormous number of shots. I wonder if you can just speak to those, how those might have helped you in your career.
Fritz: Well, everything is learning by doing. I think it’s the best thing to just gather as much practical experience as possible. You’re never gonna learn how to be a filmmaker by sitting in some classroom. It might help, you might make contact that could be helpful later on and stuff like that but my attitude was always who cares what capacity I’m working in whether I’m the driver or the PA or the post production guy. I just wanna make films and be part of the process and learn and once I had established myself with post production supervision it was really great because I got to work with so many different directors and editors and composers, visual set people, account editors. So all of that was learning, learning, learning to the point where I felt like okay, now I know how to do this kind of movies that I wanna do. I know it now. I can dare to make that step.
Ashley: So let’s dig into Wilding starring Liv Tyler, that’s your new film that’s coming out. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is that film all about?
Fritz: Wildling is…first of all its gonna come out on April 13th on Video on Demand and in select theaters starting in New York and LA and it’s gonna be about a little girl named Anna who becomes a woman, so pretty much like what we all go through when we go through puberty, except in her case it goes a little further than that and there is also a monster in the movie. It’s kind of a dark fairytale and it’s an indie film that will take you to some strange places that you hopefully haven’t seen like that before.
Ashley: Where did this idea come from…what was the kernel of idea that this came from?
Fritz: The real kernel to be honest was my mother reading me fairytales almost every night as a kid and me as a kid just being attracted to the strange mythological creatures whether they are characters in a fairy tale like Rumpelstiltskin or The Big Bad Wolf or [inaudible 00:10:16] characters in a picture book. I was always a sucker for these creatures and at some point I just had the wish to create my own misunderstood creature and it became the Wildling. It was a process, there was an evolution to the idea…took my best friends, helped me along the way and we talked out everything over hours and hours and hours of Skype sessions and then eventually landed on this story which did exactly that. It’s a dark fairytale and it’s about a misunderstood creature.
Ashley: Perfect. Let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. How much time did you spend? It sounds like it was pretty extensive having conversations with friends getting feedback and stuff. But maybe we can break that down into before you open final draft. How much time do you spend outlining the script versus how much time did you spend actually in final draft writing scenes and dialogue and stuff?
Fritz: Yeah, I spent quite some time and maybe I wasn’t the most efficient in that process. I don’t know, I certainly spent three or four years just having that idea percolate and then having it linger there and trying out different angles. Sometimes during the process I got too excited and drove right into writing a draft but then at some point quickly trashed that draft again because I realized something isn’t adding up or it didn’t feel quite right. I did just need it to ripen a little longer but honestly the moment the character was clear, the moment it was clear it’s about puberty and it’s about Anna’s journey and we’re telling a story that basically is a journey from captivity to freedom with everything that comes with it in terms of an exaggerated puberty and this fantasy premise that there is such a thing as Wildling, the moment those things were clear we wrote a treatment in eight days [inaudible 00:12:37] and I and then we wrote the script in another eight days. That script was pretty much it, little to no changes happened until we were shooting.
Ashley: I’m curious, just wanna dig into something you said. You had started some of these drafts and it didn’t feel right so you would scrap them and go over. How do you do that balancing act because often times I think as writers we never quite feel like it’s going as well as we had expected and there’s always this balancing act between making something good versus being too much of a perfectionist. How do you sort of navigate that?
Fritz: Well, you can really get caught up in the nitty gritty of a scene and then the staging of it and the visual effects come to mind and you start falling in love with certain ideas and then it gets really hard to separate from them again if something doesn’t work on a larger level in your script. What I learned from the process is that character is first. It has to come first. You have to be really sure where your character is because that will save you so much effort if you know who your character is because that’s your ultimate guide in judging whether something is right or whether something is a little off. I don’t know if we succeeded with that mission but that was our mission and it was definitely once a character was clear things started falling into place. I’m not saying that all the drafts that were earlier were useless.
Certainly not because you also develop kind of a trove of ideas and even if they end up on the boneyard it’s great to have them because you might need them later on and then you can pull them out of your hat and say, “Well, I already wrote that version a few years ago, here it is,” or something like that, but I think for me it was a learning experience to be able to be very critical towards my own work and being able to say, “Well, if I’m not nailing the character then I have to be ready to trash everything I’ve done and do a page one rewrite. I have to able to separate from something.
Ashley: So let’s talk about now you have a script written. What were your next steps to actually getting it produced? Did you have some contacts that you could take it to? What were those steps to actually taking the raw script to a produced film, raising money, all of that?
