Monday, August 19, 2013
You've just sold a screenplay -- now wait.
One of the great misconceptions about selling screenplays is that everyone asks you when it'll be filmed... a week, a month?
The truth is it can be years.
What happens first is an option; a fee paid to the writer from the producer or production company of approximately 10% of the total price. Taking Writer's Guild minimums that would be 10% of $42,000 for a movie that will cost under $3 million, and $72,000 for bigger budgets.
A lot of new writers hear about hundreds of thousands of dollars for screenplays, even millions of dollars. That does happen, but just to a handful of writers. For the rest of us, it's basic scale, as mentioned above.
So how soon does your movie film so you can get the 90% owed to you. Well, my Christmas screenplay that Hallmark had read and liked took nearly 6 years. And this was a script that they liked! It sat around their offices for about 3 years and before that I was sending it around to companies who liked it but weren't sure if it could get made.
Hallmark held it for the last three years, not paying me anything, because they were still "looking at it". And then at the end of 6 years from the date I wrote it as a spec, I got a call from a woman who worked for a Canadian production company. They wanted to make it for Hallmark. And more importantly Hallmark wanted them to make the film.
In only 6 years.
Emperor of Mars was my first really good screenplay and I wrote it in 1989. Since then it's been optioned at least 7 times and actually almost made around 4 or 5 times. I never remember how many times exactly.
That's 24 years.
But wait longer;
I've heard of screenplays that have been hanging around even longer.
Last September, 2012, I optioned a screenplay called Chaser to a French film company in Paris. As of now, they might be making it next spring. But I'm not holding my breath.
And unfortunately, this is more common than not. So what's the reason? What's always the reason. No money. That was certainly the case in the 5 times Emperor was almost made. The deals fell through.
And there's another reason; the producers might want to work on it somemore. Or maybe they can't find the right director, or the network or studio wants someone else to rewrite it. And then the director doesn't like it and leaves. Or the lead actor has a better offer on another movie.
So selling a screenplay isn't exactly like selling your car; it's only the beginning of something that might not even sell. I've had a dozen options on a dozen screenplays that eventually just went away.
So why do I continue to stay in this crazy business.
Because it can and has happened to me at least 10 times.
And also because nobody told me that I should do something else with my life.