I got this question recently:
“What are your feelings if a producer really loves your script but wants you to do re-writes and a treatment for them before they option it from you? I feel like doing re-writes is something that should happen after they option it.”
Doing free re-writes, unfortunately, is part of the screenwriting process. The fact that he/she doesn’t want to option the script first seems a little odd. In my experience if a producer really likes a project they will want to get the option in place before they spend any time developing it. Now maybe they’ve got dozens of projects in this stage and they want to hedge their bets a little and see if your script gets to where they want it.
Keep in mind, too, in many cases a producer will want a free (or near free option) so the fact that they option it from you first doesn’t necessarily mean a lot to you because it may not mean a lot money either way. In fact, if the producer isn’t going to pay you a decent sum of money for the option you’re probably better off not optioning it to them while you do the re-writes so you can still shop the script around and see if you can get better offers (before, during, and after the re-writing process!). The option exists to protect the producer more than the writer so if he’s willing to spend time on your project without an option in place that’s really to your advantage.
If you’re in the WGA there are certain rules that are supposed to govern option payments and re-writes but it’s generally accepted that most writers have to go above and beyond these rules to get projects off the ground. That may mean doing free re-writes or doing a free treatment. It’s not supposed to happen, but it does. If you’re a new writer you have even less options and are even more at the mercy of the producer. Sad but true.
What I’ve done in the past with my projects is always listen to what changes a producer wants to make. I always want to make my scripts better so if someone in the industry is willing to give me notes, I’ll hear them out. If I like her ideas and they don’t want to pay me for the re-writes, I’ll still probably do the re-writes as long as I think it’s going to make my script better. Why wouldn’t I want to make my script better?
However, in many cases it’s really not that simple. Then it just becomes a judgement call. How much do you like this producer? How much free time do you have to make the changes? Does this producer have a track record? Is there a good chance that this producer will actually be able to get this movie made if she does like the re-writes? In general if you’re just starting out it might be worth gambling a little bit and going through the re-write process with a producer just for the experience (however painful it is it’s part of the process). But if you’ve been through this a few times and feel like it’s not worth taking a chance on politely insist that you want to get paid for the re-writes.
I wrote a post about optioning scripts and I think a lot of the same things apply. If you haven’t read it check it out: How to decide if you should option your screenplay to a producer.