Fritz: It was actually pretty straight forward. When I still had the production company in Germany [inaudible 00:15:37] my partner and I produced a teaser for this idea. It was like a one minute mini trailer that had some scenes of the idea but the script wasn’t ready yet. It wasn’t really written yet so it was more of a collection of ideas and on basis of that I produced this trailer but that trailer did get me some attention along with the shots that I had made and I found a fantastic manager through some recommendations and that manager Lisa Tobey then said. “Okay well, this trailer looks awesome, just let me know once the script is ready and then eventually the script was ready. I went back to him and he said, “Okay, because this is kind of different than that teaser but it’s great and I believe in it and I wanna get it made and he says, “Always go where the energy is,” and he had that energy.
He really loved it as much as I did and so he started sending it around and shopping around the scripts together with that teaser and my shots and eventually Maven Pictures in New York said they wanted to do it and then it became a dialogue of, “Well, how much does it cost, who’s gonna be in it et cetera but actually from the time the script was written to the time we shot the first scene it was probably a year.
Ashley: So you had Hollywood standards, that’s very quick. Let’s just talk quickly about getting Liv Tyler involved with the project. I get a number of emails from screenwriters asking, “Hey, how can I get this actor attached to my script?” I’m always curious to hear how people did it. Maybe you can talk about a little bit about that process. Did you guys hire a casting director, was there some contacts that you had, maybe mutual contact between you and Liv Tyler? How did you get the script to her and how did you ultimately get her interested in starring in it?
Fritz: Well, I didn’t know her personally before the film so it was really an official route.
Ashley: And the official route is getting her by submitting to her agent?
Fritz: Yeah, or the production company going through the agents and the management. It was really like step number one finding my manager and b, to find producers. Step number two he found the production company and I really loved especially their film Let The Right One In. A huge fan and I was so thrilled when they said they wanna take a stab at us. And then they got behind it, so now I had the script, the [inaudible 00:18:36] and the production company. The next thing was lead role. Okay, the lead is a very important part of the movies but the most important part is Anna because she’s in every single scene, carries the whole film as a character, it’s her movie, so we had to find Anna first and my producers recommended Bel because they had just seen her in Diary of A Teenage Girl so they arranged a meeting between the two of us. I met Bel and was blown away.
She really wanted to do it and I realized okay, now we can make the movie, now we have this wonderful, young actress as our lead. And then from there on the project just then automatically starts to gain a little momentum because we suddenly have a lead actress attached and then now you’re talking with investors and the script goes out to cast the other roles and bot Liv and also Brad simply responded to the script. I’m sure they also wanted to work with Bel, that might have been a factor in all of this but since she was already attached but I think they thought because she has some good character material to work with that’s how they came on board.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing…twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll round up and put it in the show notes
Fritz: I know I should be more present in those areas. I don’t do that much social media. I have a Facebook account but that’s about it. I think we’re just gonna use Google and then on IFP Midnight we’re releasing the film. They have a twitter feed where they’re posting news about the movie and we’re starting to get into the online blogs that have a place for indie movies and for genre movies. There’s tones of ways actually on the web.
Ashley: Perfect. As I said I’ll round up the IFP Midnight site and their twitter feed and put those in the show notes. Fritz I really appreciate your coming on the show and talking with me today. Good luck with this film.
Fritz: Thank you, my pleasure. Have a great day.
Ashley: You too, will talk to you later, bye.
I just wanna talk quickly about SYS Select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS Select screenplay database. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a log line, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays that they wanna produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. I launched this service at the beginning of this year and we’ve already started to see some success stories. You can check out SYS podcast Episode 222 with Steve Deering. He was the first official success story to come out of the SYS Select database. You can learn more about all of this by going to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
When you join SYS Select you get access to the screenplay database that I just mentioned along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. Those services include the monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also have partnered with one of the premier paid screenwriting leads sites so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently we’ve been getting five to ten high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the game. There’s producers looking for specific types of spec scripts to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties.
They’re looking for shots, features, TVs and web series pilots, all types of different projects. If you sign up for SYS Select you’ll get these emailed directly to you several times per week. Also you can get access to the SYS Select Forum where we will help you with your log line and query letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. Also in the forum are recorded screenwriting classes that I’ve done over the years, so you’ll have access to all of those as well. The classes cover every part of the writing process from concept to outlining to the first act, second act, the third act as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again if this sounds like something you would like to learn more about please go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer-director Dylan Reynolds. He just did a horror film called 4/20 Massacre. We talk about that film and how it all came together for him so keep an eye out for that episode next week. To wrap things up I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview with Fritz. So lots of great information in that interview. I love what Fritz had to say about being a part of the process whether that was being a driver or just a production assistant or other low level jobs on set. Just getting involved with the process and seeing how it all works is so important and I think exactly what he did is precisely the best thing that any of us could do if you’re starting out. Filmmaking is such a complex process and the only way you’re gonna learn about it is by actually being on set and being a part of that process.
