Karen from Atlanta recently commented on this previous post about the pitfalls of giving away free or almost free options with the following:

I wish I had run across this site before trying to renegotiate my expired option with a producer. The 18 month option ($1000 1st day of filming plus 3% net) expired but my script was still prominently featured on the company website and on other sites associated with it. I was pretty brave about what I wanted by email but then he wanted to talk on the phone. He barely got a few words out as to why he didn’t want to pay more to continue developing the script when I totally caved, allowing him to keep it for 90 more days for just a $100. I can barely look at myself in the mirror. I’m almost hoping he can’t get financing in time so I can just take my script and go elsewhere. (almost) I realize now that because I wasn’t willing to walk away (and he obviously could tell) I was really in no position to negotiate anything. Boy, do I need to grow a thicker hide and find an agent. He mentioned that he wanted to pay me out at the end of the extension – the now $700 left – and keep the script. No way would I consider doing that. So, I’m taking the next few months to get myself mentally prepared to let go and start all over. I don’t want to, but I’d feel like an idiot just letting him keep my script forever.

She followed up with the following question:

I thought my comment in the “no free lunch” section would get some type of response, even if it was only, “There, there Karen. You’re not the first writer to choke in this kind of situation . . .” An actual question would be this: after extension expires, would it be (un)ethical of me to let the producers keep working on developing my script so I could keep “script in pre-production with such & such production company” on my very sparse resume. And market the script under a different title until I got another buyer interested? Then, because the option will have expired just tell current producers to take my stuff off their websites so I can sell to new buyer? Experience tells me that the current producers aren’t going to call me when the option expires; they’ll just keep working until I call them.

[Standard disclaimer – this is not legal advice, but just thoughts on a blog.]

Before you hang yourself, consider the plus side of your circumstance. You have the interest of producers who paid at least something to work on turning your script into a movie. They are interested enough to try to keep control of it and keep trying to get it made into a movie. All of this suggests you have some writing ability and that is critical to building a career. The usual experience of writers is that the producers talk a good game when they get the free or virtually free option from the writer, but do next to nothing to move the project forward. At least your producers seem to be making an effort.

Your comment and question raise several important issues:

1. Can a producer keep your script if they option it? The answer is, if they meet the conditions for exercising the option (e.g. pay you the money), then – yes – ordinarily they can. However, sometimes making the movie is a condition of exercising the option. In your case, you indicate they agreed to pay you $1000 “on the first day of filming” plus 3% net. Depending upon the language of the rest of your option, it is possible they cannot simply pay you $1000 and keep your script forever without producing the movie. This result is not typical, but the producers may not fully understand how to write an option and may have left themselves open to this. Also, in some cases, the option agreement provides for reversionary or “turnaround” rights even if the option is exercised, in which case you get your script back after a certain amount of time if they do not produce a movie. The exact conditions of turnaround differ and can involve you repaying money they spent on development. As to both issues, you will need to review your option contract plus any subsequent agreements or addendums to see what the language says. Before you agree to anything else at all, you may wish to consult an entertainment attorney.

2. How do you avoid “caving” when a producer asks for an extension? That is what agents or lawyers are for. It is very difficult for the writer, who is attempting to build a creative relationship with the producer, to also negotiate his or her own deal and, in some cases, take a very hard line. Remember, the producer’s job is to cut deals. That’s what he or she does all day long. You were outgunned from before you got on the telephone. In general, unless you happen to also be a used car salesman on the side, I strongly recommend you use a professional to negotiate your deals. Writers’ attorneys often work for a percentage (5-10%) so you do not need to come out of pocket up front.

3. Can you ethically rename your script and shop it even while these producers are working on it? Your ethics are a matter of personal judgment and tolerance. However, as a practical matter, you don’t really need to do that. Unless your option contract forbids it, you can present the script elsewhere anyway and tell others that the option is about to expire, which is true. If other interest develops, the new producers will need to wait and see if the old option gets exercised. You can also present the script as a writing sample for the purpose of getting hired on assignment (as in paid) to write a script for someone else. As for your resume, resumes are not particularly important in writing. The script is what counts. In any event, you can truthfully say on your resume that you have an optioned project.

The writing business is filled with complications. You are not alone in your frustration. Over the course of your career, you will have many more difficult, problem deals than pictures produced. It is the nature of the beast. Just keep writing quality scripts, surround yourself with knowledgeable people, and keep the faith.


Someone who uses various names and claims to be from various places asks more than once:

What does Hollywood really think of companies that offer services like InkTip?

