Mar 28 2006

What Are My Options?

Published by at 9:54 pm under Earthworks,Good News/Bad News

In Hollywood, there is a term — “calling card script.” It’s what every aspiring writer should be striving to create. It’s the script that opens doors for you. So, it’s really more like a key than a calling card. I’m not sure why they call it a calling card script. Nobody calls you just because you hand out calling cards. Calling cards are nothing special.
But calling card scripts are special.
I’m extremely fond of mine. Of everything I’ve written before and since, it’s the only one that seems to be universally adored. That script is responsible for me getting the assignment that got me into the guild — and every assignment since.
The weird thing is, nobody will make my calling card script into a movie. I’ve probably had forty general meetings based on that script. They tell me how much they love it. They even discuss certain scenes in loving detail. And then they ask me what else I’m working on.
A sidenote: I suspect that producers only buy a script if they can’t think of a single reason to say ‘no.’ My calling card script is a period piece. So, even though a given producer may love the story — usually commenting on the period detail and historical context — they invariably fall back on that as their excuse. “I love this script, unfortunately, it’s a period peice. I can’t sell period.”
So, learn from my mistake. For your calling card script, stay in the here and now. No need to shoot yourself in the foot right out of the gate.
Anyway, after a couple deals that died in utero, one producer actually stepped up and secured the rights to the script with an option agreement.
An option agreement is sort of a rental arrangement. For a fraction of the agreed upon price of the script, the producer pays for the exclusive right to purchase the script at a later date. A standard deal is for 10%. If the purchase price is $50,000, the producer pays you $5,000 now. When the term of the option runs out (typically from 6 to 18 months), they have to buy the script from you or forfeit the exclusive right to do so.
When I first met this producer, he said he could have the picture financed and in production within about 6 months. But, 6 months turned into a year. He renewed the option and one year turned into two. He had some talent interested — a name director, an actor or two. I believe he had some leads on financing as well. But it never panned out. Mind you, this is a guy with an impressive track record, who put his own money down for the option. It’s a testament to how hard it is to make movies that, after two years of hustling, he had to let his option lapse.
Maybe being a screenwriter isn’t the worst job in Hollywood, after all.
Then again, my movie still hasn’t gotten made. But the cool thing is, that script? The one everybody loves? The one that’s clearly got some market value? I still own it. It still gets me meetings and maybe I can still get it made somehow. Someday.
If it doesn’t exactly unlock doors, maybe I can use it to pick them.
My credit card script.

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