So if you’re in a position like Fritz was which basically means you’re young, without a lot of other commitments, I highly recommend this approach. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, working in the industry really does give you the best chance at making it as a screenwriter. So if you’re in a position to do this, it’s really the best thing you can do. This is why I’m such a big proponent of making your own film even if that means just making a simple short film. You will go through the whole filmmaking process from top to bottom and you will learn an incredible amount about it by doing this. Again there’s really know way of learning this. You can read books, you can listen to podcasts, you can watch YouTube videos, you can learn about the process but that’s ultimately not gonna teach you the process.
What’s gonna really teach you about the process is actually doing it, being involved with it, making those decisions, being on set, all of that stuff. So I really think again what Fritz is recommending is in some ways what I’ve been recommending on the podcast, getting out there, being involved, figuring out the process. That’s gonna make you a better writer. You’re just gonna understand how this all works better. Even if you go out and make your short film and it’s terrible you’re still gonna learn a lot from it. That’s gonna make you a better writer. It’s gonna make you understand production better. I couldn’t recommend that more. Now let’s talk about option agreements for a minute. Nothing to do with the interview with Fritz but this is a common question that I get quite often from people emailing me.
The question goes something this. There’s a variety of different ins and outs with it but the question basically goes something like this:- I have a producer interested in optioning one of my screenplays. She has presented me with an option agreement but I’m not sure I fully understand it. Do I need to get a lawyer for this? First congratulations. Getting an option on your screenplay is a good first step towards getting your screenplay produced, so congratulations on that. I remember when I had my first option and it was very exciting and it actually ended up working out. So these option agreements can go from option agreements to produced films. It doesn’t always work out that way but this is definitely…nine times out of ten getting that option agreement is the first step to getting that produced credit so again congratulations. That’s definitely a step in the right direction.
The short answer is basically yes, get an attorney. This is a legal document, there are some complexities to this and having someone who is an expert at these types of agreements is always a smart thing to do. The other little caveat is that I am not an attorney. My suggestions are not legal advice and they should not be construed as such. My suggestions might not be right for you or your situation. Again as with all things that will require you to sign a legal document, you should always seek the advice of a qualified attorney before signing such a document. First let’s define what an option agreement is just in case you don’t understand what it is I’m talking about. When a producer finds a piece of material they like and they think that maybe they wanna try and produce this piece of material they will present the writer with what’s called an option agreement.
The option agreement typically gives the producer the exclusive right to purchase the property for a set amount of time and at a set price. The option agreement is not a purchase. They’re not purchasing the script. All they’re doing is basically buying the right to purchase the script. So basically if the producer can raise the money to produce the film they know they can purchase it from you the writer and they know the terms are already set in that specific option agreement. This protects the producer from going out and spending a lot of time trying to raise money for a project, only to come back to the writer and then have the writer say, “No, I’m not gonna sell you the script for whatever reason.” So the producer knows when he’s out trying to raise that money that if he does raise the money he’ll be able to exercise that option agreement, get the script at the set price and everything will already be negotiated.
He’s not gonna have the rug pulled out from under him. That makes sense. Producers, their time is valuable too and so they don’t wanna spend a lot of time trying to work out a project if it’s not gonna come through in the end, if the writer is gonna give them problems. So how can you find an entertainment attorney is the next sort of logical question. My best advice for finding a lawyer would be to simply do a google search for “Los Angeles entertainment attorney” and you will get a few to choose from. If you’re gonna pay an attorney for this sort of advice I would highly recommend that you get an attorney with a lot of experience in this area. So I wouldn’t necessarily just hire a general attorney and that’s why I’m suggesting in your Google search, it’s “Los Angeles entertainment attorney”, not necessarily your local town because in your local town there may not be anybody that deals with these types of option agreements on a regular basis.
And again if you’re gonna spend money, the hourly rate of these attorneys probably is not gonna be that much different so you might as well hire an attorney that has experience with this specific topic because that’s what you’re gonna ultimately be paying for and that’s what you’re gonna ultimately want if you do go this route and hire an attorney. But before you hire an attorney you wanna read and then reread and then reread a third time the option agreement. If you have any questions about the option agreement I would go back and ask the producers about it. If you don’t understand something simply ask the producers. The more understanding of the agreement you have when you hire the lawyer, the cheaper it’s going to be because these lawyers typically charge by the hour and if you have lots of very basic questions that will eat up time and cost you money.
