Q. In today's feature film market, what is considered a "fair" amount for a one year option on a script? Is it based on the projected budget of the production? I've asked around, and even people I know in the business don't seem to know.
There's no such thing as fair. There's only what you negotiate, and what the "standard of the industry" is.
Under the Writer's Guild of American Minimum Basic Agreement, an option can be no less than 10% of the purchase price of the screenplay. If I understand the Schedule of Minimums correctly, the minimum for sale/purchase of an original screenplay is about $35,000 if it's a low budget screenplay, and $75,000 if it's high budget.
If you're dealing with studios or US production companies with studio or network deals, these numbers ought to hold.
Under the Writer's Guild of Canada IPA, an option must also be 10% of the purchase price, which is a minimum of just over $50,000.
In practice, Canadian producers and non-affiliated US producers rarely have any money lying around to option scripts. So people compromise.
In the US, producers often seek to option material for free, if they can get it, or for five hundred or a thousand buck, depending on how badly they want the script, how solvent they are, and how willing the writer is to walk away from the deal.
In Canada, there may be an "option to option." A WGC deal is struck, but not executed. The producer gets a cheap (free-$1500) option to take the script to funding agencies (Telefilm, provincial agencies like SODEC and OMDC), Greenberg and Corus Made With Pay. If the funding agencies cough up money for development, the WGC deal goes into effect and the producer pays the full option price.
This is not kosher by the Guild, of course, but good luck getting a producer to pay you $5,000 to option your script prior to Telefilm giving him the cash.
Likewise, in TV, it's not that common to get the full option payment before a network signs on. Then the network pays for the option.
In related news, Telefilm has taken to asking for an extremely detailed and long pitch before it funds the writing of a script. If a writer is called on to write up such a pitch based on a producer's idea, then he's probably not going to get more than a couple thousand bucks to write it, and the producer will try to get it for free. If Telefilm is willing to provide the dowry, then the producer makes an honest woman of the writer. This is really
not kosher, because the writer's essentially writing a treatment at far below scale. This is something that the WGC is discussing with Telefilm.
UPDATE: BeingBrad asks:
Q. Holy crap. So do writers for the Canadian market actually make enough money to live?
Yep. However, nobody lives on option payments. The payday on features is when you get paid to rewrite your optioned script (about $20,000-$30,000). Telefilm puts a fair amount of money into developing scripts, so if you have a few good projects that the funding agencies spark to, you can put together a good year. You just won't get rich. The jackpot is if your feature actually gets made, and you get a production fee that can run into the low six figures on a decently budgeted film.
In practice, though, most pro feature writers also write TV, or they also direct.
Likewise in TV the options are small, but if the network picks up your show for development, they'll commission a pilot and perhaps a bible. Then you ought to be getting a few tens of thousands of bucks. And if your show goes into production, you ought to make a couple hundred thousand in the first year.
Comparable numbers in the US are, of course, much higher, and in revenge, everyone in LA considers themselves humiliatingly underpaid.
Labels: contracts, rights
So do writers for the Canadian market actually make enough money to live?
I promoted this into the blog post, but:
Yep. Just not enough to get rich. However, nobody lives on option payments. The payday on features is when you get paid to rewrite your optioned script (about $20,000-$30,000). The jackpot is if your feature actually gets made, and you get a production fee that can run into the low six figures on a decently budgeted film. Likewise in TV the options are tiny, but if the network commissions a pilot and perhaps a bible, you ought to be getting a few tens of thousands of bucks. And if your show goes, you ought to make a couple hundred thousand in the first year. Comparable numbers in the US are, of course, much higher.
The truth too is that the vast number of WGC members don't make enough on writing to live. If I had to guess, I would say about 40% of members work in any given year (which is actually a bit higher than in the WGA) but that also includes people who may have gotten one animation contract, for 7K.
Number of people who support themselves just writing for TV/Film in Canada? I would be surprised if the number was more than 2-300.
That number feels about right. I think the number for the WGA is even lower. Of course that includes all sorts of people who are not full-time writers, but producers who once wrote something and held onto membership for the health insurance. (Not something Canadians need to do.)
In any creative profession there's always a pyramid, with lots of aspiring, fewer emerging, a core of pro writers, and then a tiny nut of truly successful people.
Hello sir - What if a producer just wants to option my film idea?
i.e. I have the one pager and he loves it and has initial interest out there and he wants to keep shopping it around with me?
I assume I should have very low low low expectations...
Indeed. You're not going to get paid much at all for a one pager. Basically, any money at all would be amazing. You get paid when the producer sets up the project and you get paid to write the script. The option agreement obviously needs to include your Right of First Refusal to write the script and the minimum payment for that.
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