Friday, May 23, 2014

Three ways to write a screenplay

I've talked about the three projects that were optioned by three different groups. Two screenplays were optioned by an American group and a French group. The third screenplay was actually written for very little money as it will probably be done for less than $200,000.

What's interesting here is how each of those three partners work.

The oldest option was done almost two years ago by two French filmmakers who read the screenplay about five or six years ago. Both of them were very nice and paid a small option fee to show their interest. Then the director translated the screenplay into French and worked on the screenplay a bit towards what he would like. 

I didn't really mind it because once any of my screenplays are optioned, I let it go unless they want me to give them some ideas. I did this a few times with the French people and then waited for when they would make it. They would make this movie for maybe around $500,00.

The second screenplay was written specifically for a group and I took a very small fee as this feature would cost less as mentioned before ($200k). Since they didn't really have any money they solicited on a crowdfunding website to help pay for my services. 

There was a little bit of misunderstanding as they thought I was doing the entire screenplay for free but we managed to straighten things out and I got a second payment. This movie probably has the best chances to get made this year.

Then there's the third screenplay. This one was optioned for $10 which is not unusual and more often than not, the buyers are friends or acquaintances of the writer, in this case, me. However we had a little bit of conflict over how much I should get when the movie gets made.

Finally we worked out something that was good for me rather than getting an unfair deal. 

An issue here is about how much low budgets can spare for the writer. There are three different low budget areas in WGA and they are based on film budgets such as:

1. Below $200,000
2. $200,000 - $499,999
3. $500,000 - $1,200,000

Got it?

These rates are for the entire production from screenplay to shooting to editing and finishing.

So how much does the writer get?

Normal minimum for screenplays is $45,556.

But because the low budget for under $200k is $11,389 and the rest is "deferred".  Deferred is what the business calls monkey points, in that I am not taking 75% of my fee and hoping that I get some money after the costs of the movie and other items have been done.

In other words I probably won't get a penny.

You can add up the other two categories to see how this works, I could ask for more but the producers have to pay actors, gear, editing facilities,etc so it is impossible to pay me my normal minimum.

I make a little more in the $200-$499k category, half of the $45k. That's $22,778 and a little better.

And the big category of up to $1.2 million can give me the entire $45,556 but I will defer a bit of that in order too make the deal.

What you see in the American deal is the need to argue some of the money due a writer, it's almost  necessary to show the writer who's boss.

But now, the French movie.

The director of the French screenplay has to register it with the government and since there were the two of us he suggested I get 75% of any royalties and he get $25%. I thought since they were so nice I suggested 50/50. But the director said he couldn't because it would look like he was taking advantage of me. I finally encouraged him to take 40% and he was quite happy.

A note here; in most civilized countries, screenplays always belong to the writer forever. But in USA, the buyer can buy the rights and partake of royalties. 

All of this probably sounds impossible to understand, and I'm still not sure what it all means. So why take so little money with not great chances to recover some of it?

Because a credit on IMDB is sometimes more important than the money. My latest credit was 2010 and now in 2014 I better have something up there on IMDB or I'm considered old stuff.

Nice business, eh?

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