In most cases the producers probably could have answered these types of questions for you for free. I mean, if they’re sending you an agreement for you to sign it stands to reason that they themselves understand the agreement. They’ve probably paid a lawyer to write this agreement or at the very least sign off on the agreement. The producer probably understands what the agreement says and they’re probably perfectly happy to explain it to you. Just casually you ask a question, “Hey, what does this mean, what is this for?” And they will probably explain it to you. Obviously they have a vested interest in negotiating on their behalf, so you’re not necessarily taking what they say as exactly what they…you’re not gonna necessarily sign off on that. If they say it says thus and such you’re still gonna be checking with a lawyer.
But in most cases I found there’s no real reason for a producer to lie in this case or to misrepresent what the option agreement says. I found in my career that most of the time lawyers are pretty upfront about this. It’s a good, cheap way to get advice from the producer who presented this agreement to you and that’s gonna give you more information about what this agreement actually says. So when you go to the lawyer and start to get them to review it you have a better understanding and you will be able to get through that process quicker, which will mean that it is gonna be cheaper for you because the lawyers are typically charging by the hour. So here’s a couple of suggestions that I would give you in terms of negotiating the option agreement and that’s my other suggestion. The less the lawyer has to do the cheaper it’s gonna be for you.
In my opinion you should be the one that actually negotiates the very basic terms of this option agreement. You can have the lawyer do that and if he’s experienced in this he can do that but I have found with these types of producers where we’re talking about typically low budget films, these are non-WGA signatory producers, so they’re not big budgeted projects. There’s not a lot to negotiate. The terms of these things are pretty standard and as long as you know what the standard terms are you can probably negotiate these items as well as the lawyer because on a low-budget project, we’re talking about less than a million dollars as the total budget, less than even two or three million dollars as the total budget, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. We’re not talking about these thigs are gonna be vastly different from one agreement to another.
So for the most part if you understand the basic terms you can probably do a lot of the negotiating. I’m gonna explain what I consider some of the basic terms. Let’s dig into that. Some of the basic items that should be in an option agreement are first and foremost how long this option agreement is for. Six months is usually about the least you can negotiate but less is better for the writer. On occasion I’ve been able to get a producer to agree to a 30 day option or in some cases a 90 day option. Usually the producer is gonna push for longer but I like to push for shorter obviously. So try and get this as short as possible. I think six months is usually pretty fair and I’ve been able to get most producers to agree to that with the stipulation that they can extend the option.
So that’s the next point, number two is, can the producer renew the option agreement. If it’s gonna expire and they’re still working on the deal they’re feeling some momentum can they go and just automatically extend that option agreement for another six months or another year and if they can how much does that cost them? This is a very important thing because this is gonna go hand in hand with that first thing, getting that original option agreement as short as possible. I’m usually pretty generous on this. I don’t mind if a producer is going to extend an option agreement. That’s fine but I usually charge them a little bit of money, even something like $500 is enough to make that producer think twice about doing their renewal or not.
What I have found is that a producer will option a screenplay, there’s this burst of new creative energy, they will take that screenplay out to their contacts which is usually a fairly finite list of people that they’re gonna take this project to and they’ll know whether it’s getting traction fairly quickly. So a six-month option usually gives them plenty of time to do this. What I found is usually the producers find out well before six months. Usually it’s like in a month or two they know whether this thing is really getting traction or not. And so then if it’s not getting traction and you’ve got this little stipulation in the contract that it’s $500 for the next six months, if it’s not getting traction they’re just gonna let it go. They’re not gonna pay you even at $500. If it is getting traction $500 is not so much money that is really gonna be that big of a deal for the producer.
So what I have found is limiting the option agreements to about six months, usually most producers will be okay with that as long as you give them this ability to extent the option agreement at let’s say $500 for six months or even $500 for a year, because the last thing you wanna do is just sign a free 18 month option. What’s gonna happen is the producer’s is gonna work hard on this script maybe for two, three, four…maybe five months, six months but at that point of it’s not getting traction they’re gonna just sort of put it on the back burner and maybe they’ll have some sort of loose ends out there. But for the most part there’s a good chance they’re just gonna put it on the back burner and what do they care? They’ve got this free option for 18 months and so they’ll just ride it out for the 18 months.
But again if you put in these little steps where they have to make a decision every six months, that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for you and it’s also frankly a good thing for a producer not to just waste your time. That’s the second part of it. Try and get some sort of at least small amount of money for those option extensions. If the option does get exercise, basically meaning if they decide to buy your screenplay, you are gonna negotiate in this option agreement the final purchase price. For independent films, for WGA signatory films you can go to the WGA website and you can look up what the WGA minimums are. I’m not up on those at the moment but they do change from time to time and again you can go to the WGA website and look at those if you’re curious.
