(Intro by Screenwriting Staffing’s Founder, Jacob N. Stuart.) I have been approached by a lot of screenwriters as of late seeking advice/guidance on their screenplays being “optioned”. Hopefully this is a result of our Script Search Board!
Options can be a very exciting process (and milestone) for writers, especially newer ones. But they can also be very disappointing, and even more so, destructive, if not approached correctly.
In terms of feature-length screenplays, I’ve had MORE scripts optioned than produced. This is quite common for most writers.
One script, specifically, has been optioned twice (by two different producers), and now I have a third producer wanting to option it right as I speak.
But here’s the rub…. by sitting on two different option agreements (the same script) that failed both times, I have now wasted a year and a half on my script (and career). For privacy reasons I’m not going to list the two producers, but here’s the deal: both producers (one in Hollywood and one in New Jersey) both had licensed production companies. However, they were also “actors” (rolling eyes). So while they had a lot of experience in the industry, and loads of “actor” contacts, they lacked the most important tool to producing: financing a film. So now, once again, I have a third producer wanting to start the option process (he is much more experienced), but because of my previous experience regarding this specific script, I have my reservations…
Note: options fail more than you think, even with high-profile studios. I sat on a one-year option where Warner Brother’s was attached on the back-end, and the project STILL never came to fruition. But when an “option” is done right, it can be highly rewarding!
So I caught up with the wonderful Kathy Muraviov, who manages screenwriters, and asked her a collection of questions regarding options. We discuss the pros and cons, and hopefully this article will help you approach your next option in a cool, collective, and informed state of mind.
Kathy Muraviov’s roots are with Universal Studios (34+ years), which is where she developed a love for all things movie scripts. She maintained her management company (The Muraviov Company), seriously since 2004 and though she’s never had a huge spec sale (came close a few times), she does have several projects under “option,” which includes three TV series and a reality show, all of which are promising. One of her clients, Mark Simborg, just sold his screenplay, “Ray and Molly After the Apocalypse”, to Over the Fence Productions in the UK … here’s the link … and it’s looking positive: TB EXCLUSIVE.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What is an option agreement? Why does this benefit the writer and producer?
KATHY MURAVIOV: An option agreement is an agreement in which you hand over your right of ownership to a producer for a reasonable amount of time, typically six months to a year, enabling them to shop it to studios and/or financiers. The terms of these options differentiate and are typically dependent on producer’s trajectory.
There are a few different types of option agreements, i.e., straight options, which are those that include the length of time the producer will have the right to shop it; and a purchase option, which includes a purchase price, duration, credits, any back end compensation, etc.; in other words, the complete deal should the movie actually get made.
Options are not legal unless money switches hands – and never a good idea to make option fee applicable against purchase price.
In other words, you don’t want it subtracted when you are paid that purchase fee.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What is an adequate amount of time to option a script? Should the writer accept an extension if the option expires.
KATHY MURAVIOV: This tends to vary from project to project. In my experience most options are one year with a right to renew after that one year, sometimes with extensions after that. This gives the producer time to package and/or obtain financing.
If the extension expires and the producer has momentum and you are happy with that momentum, absolutely extend.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What should a non-WGA writer (even an unproduced screenwriter) expect from an option in terms of payment? What about WGA writers?
KATHY MURAVIOV: Typically a writer is paid anywhere from 2% to 5% of a proposed budget, but of course can and will deviate. WGA schedule of minimums outlines what WGA writers can expect to receive, and of course a writer’s fee escalates the more credits he has accumulated.
[NOTE FROM SS: For more information regarding writing agreements and contracts, visit the WGAW.]
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: If a writer doesn’t have representation, should they seek a lawyer (or even a manger/agent) if a producer approaches them with an option?
KATHY MURAVIOV: Writers should always seek out a lawyer, manager/agent to help them evaluate what’s in their best interest, not the producer’s.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Should a writer be picky when it comes to an option? (i.e., the producer lacks any significant credits and produced work.)
KATHY MURAVIOV: Just because a producer doesn’t have any significant credits and/or produced work doesn’t mean they won’t deliver.
Have any producer lay out his business plan before making any kind of deal.
Sometimes this might be your only shot and is certainly better than nothing happening at all. Of course, each scenario is different.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Why is it important for the writer to negotiate a purchase price and writer’s credit during the option phase?
KATHY MURAVIOV: This is really more of a question for an attorney but this is something that should always be discussed up front so there are no misunderstandings later. With a simple option, where a budget has not yet been determined, it’s impossible to know what the purchase price should be (at least the floor amount) so this is a bit tricky at this point. Of course you could stick to the rule of 2-5% of the budget… but each case is unique.
[NOTE FROM SS: Be sure to read our interview with ENTERTAINMENT ATTORNEY Hakim Mulraine regarding contracts for screenwriters.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: In the event a producer can’t find funding for a script, and the script’s rights are reverted back to the writer, should a screenwriter mention the previous option to future producers?
KATHY MURAVIOV: Yes, you always want to make sure the new producer knows where it’s been shopped as you wouldn’t want the new producer submitting to a company that has already passed.
[NOTE FROM SS: Seeking a sample of an “option agreement”? Be sure to visit Absolute Write!]
Final thoughts from Kathy: “I have many more things in the works and I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon. Even with the ups and downs (many more downs), I love what I do, and on those occasions where I can see that finish line looming ahead, it makes it all worthwhile.”
IMPORTANT: The Muraviov Company does NOT accept unsolicited submissions.
This blog/interview was conducted by Jacob N. Stuart. Jacob is an award-winning, produced, and represented screenwriter, with OVER 15 scripts OPTIONED and/or PRODUCED to screen. He is the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing, the Screenplay Contest Director for the Cincinnati Film Festival, and a Screenplay Judge for the Universe Multicultural Film Festival. You can follow him on TWITTER: https://twitter.com/JacobNStuart