Getting a movie deal is not easier than getting a book deal with a publisher! But how do movie deals work? Movie rights are part of subsidiary / secondary rights – even if you get a foot in the door: Almost all production companies and film producers offer first an option for a film.
What is an Option?
Insider author Fred Rosen explains: A film production company or studio reserves the right to make your novel into a film, or TV show and rents this right for a specific length of time. A standard film option is for a year, with renewable one-year options. Each time a company picks up the option, the author will be paid just for sitting on your movie rights – while they will try to secure the funds to make the adaptation and also to find professional and experienced script writers.
What Could Get Optioned?
Published novels and nonfiction books, magazine articles, short stories. Unpublished work can also break through, when someone who has a connection with a production company discovers something and passes it on (Frank Capra based “It’s a Wonderful Life” on an unpublished short story by Philip Van Doren Stern). However a published novel has much higher chances for your work to get optioned. What is the value of an option? Options start at $500 and go up. $5,000 and more is excellent.
What About Agents?
If you don’t have an agent, it’s fine to query film agents directly. They’re always looking for salable options to pitch to Hollywood. Be straightforward in your pitch: Briefly summarize the work to be optioned, where it’s published and your bio.
Movie deals involve often a dozen decision makers. For most movie deals to get completed, there has to be key actors, a director, a screenwriter, and a producer committed to the movie. That’s why 90% of potential movie deals never get completed – because the package can’t be put together to convince to the investors on funding the movie.
Approach A-List Actors
One of the best ways to get a movie deal for a novel is to target the A-list actor or actress who would be the best person to play the role of your main character. Many A-list actors have their own production companies or in-place deals for a certain number of movies – and can sometimes pick which movies they’d like to be in. Authors have already a picture who should play the key role or roles in a movie made from their novel.
How to Get in Touch
How do you get in touch with the actors you’ve identified as potential role players? You can try through their management company (agent or manager), via their personal website (if they have one), or maybe through connections. To get a feel for the industry, start reading industry trades, such as “The Hollywood Reporter“. You also might already know about IMDb.com (Internet Movie Database). The monthly subscription to IMDbPro.com has fairly up-to-date contact information.
Start reading IndieWire.com, and FilmmakerMagazine.com for a feel of the industry. Attend film festivals to see independent films come to life. See if your state has a film office. Through all these new resources you may come across a screenwriter to work with.
Watch the credits of a TV show you enjoy, noting the names of the producers. You can write to them, asking them to read your script. While the number of scripts bought from freelancers in television is small, it does happen. After targeting a show, write polite query letters to producers or story editors – usually people who re-write scripts and deal with freelancers, explaining your fondness for and familiarity with the show and your desire to send a spec script. Then, even if your script is rejected, it might get you invited to pitch other ideas to the producers.
Writers Guild of America
If you don’t have an agent, and no contacts in the business, you can still market your script on your own. Register your script with the Writer’s Guild of America, the official union site representing writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable and new media industries. Your registration provides an official record of claim to authorship and can be used as evidence in any legal disputes about authorship.
If you are fortunate enough to secure an agent, and they get your work optioned, then the process moves into higher gear. Generally, you will receive an upfront payment for a specific time period of optioned rights. You may or may not have input into the adaptation of your book into a screenplay. If your book is not produced by the expiration of the optioned rights, they revert back to you and the process starts over.