Usually sort of a typical range as someone who is not a WGA writer and has spent their career working with more independent producers on more independent films I can tell you you can usually get between two and three percent of the production budget. When I say production budget the producers will typically not count contingency fees which basically means like an insurance and stuff. Producers will typically get some sort of insurance, completion bonds, those types of things are very typically not included in the final production budget that you get paid on. I would say those contingency insurance costs, bonds, those kinds of things, I think it’s probably 10% to 15% of the total budget. So just to make the math easy, if there was a million dollar movie you would get let’s say two or three percent…let’s say two percent but I would say about 10 to 15% of that would probably be these contingency costs and you would not get paid on that.
So you would get paid on let’s say the $900,000 budget or the $850,000. You can work your math out yourself, two to three percent of that. You also wanna make sure though, part of the purchase price you wanna make sure that you get some sort of a floor as a minimum. Basically you’re gonna stay in there. If you do exercise the option you’re going to pay me as either two and a half percent of the production budget or let’s say $10,000, whichever is greater. That’s gonna be the floor. You’re gonna set that in there. The way you’re gonna set the floor with the producer is you’re gonna simply ask them early in this process, “What kind of budget are you thinking of raising?” The thing is at this stage of the negotiation the producer is optimistic and positive and so whatever number he thinks he’s gonna produce this movie at, it’s frankly probably a lot higher than what he’s ultimately gonna produce it at.
Let’s just say I’m gonna raise a million dollars towards this movie…okay great, two and a half percent of a million dollars is $25,000 so could we make that the floor for this project. Most likely they’re gonna agree with that. They might wanna push it down a little bit, that’s fine. But you wanna understand where you’re at with the floor because you don’t want him to necessarily call you up in five and a half months and say, “Okay, we’re going to make your movie on a $10,000 budget, where should I send your cheque for $300 because three percent of $10,000 is only $300. You wanna avoid those kinds of confusion. I’m not necessarily against someone going and making a $10,000 feature film. That’s totally fine and if you are on board with that, that’s great. But you wanna know that earlier in the process. You don’t want the producer to surprise you with that.
If he’s telling you I’m gonna make this movie for a million dollars, that’s one thing which is entirely different than making this movie for $10,000. Again, setting that floor will set some minimums and it will get everything above board in what the expectations for this film are. You can always renegotiate the contract. He can come back to you in six months and say, “Listen, I can only raise $50,000 can we go and make this movie for $50,000 and then you can renegotiate because obviously he couldn’t pay you $25,000 on a $50,000 budget for the screenplay, that would not make any sense. So again, it just gives you some outlets if he wants to make the movie so much cheaper. I have never found producers have a big problem with this because they have some number in their mind in terms of a budget of what they wanna raise.
Now the other flip side of this is that the producer might wanna insist on putting a ceiling which basically means capping your fee as well so if he raises $20 million dollars you’re not gonna necessarily get three percent of the $20 million and that’s fine too. I would say most of the time the caps are sort of more in line with WGA rates, so for a feature film you might get capped at $200,000 or $150,000 or $100,000. Something in the six figures is kind of typical for a feature film but it depends on what the budget and it depends on what the producer thinks he’s gonna raise in terms of budget. I have never had a project…I’ve had dozens of options, I’ve had a few of those options turn into where they got exercised and the scripts actually got purchased. I have never one single time run into an issue where we hit the ceiling. It’s always the opposite.
A lot of times we’re hitting the floor because again when producers start on a project they’re always overly optimistic and they always think that they’re gonna raise a lot more money than they ultimately raise. I never spend a lot. I don’t think negotiating hard on the ceiling as long as it’s some reasonable number, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on this because again in most instances the producer is not gonna hit the ceiling, they’re gonna be probably hitting the floor, not the ceiling. That’s the next thing. That was number three on my items as far as making sure that there’s something in the option agreement for the purchase price. The fourth thing that I think definitely needs to be in there is what sort of screen credit you will get on the film. This is very, very important. You want it clearly stated in the contract that you will receive screenwriting credit even if other writers are brought on and also getting credit.
You might end up sharing the credits. That’s pretty standard in the industry. If a producer is gonna bring on another write you might get shared credit, but you wanna make sure that no matter what happens you will still get screenplay by or you will get written by credit. You’re not fighting for story by and you’re not necessarily concerned with based on material by credits. Those are sort of lukewarm writing credits and not something that you even really care about, but it’s the screenplay by and it’s the written by credits that you wanna make sure are clearly outlined in this option agreement. Now, typically what producers do is they have some boilerplate language to cover this. It typically is something to the effect of screen credit will be awarded according to WGA industry standards. Now, unless you’re in the WGA you do not want this in the language.