The best answer to that is to explain how producers find material. One critical task of the producer is to find or develop quality producible screenplays. This is an extremely difficult and costly job and one that will make or break a company. Keep in mind the following formula:

# of screenplays offered to each producer = Infinite
% of screenplays that are unproducible = 99.9%
Labor required to evaluate each screenplay = 3 hours
Cost of labor = $75+ per screenplay plus executive time
Cost of finding a producible screenplay = substantial

As that formula sinks in, you can see that the job of finding material is a job of carefully using resources. If a producer were to simply evaluate every script that was offered, most producers would go broke before ever finding a quality script. Producers overcome this obvious problem by using filters.

The most recognizable filters are agents and managers. The agents and managers have presumably already filtered out many of the garbage scripts. Therefore, if a producer limits its consideration to scripts that come from an agent or manager, the chances of finding a quality script are higher. However, the agent game is a challenge for the producer, too. First, most agents and managers are not very good filters. They often push inferior material. Second, the agents and managers who are good filters carefully mete out material and usually submit quality scripts simultaneously to multiple producers. The result is that producers often compete for the few strong pieces of material in the market. Well-funded producers have the ability to compete effectively in this environment, but most producers do not.

Other common filters are personal relationships. Producers and their executives develop personal relationships with reliable screenplay sources, whether they be directly with a small number of writers or with a select circle of agents and managers who will pass on quality material prior to submitting it in the open market. This, too, increases the odds of finding quality material with the least amount of resources and this is the most common way material is acquired in Hollywood.

Another potential filter, and the one being urged by services such as InkTip, is the Internet. Some producers have decided for one reason or another that looking through lists of log lines from completely unknown writers for hours is somehow cost effective. The characteristics of material on a service like InkTip are that a higher percentage of it is unproducible (as in almost all of it), but a higher percentage of it is also unknown and, therefore, not subject to market competition. In other words, InkTip is a place where a producer might find that very rare diamond-in-the-rough no one else has spotted. However, once a producer selects your log line hoping to find the diamond-in-the-rough, the producer still has to expend considerable resources to read your script – or at least a small portion of your script – to evaluate it. This substantially limits the value of InkTip to most producers.

The reasons why a producer might actually spend resources evaluating log-lines in a computer database like InkTip are: (1) the producer is looking for specific content; (2) the producer does not like to read screenplays; (3) the producer has no real resources, e.g. no paid readers to read tons of scripts, (4) the producer lacks resources to compete on the open market, or (5) the producer has so many resources that spending some of it on the very unlikely chance of finding a producible script on InkTip or other services is worth the expense. A review of the “success stories” on InkTip’s website suggests that most of the producers who acquire material through InkTip fall into categories 2,3 and 4.

Accordingly, services like InkTip do have a small place in the market. However, keeping in mind that the number of screenplays registered with InkTip or any similar service is likely enormous, the likelihood of your screenplay being randomly selected by a producer who actually has the ability to pay you money for the script and/or get your script turned into a movie is about as high as the likelihood of a producer actually finding a producible script on such a service. It is an extreme, extreme long-shot.

The other issue to consider with a service like InkTip is that it’s philosophy runs counter to conventional wisdom – at least an agent’s conventional wisdom – which is that access to your writing (especially if you can actually write a professional quality script) should be highly controlled so that it is a desired commodity. Once your script is on InkTip, it is not controlled at all. Anyone who meets a few basic criteria has access to it. This tends to devalue it. However, for emerging writers who have no access to producers in the first place, especially out-of-town writers, this is not a controlling issue.

So what does all this mean? Should you or should you not use a service like InkTip? I don’t know. Now that you can make an informed decision, that’s pretty much up to you.


Penny from Huntington Beach asks:

A co-worker and I agreed to work on a script together, when I found out how much work was involved I quit my job and started writting full-time, but, with no help from my partner, I would have to call her and basically pull teeth to get us to meet so that we can pull ideas together. She put in about 40 hours at most. And I did all the writing, formatting, it took me nine months, but am now done. I paid for all the ink, and paper, and submitted the script to a manager to read, she wants us to polish up to bring to the next level. I contacted my partner, and she no longer wants to be a part of it, says she has no time. I typed up an agreement that she would get 25% of the earning if it would ever make it. Thats more then fair… But, she is not returning my calls. I don’t know how to get her name off of the script, I sent it in to the writers guild a while back, and her name is on it… I would like to change her title to creative consultant, but, how can I do this when she is a deadbeat. I want to start working on it again to bring it to the next level, but want her name off of it since she is no longer a part of it.. HELP. what do I do??

