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Friday, September 26, 2008

Q. I've agreed to sell a script of mine to some producers for $5,000, because their movie is very low budget ($1 million). What else should I ask for?
First of all, $5,000 is still fairly lowball. WGC scale for a movie of the week (budget $1.2 mil) is on the order of $30,000. The producers are taking advantage of you. (Don't take it personally, that's what producers do if you let them.)

But sometimes you do a cheapo deal for experience and credit. I've done them.

First of all, you want a guaranteed credit. If they can only afford $5,000 for you, then they certainly can't afford a rewriter. You can ask for a guaranteed sole writing credit. Since that's the most important thing you're getting, and it's not a Guild deal, it should be guaranteed.

Second, if the budget miraculously increases, so should your fee. You could ask for an escalator -- 3% of every penny over $1,000,000 in budget -- budget defined as the bonded budget, if there is a completion bond, or the insured budget if there isn't. (Don't allow any budget definition that excludes financing costs, for example.)

You could ask for a co-producer credit -- you're "investing" in the picture -- though that won't be terrifically useful to you. I've got a couple of Associate Producer type credits; they haven't done much for me.

If they don't make the picture quickly, it should revert to you. Give them a year, extendable by a payment of another $2,500. After two years, you get it back free and clear, with any and all rewrites.

Since this is your idea, you should own the remake / spinoff / adaptation into other media rights. If they want those, they can pay scale. For $5,000, they should just get the right to make one movie, that's it.

In deals like these, think what you can ask for that doesn't cost money up front. They don't have money up front. An escalator is fair because it doesn't kick in until there's more money. Reversion is fair because you're giving up your script in the hopes it will get made -- if it doesn't get made, you've lost the benefit, so you should be able to sell it to someone else. Remake rights don't cost the producer anything now -- just some of his potential upside. And if he wants that, he ought to pay for it.

Alternately, you can grant the remake rights, but attach payments to them. You get $100,000 if the remake rights are sold. That gives the producer control, and it doesn't cost him anything -- the hundred grand will come out of the purchaser of the remake rights.

Remember -- you won't get anything unless you're willing to walk away. But if the producers won't give you a reasonable deal, they're probably not serious producers anyway, and you're probably wasting your time with them.

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5 Comments:

I'm a little puzzled by the title of the post, but, as usual, all very helpful advice. I'm guessing, even with such a low fee, a lawyer should be hired to help draft a contract, especially because of all the additions requested. Any idea what that would cost? Anyone?

By Blogger Tim W., at 3:09 PM  

Dicker. You know, haggle. Negotiate. Bargain.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 3:12 PM  

If an agent is willing to take on this one, wouldn't this be their job? That would also help from having to pay a lawyer on your own.

I'm just guessing that the money involved isn't enough to grab the attention of a good agent.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 5:13 PM  

I would think for such a small amount, a lawyer would make more sense and be cheaper. And you might be right about a good agent not wanting to get involved for such a small amount.

By Blogger Tim W., at 7:38 PM  

I just had a thought: What about an agent's assistant? Might this be something that a hungry agent's assistant might take just to show they have some mettle?

And reason I would think leaning toward an agent (or possible an assistant) more than a lawyer is that wouldn't an agent have more of the negotiation thing down than a lawyer, might have a better idea of the other side's viewpoint and also might be thinking about a long term relationship with their client than a lawyer looking at the deal as just a one-up deal?

By Blogger The_Lex, at 3:45 PM  

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