If this ends up being a non-signatory project which if you’re not in the WGA most likely it will be a non-WGA signatory project. The WGA is not gonna be willing to figure out the credits for you and the other writers if you’re not in the WGA and it’s not a WGA signatory project. The WGA do this for their members. That’s a service they offer to WGA members but not non-WGA members obviously. It doesn’t make any sense to even have that language in there when it’s not a WGA signatory project because the WGA is not gonna have any jurisdiction or frankly any interest in this project. So you don’t want that language in there even though it’s typically the boilerplate language that they use. If the producers do end up hiring some WGA writers to rewrite some portion of the project then it might become a WGA signatory project.
If that happens and you’re not in the WGA then you’re not gonna get much of a credit. Again, you would want to avoid this. You can’t necessarily avoid them hiring WGA writers, that’s up to them. But again you wanna make sure that it’s clear in you contract that you will get screenplay by or written by credit even if it’s shared with other writers and you don’t wanna leave this to the WGA process because you’re not…if you’re not in the WGA they’re not gonna award you any credits if it gets to that. I think if you’re not in the WGA and a producer hires WGA writers, I think that WGA writers would get credit and I think you would just get a story by or maybe a based on previously written material by. You will not get that screenplay by credit. This is very important that you work with the producer on this.
This is one point that almost assuredly the producer is gonna come at your with his boilerplate WGA language. It’s usually pretty easy. The producers are just usually putting it in there because it’s easy and it makes most writers happy. But again if you’re not in the WGA I would strongly urge you to remove this paragraph and put in something super clear which says…basically to the effect of “under any circumstances I will receive screenplay by or written by credit even if it’s shared with other writers”. You just want something that clear and it doesn’t have anything to do with anything else that happens. With these low budget independent films, the studio projects are different. There’s a lot of residuals that stay, there’s gonna be a lot of writers involved.
These sort of independent films that I spent my career on, most of the time they’ll bring out another writer or the director will do some rewriting, but it’s not like these independent producers have huge budgets and they’re gonna run through ten writers. They’re not gonna option your script unless they basically like it and maybe they like 60% or 80% or 50% of it. They might rewrite some of it but they’re not gonna get involved with a project that they’re just gonna rewrite a page one rewrite. It just wouldn’t make sense for any independent producer to do that. I’m not saying it’s never happened but I would say that’s a highly unlikely scenario. The reason I’m pointing that out is because the WGA rules are that you have to write a third of the script. A third of the produced movie has to be your written material for you to get writing credit.
Don’t quote me on that, I think that’s roughly what their criteria is and so the argument from the producer might be well if we don’t use at least a third of your material why should we get writing credit. The response to that is…a producer if you’re negotiating this is that you shouldn’t option and buy my script if you’re gonna use less than a third of the material. You don’t wanna sell your script or option your script to a producer that’s gonna use less than a third of your material. In all cases when I sign option agreements at this stage of my career, it specifically lays out what that credit would be and it is no, I’m not leaving it up to the WGA and I recommend that you probably do the same thing. The next and final point is the rewrites. Inevitably the producer, the director, maybe some of the actors, they will have some ideas on how to rewrite this project.
They might be small, little rewrites, they might be big rewrites but you need something in this option agreement that clearly states that any and all ideas and rewritten material is the sole property of you. And so if this option is not exercised you can still take those ideas and you incorporate those into your screenplay and you can take that screenplay to another producer, unencumbered by this producer and his company and those ideas do not belong to him and his company, they belong to you as the writer. Even if they pay you to do dome of these rewrites you still want that clause in your contract because if this producer does not exercise the option, they don’t buy the script it’s gonna make taking that script to another producer very, very messy.
If they had a bunch of ideas, they gave you ideas or maybe they even rewrote some of the pages on their own and sent them to you, you’ve been exposed to those ideas. You need to know that if they don’t option the script or if they don’t exercise the option to the script, if they don’t produce your movie you own those rewrites and you can take it to another producer and there’s no murky business about who owns what ideas. So again I just wanna reiterate this, please, please, please understand that this is not me giving out any sort of legal advice. This is just my thoughts on the topic. I’m just kind of trying to lay out what I’ve done and hopefully that can help you. But again I’m not a lawyer and as with all things legal, please always consult with a qualified attorney before signing any legal document.
What I’ve just discussed sort of lays out the basic to negotiating an option agreement but the real problem if you haven’t already figured that out is that an attorney charges let’s just say $300 per hour and sometimes a lot more and it’s probably gonna take, even if you negotiate the contract yourself and you read it and reread it and ask a lot of questions of the producer, it’s still probably gonna take three to four hours of the lawyers time to read through this, make notes, have a consultation with you to explain these notes. So just to make the math easier, you’re talking $1000, maybe $1500 to do three or four hours’ worth of work on this thing. That’s not an insignificant amount of money especially considering the fact in a lot of cases you’re giving free options or very inexpensive options.