Your problem is very common, but you will not like the answer. Writing partnerships often fail and the only real solution is to come to agreement with your partner over handling of the material. Given that she will not speak to you, this is not likely to occur. Absent some agreement with her, you are not entitled to unilaterally “get her name off the script” for the simple reason that she helped create it.

You may want to retain an attorney. The attorney may be able to get her attention and negotiate something. However, try to get an attorney who will help you for a nominal fee. Do not make the mistake of investing much more money and time into this script unless and until you have an agreement with your former partner that satisfies you before you make the additional investment.

Should you get your partner to seriously negotiate, you should seek to negotiate away any credit for screenwriting by her. At most, she should share a joint “story by” credit with you and you should have the screenwriting credit. Also, her credit (and yours) must be subject to the terms of the WGA if the script sells to a signatory.

Your circumstance is cautionary to anyone considering a writing partner. Follow these guidelines:

  1. Choose your partner carefully – writing a script takes a long time and represents an enormous personal commitment. Casually initiating a writing partnership is a big mistake.
  2. Address partnership problems as they arise. Do not ignore them and continue to invest time and money into your script. Partnership problems tend to get worse and worse if they are not addressed up front.

This should not dissuade anyone from working with a well-chosen partner. Some of the best writers around are writing teams. Writing with a partner can be very rewarding. Just choose the right partner.

I hope this helps. Good luck….


Question GIFThe Thinking Writer often receives questions the answers to which are too brief for an entire column. Here are some of the recent ones.

QUESTION #1: Sabin from San Francisco asks:

I was curious how rewrites work with a script’s WGA registration. If you register a script, then rewrite, say 60 percent, should the script be re-registered, or does the registration still cover it? I know this is an inane question, but I was curious.

WGA registration is nothing other than evidence of the date of creation of a work. If the rewrite is really very different from the original (for example, you have included new elements), then you might want to re-register it so you have evidence of the date of creation of the new version. However (and unfortunately), most emerging writers change very little between drafts. In that case, you probably do not need to re-register.

QUESTION # 2: Steve from NYC asks:

got a question about the following statement from a previous answer:

“If they want to present your script to studios, you can give them permission to do that without an option. Let them tell you who they wish to take it to and, if you want them to submit it, give them permission to submit it. Then, once they present it, you are free to negotiate your own deal as they are free to negotiate theirs. This is a common practice in the industry; it happens every day.”

is this done without a contract? coudn’t you cut the producer out? should there be a contract saying they are the producer attached to the script and they will getting x-amount % finders fee for helping you sell the script?

Yes, it is done without a contract. Producers count on their relationship with the studio to protect them. You cannot cut the producer out because you are not in control of their deal. They introduce the script to the studio and negotiate their own deal directly with the studio. There should be no finder’s fee. Producers are paid to produce, not find.

QUESTION #3: Jeff from “Outside LA” (which means, pretty much anywhere) asks:

I have an idea for a movie in which the central plot revolves around a small handful of actors/actresses playing themselves. I have specific people in mind, but the idea works with any number of actors. I really don’t want to do the “Tad Hamilton” thing. As it is a spec script, am I shooting myself in the foot by using real actors’ names? Or will people be able to see past it and “get it?”

Yes, you will be shooting yourself in the foot. However, you are the writer. If you feel strongly about it, you should still pursue it. Just make sure the script is absolutely brilliant. If it is, it will serve many purposes for you.

QUESTION #4: Juan from Orlando asks:

My lawyer is sending a screenplay of mine to a company this week. I’ve called the company and they told me that they are excepting (sic) solicited material. So just have my lawyer send it? I am going to send my logline with the script, is there anything I should do before I give my lawyer the go ahead? For example, calling the company and telling them who I am? And that I’m sending the script? Or should I just send it in blind? Thanks for your time -Juan- I’ll let you know what happens.

Thanks, Juan. I am sorry I could not answer your question immediately. The answer is, there is no right answer. Here are some suggestions. If your attorney has industry relationships, let him or her call for you. If he does not, you can call – but be professional. You need to sound intelligent and amiable – not desperate and inexperienced.

QUESTION #5: Patrick from Portland Oregon:

Most people suggest an unsolicited screenwriter refrain from querying big Hollywood producers and concentrate on independent producers instead. But what if your screenplay is a period piece with elaborate action scenes that demand a high budget?

Query anyone you want, but make sure your query is professional, imaginative and well written. At worst, it gets tossed in the trash. On the other hand, you never know who’s attention you might attract.

Enough. Now go write….


