Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Movie Options: My Experience So Far…

by Jill Williamson

Shortly after my first book came out, an actor friend of mine contacted me to talk about the movie option for my project. He seemed excited about the idea of getting the books made into a movie and wanted to pitch the project to Walden Media.

This got me excited too.

I mean, I was published with a very small house, so I knew the odds of anyone in the movie industry even knowing my books existed were beyond slim.

And I had an inside man.

My friend is Jade Carter, and he’s an awesome actor. Check out his IMDB page. He’s done some sweet guest starring roles and starred in some Broadway shows too.

So Jade and I had a series of phone calls. I showed him my contract for By Darkness Hid, in which I’d signed the movie option over to Marcher Lord Press. In order to do this Jade’s way, I needed those rights. Jeff was all for it, so we did an addendum to the contract to see where this might lead. Jade hired a lawyer to make sure he did everything right. It was a neat learning experience.

There was a ton I didn't understand and still don’t, but basically, I signed over all the rights to my trilogy, storyworld, characters, and even merchandising to Jade. Why? Since I’m not a famous, Suzanne Collins-like author, we needed to make the option a sweet deal. And to Hollywood, than means no strings attached.

Including me not writing my own screenplay.

Hollywood doesn't like sticky projects. If they see that an author has demanded a lot of input on the project or wants to be the screenwriter (and has no screenwriting experience) it’s a red flag. It will be a headache to the people trying to make movies.

Jade and I wanted to create a non-headache movie option. It was our best bet for success. Yes, there was the chance that someone could purchase the option and make Achan a buffoon with a talking pet monkey, but since Jade was going to be responsible for selling the project, it was a chance I decided to take. I trusted that Jade would pitch the movie only to family friendly projection companies.

One of the things that Jade needed was a character breakdown for my books that he could give a screenwriter or casting director. This is a tool used to help people see the author’s depiction of the characters. I listed out all my characters—main characters first, then secondary, then minor—and I assigned them a function. Being the author, it was easy for me to do this. But it was different from anything I’d ever done in the fiction writing realm. Here is a link to it: Jill's Character Breakdown for By Darkness Hid.

When all was said and done, I had a 30-page option agreement! Cool. The option had clauses for: exactly when and how much I'd be paid for the first, second, and third picture (a little more for each); what I'd make for each movie in every movie type (should the movie be a theatrical motion picture, a DVD-only film, or a made for TV movie); sequel rights; merchandising rights (Achan dolls, anyone?); how involved I got to be in the process (I got to give my feedback on the first draft of the screenplay and that was it. And no one had to make use of my feedback.); my screen credit;  details for adaptations, translations, and theatrical versions; agreements on DVD and TV rights; the rights to my characters (I signed away the trilogy rights but kept the right to create more stories using them.); music, stage, and radio rights; and the right to sell my books with special movie covers.

That’s a whole lot of rights to consider, most of which made my head spin.

And here’s the most important thing to note: just because you sell the option to your story, doesn't mean it will ever get made into a movie. My contract gave Jade five years after the release of book three to sell it to a producer. After that the rights will revert back to me. And once I have the rights again, I can try to sell them to someone else, if I want to.

Some things to remember:
-Movie option contracts have nothing to do with book publishing contracts.
-Some agents try and sell movie options. Some don’t. It’s something to ask your agent.
-The “bigger” the author, the more control you can negotiate. The “smaller” the author, the less control you’ll have. It’s a numbers thing.
-Some production companies will purchase rights and continue to renew them forever, keeping anyone else from making the movie.
-There are production companies out there who watch the Publisher’s Marketplace (a place where agents announce deals). They're on the lookout for deals. If an employee sees something that might interest the producer he works for, he contacts the literary agent, inquires about the movie option rights, and often requests a copy of the book to investigate further. My agent received a couple of these types of inquiries about my upcoming project Captives. My guess? If these employees can grab a movie option early, before a book becomes as popular as The Hunger Games, it could save the producer millions of dollars.

If you’re interested in writing a book that movie producers might come after, I suggest reading a book by screenwriter Blake Snyder called Save the Cat. This is a book that talks about how to write screenplays, but you can apply the same principals to fiction. And if you do, your book will be easily adaptable for a screenplay, which makes screenwriters happy.