I often still to this day and at this stage of my career, I often sign free option agreements or at the very most maybe I get $500, maybe you can squeeze out $1000 with these independent producers but those are sort of the exception. I would say the vast majority of these producers are gonna be looking for $10, maybe $100 options. So the legal cause will easily be more that what you actually make from the option agreement. That’s the next question, how do you make all of these work? One suggestion that you might be able to pull off is you might be able to find an attorney who will only charge you a percentage of what you earn. Typically this is 5%. But it’s not always easy to find an attorney. If you don’t have any produced credits I think most attorneys are probably not gonna be willing to do this because they’re gonna realize that this is just one option agreement, you may not sell this and you may never have another one.
So if you don’t have any credits I think it’s gonna be hard to find this type of attorney but you might be able to. Now, keep in mind too what I’m saying here. Let’s just say to make the math easy that you sign a one year option agreement and the producer gives you $1000 for that option agreement, so then you would send your lawyer 50 bucks, basically 5% of that $1000 for that. But what the lawyer is really gambling on is that this producer will exercise that option and then you’ll get let’s say it’s a million dollar movie so you’ll get you $25,000 and then the lawyer would get 5% of the $25,000. The lawyer is kind of gambling a little bit as well. If you have a bunch of produced credits, if you have a bunch of option agreements that you’ve worked on over the years I think you might be able to find a lawyer who will basically work for the 5% as opposed to an hourly rate.
But you may not be able to find that. I was not. When I was starting out in my career I was never able to find this lawyer who would work for a percentage not necessarily an hourly rate. I throw that out as a suggestion but don’t get too caught up on that because it’s probably gonna be very hard to find that but that is a possibility. Most likely you won’t be able to find a lawyer like that. So then what’s the next stage of this? Unfortunately there’s no easy answer here. It’s a matter of using judgement and trying to make the best decisions in a fairly difficult situation. Doing all these things that I’ve talked about, understanding the contract, talking to the producer about it, trying to negotiate the terms, trying to research it. I’m gonna tell you what I did earlier on in my career and I wanna be clear, this is not what I’m recommending, it’s just sort of the reality of the situation and this is what I did.
Again it’s not what I necessarily recommended or what I would necessarily recommend that you do. When I first started that out I didn’t have a lot of money, I was fresh out of college, rolled into LA, had a cheap apartment, a fairly low paying job and I started to get presented with these option agreements. These option agreements they were not paying me enough money to hire an attorney so I did a lot of what I’m recommending here. I read the agreements myself, tried to learn about option agreements. You can do some Google research, find out about option agreements, ask other screenwriters, go on firms. You can do a lot of due diligence in getting up to speed on these things. In most cases this strategy basically worked out. I would read the agreements, try and understand them, ask the producers ask some of my writer friends.
I would negotiate the best I could and I would say most of the time this worked out fine but I did get into some legal trouble in a few situations. I’m gonna talk about that in a second. I can think of two projects where I signed option agreements without really understanding them and these did sort of result in some legal issues although I was able to resolve them without going to court or having to hire a lawyer. It wasn’t too terrible but it was a hustle. That’s kind of the warning. If you don’t hire a lawyer you are setting yourself up for some potential legal issues. I was able to work them out without spending any money on lawyers or court or anything like that but it’s just worth considering. So let me just talk about the specifics of the situations, these two legal situations that I did run into.
I think they will shed some light on the kinds of problems. You probably won’t run into these specific problems but you may run into some similar problems and maybe this will just give you some information, something to think about. The first situation I was a young guy, as I said I’d been in Hollywood maybe two, three years and I optioned my script. It wasn’t the first script I optioned. It was maybe third or fourth or fifth script I optioned. I had done a couple of options before but I was still pretty green to the process. It was a production company that had done a lot of commercials and special effects and so they were getting into features and so they found me, found my script and they optioned it and then we started to develop it. We spent a lot of time developing it. I was working a producer who owned a company and then he was friends and had hired this director.
Me and the director every day for probably a month we sat in a room and just went over the script and just developed it. I started to become friends with this director and the option did not end up getting exercised, they were not able to raise the money and the director and this producer, they eventually parted ways as well. As I said I had become friends with this director and he told me once the option expired he then pulled me aside and said, “Hey, we had had a bad experience with a previous writer where we had done a bunch of development and she had just taken off with the project and so in your contract we made it kind of clear that we were paying you for the rewrites. And they had paid me a decent amount of money for the option but the way they had worded it in the contract was that it was for the option and the rewrites.
What that meant was that they then owned the rewrites. So I now had this script which had been developed considerably through this process but I didn’t own the rewrites. I owned the original script. The problem with that was that if I took the original script to another producer it’s quite probable that this new producer would have a lot of the same ideas as that original producer and then it’s like well, who owns those ideas? If he comes up with something independent it just gets into this murky grey area where the original producer can say, “Well, I paid good money to develop those ideas, I want some portion of this script as well.” Again as you can see it makes things murky and that’s why I mentioned when I was laying out some of the things that should be in the option agreement.