I received this email today from Dan and thought it was something worth posting. His company has a very unothodox approach for writers. I am not endorsing his company or its approach. I do not personally know them. However, I do know of them and I can tell you they have a real company with real projects set up around town. Perhaps your story is right for this kind of approach:

Hi, there. You don’t know me but I, too, am a screenwriter. I’ve read and enjoyed your blog for a couple of months now and, first and foremost, just wanted to tell you to keep up the good work. I really enjoy your writing and the legal insight you bring to things has been invaluable. I truly look forward to every post. No where else on the web have I found a site quite like yours with as much practical knowledge and advice (and, yes, I’ve tried Artful Writer or Josh Friedman’s blog like you suggested). I (and I’m sure many others) am truly grateful that you’re doing it.

Secondly, I wanted to let you know about a topic that you and some of your readers might find interesting. No, I’m not selling Amway. 🙂 I’ve recently started working for a company called Platinum Studios ( and they’ve asked me to help them promote a program they just started up for screenwriters. Take a look at excerpt from an article below (You should also take a look at the whole article, too, as it offers some great alternative ideas about getting a screenplay seen and produced.) It’s from Script Magazine’s March issue and details things better than I ever could. You can find out a lot more about the program on our website I don’t want to go into too much detail here, as I really don’t want to bother you with this if you’re simply not interested, but if you have any questions or want to simply know more, feel free to ask.

Most importantly, though, honestly, I just wanted to take this excuse to thank you for a great blog that I’m sure speaks to a lot of us out there.

Dan Forcey
Platinum Studios, LLC

By John Scott Lewinski
Script Magazine Vol. 12, no. 2
March 2006

While so many film projects are being jump-started from magazine articles, books and especially comic books, some writers might look to translate their feature script to a more comic-friendly format.
Platinum Studios is an entertainment company with an active stake in more than 2, 500 characters that have appeared in hundreds of millions of comics in 25 languages in more than 50 countries. According to Lee Nordling, Platinum’s executive editor, the company’s library is continually expanding through its comics acquisition and publishing program.
“I feel terrible for screenwriters who have to struggle just to get an industry exec to read what they write,” Nordling said. “I also can’t imagine how many talented writers this process wastes per year. Platinum’s own unique niche in Hollywood is to adapt from comics that have been previously published or that we will be publishing (or financing for publication). Studios understand that we draw on a different talent pool than more traditional production companies, a talent pool that includes a lot of new, talented writers.
“Where this has added value for us is that if the development of an adaptation of a comic falls through, we always have the source material with which to begin a new adaptation. This is much more difficult to do when a group is developing a project as an original screenplay and the direction for that screenplay needs to change. We prefer to develop from the comics medium as we believe that gives a property a life and history in an existing marketplace and offers a potential producing partner or studio a glimpse into the original vision of the story.”
Nordling added a personal note: “I think it’s cool for writers to have a completed story for the public to read which more closely reflects their original visions than most films are able to (due to the increasingly collaborative nature of film and television). “Anybody who looks at our web site can see that we have properties set up all over town-there’s really quite a laundry list, so I recommend people check out our Platinum Studios News section on our site at”

By the way, Dan has a very interesting background himself.


Nigerian Film Market Emoruwa from Nigeria asks:

i have a script i want to sell can you buy it or tell me how to get it sold?

Similarly, Devin from Cleveland asks:

Now that I’ve written my very first spec script, I’m stuck wondering, “Where do I go from here?” I don’t really know anyone in the industry, per se (although I did go to college and was brief acquaintances with Jennifer Garner back in the early 1990s). Being a web developer in Cleveland won’t help my chances any of reaching her. I recently paid $40 and submitted a PDF-version of my script to Final Draft’s “Big Break” contest… so I feel that was probably a good move (although it will take months to hear anything about it).

I’ve read countless books about screenwriting and selling scripts, none of which seem to agree on much (so I’m basically left twisting in the wind). What do you suggest? My end-goal is to have it read by industry professionals and get an honest assessment of it, as it stands. If it’s any good, I would like to promote it and if monkeys learn to fly – get it produced into a feature! Yeah, right!

I’ve written elsewhere on the blog about some of the things out-of-towners can do to get scripts read by mainstream Hollywood and I leave it to you to fish around for it. I want to focus on one aspect of both questions. Writing a script and sitting on it until you get an introduction to Hollywood is a mistake. It may never happen. On the other hand, if you know what a screenplay is, chances are you live in an area with a local filmmaking community. Connecting with your local filmmaking community is important to your success as a screenwriter. These are the people who can turn your script into a film or pass your script on to someone who can. These are also the people who are at least somewhat suited to evaluate your script and give you feedback.

