As the busiest UK script consultant and script writer for hire on the World Wide Web, I get a lot of rookie scriptwriters asking me about how to sell their feature film script. Well, let me tell you, that most scripts don’t sell–even the ones that get made–they get optioned. And in the UK–you’re not going to be able to make a living from having scripts optioned – in fact, you’ll be lucky if you can pay your rent for one month from the average option deal.
Screenwriting Myth Buster
So, I suppose this is myth busting. Scripts don’t sell, they get optioned – so, what is an option exactly?
An option is where a producer (hopefully) someone with a successful record or making films / TV likes your script – and wants to attempt to get it made. That’s a great result, right? Hell yeah it is – but they won’t BUY your script. They will get an option deal together – so what is an option?
An option is a deal where the producer buys the rights to the script (usually for a year – maybe two – with an option to extend the rights ownership). Once they have the script under option – it kind of belongs to them for the time period agreed.
Producer buys the rights to a script
An option allows the producer to shop the script around and try to get it financed so they (and you) can make the film. Something – which in the UK industry is very hard to do with limited finance available – small number of places you can get the finance – and not many places who can actually put together a decent deal with some sort of distribution in place prior to making the film i.e. a guaranteed cinema run (unlikely) or some TV network deal in place for the first run.
So, the option, is kind of something that gives them the right to seek finance – and the option protects the producer – so that they are the only ones who can seek to get it made. While the script is under option – you can’t for example go behind the producer’s back to Ridley Scott and offer it to his company – while you have the option in place with the producer – and if Ridley Diddly’s people call your agent (or you) and say they love the script and they want to make it RIGHT NOW – if it’s under option you have to direct Ridder’s people back to the producer who currently owns the option (and the rights to make the script).
Maybe Ridley will deal with the producer who owns the option – maybe Ridley can’t stand that producer and your script hits the trash bin because of it. Either way – you signed the option deal – you take your chances for the next year or two – and hopefully the producer can make the film.
How much do script options deals pay?
So, here’s the nuts bolts and cashier cheques – how much does an option go for? In Hollywood – scriptwriters can earn a decent living from having five or six of their scripts under option at any one time – in the UK (in my experience) for a rookie scrripwriter – getting their dream script in the hands of a great producer – who wants to option the script – you’ll be lucky to clear a couple of thousand pounds for a 12 month option – in fact most options are £500 or so – PER YEAR.
I’ve even known a case where a producer paid an option of £1000 on a script as bet (as he didn’t think the writer would ever finish it) when the writer finished the script – the producer paid the tab – and picked up the script for 12 months.
Screenplays don’t sell – they get optioned
So, anyway, that’s options – script don’t get sold – in most cases they get optioned, and nobody is getting rich from getting their script optioned. But optioned is a stepping stone to MAYBE getting the feature film made.
Remember – before you send your screenplay anywhere, make sure you’ve had someone read it, and report on it. My script report service is the most comprehensive on the market, with a page by page read and notes on how to improve (if possible) and I also give loads of practical business advice – like the blog post above. If you want someone who knows what they’re doing to read and assess your work – contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
You can trust me, I’m a doctor – well a script doctor at least.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire and UK script consultant for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award-winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer.
His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller ‘Markham’ was released in 2020, his second feature film as director ‘At The Mountains Of Madness’ hit the screen in 2021. You can find out more about Matthew’s work as a director here.