SOMETHING FOR NOTHING
I have the possibility of a free option on my screenplay. It's a very short option period with a small production company. They have made some great connections with other projects they have and have presented themselves in a very forthright and business like manner. What are your thoughts on these kinds of options?
This is a difficult question to address.
My immediate thoughts are that most “free options” are a waste of time. However, before a writer walks away from any opportunity, he should look at all the facts carefully.
We all know the abysmal odds of selling a script or even getting one set-up. Most writers never even get their scripts optioned – let alone the offer of a “free” option.
An option is sort of a “lease.” When one leases a car or an apartment, he pays money in exchange for temporary possession of the property. The writer “leases” his script to a producer, who, according to the agreement, has a certain amount of time to get the project moving. It would be unheard of for a car dealership to offer a free lease on a new vehicle. Nobody does business that way, except, of course, Hollywood.
Most producers without deals do not have money to pay writers for tying up a script while shopping it around. (Most producers are also working for free.) So, they offer their services as sort of payment – with the hopes of getting the project set-up, talent attached or finding financing and making money for the writer later in the journey rather than in the beginning. Of course, that rarely happens, because the project is never set-up, never attaches (worthwhile) talent and never finds financing.
Despite the lack of payday, many writers without connections or influence could see this arrangement as a chance to get their material out on the market. So sacrificing the cash upfront could be an investment in the future.
But a little upfront money is good for everyone. It makes the writer happy, and pushes the production company to do its job (instead of it pushing the script to the far end of the desk). Without some sort of pecuniary investment, the prodco may not take the writer or the project all that seriously. And an inexperienced producer could do harm by saturating the market with the script (or other inappropriate strategies), making the script useless to the writer at the end of the free option - costing the writer more than the producer.
Conversely, the producers will introduce the script and writer to others, which might lead to new relationships and other (more profitable) opportunities. And forging a friendship with a potential up-and-coming producer could also have its benefits. Hollywood has an ironic sense of “cause and effect.”
Don’t be quick to jump at the offer without weighing the pros and cons.
1) Have others read the script?
2) What have their reactions been?
3) Is this the first offer made to you?
4) Are you considering this “free option” because it’s the best offer?
5) Who are these producers?
6) What have they produced?
“They have made some great connections with other projects…” hardly sounds like much of an endorsement for a producer. (Give some leeway to a reputable producer with respectable credits.)
7) Why do you feel this production company is right for this project?
8) Is this a desperate move by a writer who sees no other opportunities?
9) Or a career strategy that might yield results?
And since these situations rarely yield results, you’re basing that decision on what?
10) Have you considered the worst that could happen?
11) What are you prepared to learn from this experience?
If you feel that this is a good opportunity for you, enter the deal with confidence and strength. Don’t ever feel like anyone is doing you a favor. The writer and producer need each other. And a “free option” is – in my book – more of a partnership. Since the producers want something for nothing, keep the option period very short – no more than six months. Set specific goals. What are your expectations? Be specific. What do you expect to see come to fruition in that short amount of time? Do not give them “first right refusal.” Empower yourself to walk away from the producers (and go elsewhere) at the end of the option if you feel they have not been able to advance the project. Also, get the producers to introduce you to their management and agency connections. And hopefully you can learn the ropes throughout the process too. Get as much “remuneration” from this arrangement as possible.
Much of this business is about taking chances. A hard industry calls for hard decisions and sacrifices. By accepting this “free option”, it could cost you your script. By walking away, it could cost you a career. Realistically, it will probably just be a time waster - doing neither harm nor good.
The decision you make should be based on your goals, where you are in your journey, and what you’re willing to risk.
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