This is a prime reason why you wanna make sure there’s a clause in the option agreement that clearly specifies who owns any new ideas, any of these rewritten pages and it should be the writer because you’ve got the original material and it makes the most sense. Now what I did was…again I had become friends with these guys so it wasn’t a big issue and I just went to the producer and basically said, “Hey man, your option has expired, you’re not gonna pursue the project, do you mind if I take it to other producers?” And he said, “No,” and I just wrote up a little document that basically said, “I own all the rewrites on this,” and he was happy to sign it and to let me out on my way. Again it didn’t work out particularly poorly but I could see that the director and the producer were sharks and they saw that I was a babe in the woods at that time and they purposely did write this contract so that if I did end up giving them problems then they would at least be protected.
You just wanna be aware of these things, how the rewrites are gonna shake out and plan accordingly. The second situation, I alluded to this earlier…this will sound very familiar. I had a producer call me up one day and say…let’s take a step back. I had a film [inaudible 00:57:42] screenplay, he optioned it and he was pursuing it. I remember this went on for I think years. They would renew the option and honestly don’t even remember if I charged them anything for the option. This was years and years ago. It was him and his buddy, these two producers and they kept trying to bring on a more experienced producer, they kept trying to bring on directors. We were going through this process where I would meet a new director and we would develop the script a little bit, I would meet another producer that they introduced me to that they wanted to bring in and that producer would be more experienced.
Generally that producer had a lot more experience raising the money so that was their piece. This went on for at least a year. I think it probably went on longer. Eventually the option was coming to an end and this producer called me up and said, “Great news, I’ve raised the money, we’re gonna produce your movie.” I said, “Fantastic, what’s the budget?’ He said the total budget for the film is $10,000 so your 3% is $300, where do you want me to send the $300? What I ended up figuring out was obviously originally we were talking about a million, two million dollar movie, so this was a very much an about face and this is precisely why I mentioned earlier you wanna get some sort of a floor in the contract so that this precise situation cannot happen.
Now, in this particular case what I realized fairly quickly was that this producer was worried that once the option elapsed I would then take the project to this other producer who he had introduced me to and try and get the project going with that producer because the producer here he had introduced me to was much more experienced than he was and liked the project. I think maybe he had even called me. It more [inaudible 00:59:24] It was not just this producer being paranoid, it was actually probable and in fact…But basically what I did was I went to the producer and I just levelled him and I said, “Are you just worried I’m gonna go to this other producer and cut you out of the deal? What if we sign some sort of agreement that I will never do that?”
Once we did that he immediately of course didn’t wanna go and make this $10,000 feature film, but I think in his mind he could buy the script for $10,000, produce a nonsensical version with his video camera of the film and then he would basically own the script. He would probably never have even bothered to make any kind of a polished film. I don’t know what his real plan was but bottom line was I did sign something with him. As I said I was not looking to cut him out of the deal or anything, he was a perfectly nice guy. He did in fact introduce me to this producer so we just signed something that says, “Hey, if I ever work with this other producer over here that you introduced me to I will be sure and make sure that you’re cut in on that deal,” and the other producer was fine with that.
Eventually I think I did option the script to this other producer and we just had some sort of a clause so that this original producer would get some credit and some money if the project ever got off the ground. So again problem averted, no lawyers, no court but I could see that it was definitely a potential problem and hopefully in the future I’ve been able to head this off by getting some sort of a floor in the contract. Okay, so that’s option agreements. I’m not a lawyer, this is not a legal advice, it’s just kind of how I’ve dealt with it. Hopefully you get some value out of hearing how I’ve dealt with it. What I’m gonna do is I’m gonna create a question on my Frequently Asked Questions section at Selling Your Screenplay. If you just go to www.sellinfyourscreenplay.com/FAQ I will link to this podcast and I will link to it in such a way that you can just skip straight to the section where I’m talking about option agreements.
There’s been a number of other podcast episodes where I’ve talked about option agreements and so I will also link to those from this FAQ page. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/FAQ if you wanna hear more rumblings of me talking about option agreements. There’s been a bunch of other podcast episodes. One of the ones was discussing free options so I’ll try and find that link to that as well but there are some other ones where I’ve just gone through…I’ve talked about an actual option agreement that I’m negotiating and I walk through those steps. Hopefully you’ll see this will be a good primer for that. You’ll see the logic that I use and then this other podcast episode I sort of walk through the various steps that I just outlined in an actual real world situation. Again I will link to all that at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/FAQ. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.