In this book, Snyder tells the story of how he sold an option for one of his screenplays to Stephen Spielberg for a million dollars in a bidding war, and the movie still hasn't been made. Isn't that interesting? Though it's very rare, you could make a million dollars and still have no movie. It's just the way the industry works.

Thoughts on all this? I’m far from an expert, but I’ll try to answer your questions.

JILL'S WEBSITE CONTEST BONUSES:
1. October is International giveaway month on my author website. If you live outside the USA, this is your chance to win a free copy of one of my books. Details here.
2. There are only a few more days to enter the Go Undercover Scavenger Hunt. It's silly fun. The winner gets $100 Barnes and Noble gift card. Details here.


24 comments:

  1. As I was reading your trilogy, The though crossed my mind many times, "This would be a great movie."
    Thanks for sharing this information. I was wondering how it all worked.

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  2. Cool! It was awesome to see how that works! I was reading a book on Sunday that had "Optioned for film by Walt Disney Films" on the back of it, so I was wondering!! Thanks so much :)

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    1. Optioned by Disney written on a book... odds are closer that it will get made. But still not a sure thing.

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  3. Wow! Fascinating! And your trilogy totally would make an excellent movie, though at the moment, I'm slightly scared of book-to-movie adaptations - they're rarely as good as the book! :)

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    1. Yeah... and fantasy movies cost so much more than regular movies, it's so difficult to get a high enough budget to do them well.

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  4. How exciting! I love the whole film process, including acting, and would love to one day have one of my books made into a movie as well. The number of Christian production companies are growing, which I think can give Christian authors a pretty good shot at perhaps seeing their book on screen some day. With God anything is possible! =)

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    1. Very true. And the fewer locations in your book, the higher the odds of it adapting to a lower budget film. Something to keep in mind.

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  5. Ohhhh...exciting! I definitively am going to read the book. Even if a future book of mine doesn't get turned into a movie, I think it would be a good read just because screenplays never "wander" like book do and I tend to be quite a wanderer. Hopefully it will keep me to my plot better. Thanks for the recommendation! ♥

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    1. You're welcome, Leorah! I'm liking the book so far.

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  6. Cool post! If it does ever get made into a movie, Achan better be cast awesome ! :)

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  7. That's awesome!
    Movie adaptations of books are always interesting to watch, and see how similar or different they are to the original novel.

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    1. Yeah... I always try to read the book first, but it doesn't always work out.

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  8. That's so interesting! It's like a peak-behind-the-scenes, which is why I like GTW, because you actually tell us what goes on. And congrats for the tentative movie release! Wow. But, as it goes, the book is always better then the movie... ;)

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    1. It is interesting, huh? But it's not a tentative movie release. It's far, far, far from that. It's still a tentative option. Ha ha. I can dream, though. :-P

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  9. Thanks so much for posting this Jill! This makes me feel like in the future I shouldn't complain about stuff getting changed; I should just be glad about a movie! I feel so much more informed! :)

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    1. Yeah... it would be difficult, but if you have a movie, you are blessed. It's pretty rare.

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  10. I love to imagine my book becoming a movie. Too much, really. Interesting post! And, Jill -- Replication, I finally got it, and looved it!

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    1. Awww, yay, Emii! I'm glad you liked it. I like to daydream movies too. It's fun.

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  11. Wait, so there's a movie?

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    1. Nope. No movie. And I doubt there will be one. I simply sold the option. It will likely revert back to me.

      For a fantasy series, unless you've sold millions of copies, it's a very hard sell. Fantasy movies are big budget. And without the built in fan base of having millions of people interested in the project already, it's unlikely to get made.

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  12. It's so hard for movies to live up to the books they adapt, but at the same time, I often think when I'm reading a book 'I wish there was a movie of this!' So this is a really interesting post, and I hope things go well for you if your movie options every come to anything.

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    1. Why, thank you, Alice! I appreciate that. Movie making is a fascinating industry. Almost as fascinating as the publishing industry! LOL

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