If you happen to live in Los Angeles, your local community is the Hollywood community. However, if you live somewhere else, it is no less important to connect with your local community. Many writers’ first films were not produced by mainstream Hollywood. Rather, they came from local film communities, came through the festival circuit and got the writer attention. While this may be a small percentage of overall screenwriters, it is a much larger percentage of writers who broke into the business from far away places.

Both Nigeria and Cleveland have important film communities. See, for example, this article from Filmmaking magazine about Nigeria’s film community. The image above is also a link to some similar information. Cleveland also has an active film community. Just Google the name of your city and the word “filmmaking” to get started.

As for reaching Jennifer Garner, you can get contact information for the representative/agent of most SAG actors by contacting the Screen Actors Guild in Hollywood. Actors often have fan clubs with agent contact information, as well. However, you should not get attached to any one avenue for building a screenwriting career. Chances of Ms. Garner or any other actor reading your script are incredibly small. Prominent actors have scripts urged at them all day long and they usually have good systems in place to screen them from that pressure. I’m not telling you not to attempt to contact her. I am just saying that this should in no way be the cornerstone of your efforts to advance your writing career. Start with your local filmmaking community.


Beverly Hills GifPeter from Seattle writes:

Help! I just wrote my first spec script and got an option offer from a producer with [name omitted] in Vancouver — $2500 up front against $75,000 on the first day of principle photography…I checked them out and they seem legitimate (some TV, documentaries, and two mid-budget feature films).

The problem is a management firm in Beverly Hills also expressed interest in representing the script, but they concentrate entirely on selling the script, and obviously wouldn’t be interested if I signed away the option.

Both parties seem very sharp, and have called several times and talked in depth about the script and their interest….

So. I’m a first-time spec writer. Do I take the (partial) bird in the hand, with the option, go with the management firm with the ritzy address, or just go out and shoot myself?

Congratulations. These are high-class problems. Definitely do not shoot yourself. Here are some things you should understand before you make a decision.

1. Managers do not represent scripts; they represent writers and help to build careers. You should talk to this management company about the offer on the script and ask them (a) whether they think you should take it, (b) whether they still want to manage you if you decide to option the script to these producers, and (c) how they plan to help you if you pass on the option.

2. The fact that the address of the manager is in Beverly Hills is not an automatic green light. There are both good and bad managers in Beverly Hills. You should check out the reputation of the manager just as you did the production company. A competent, committed manager is very valuable. An uncommitted one is just baggage you don’t need.

3. A good script in play can be important for you irrespective of whether it ultimately sells. If you circulate a good spec via a respected manager, you are likely to make many contacts and have an opportunity to meet many producers based upon their read of your script. (Of course, you will need to be available for meetings. Living in Seattle adds a complication, but not an insurmountable one.) Successful writers build a fan base among production executives and use that fan base to generate assignments and sell pitches.

4. The other side of the coin is that if the production company actually produces your script, a produced successful picture on which you are the credited writer will do a great deal for you. However, most optioned scripts do not get produced (by about 500 or more to 1) and, while I am not well-versed in Canadian Writers Guild rules, in the U.S., the first writer often does not get the credit on the final script. Also, it normally takes years for a film to go from spec script to produced picture.

5. The least valuable part of the equation is the $2500. While it is an important indication of legitimate interest from the producer, unless you happen to need the money for an operation, you should focus on which alternative will advance your career the most. Assembling a strong team to promote you is always very valuable. Optioning your script may or may not be valuable.

There is no right answer to your dilemma. Nevertheless, I hope this helps.


Champion GifAs a screenwriter, you like to work inside your head. That’s where you’re the most comfortable. It’s where the creative process ferments. You often see your task as effectively getting onto paper what you develop inside your head.

Unfortunately, that is only half of your task. And just as you must master that half of the task to be appealing to those who would hire you, so to you must master the other half of your task – getting in front of those who would hire you. How do you master this latter half of the task?

You enroll champions. Champions are those people who believe in you as a writer and will work to promote you. They are not limited to agents and managers – who sometimes make you believe they are champions when, in fact, they may not be. Champions are also producers, development execs, assistants to development execs, Hollywood readers, receptionists, mailroom jockeys at the studios and agencies, writing professors, anyone who, if motivated, can get your script into qualified hands. The producer/studio side of Hollywood moves surprisingly fast – today’s receptionist is tomorrow’s president of production for Universal. No one is too low on the totem poll to be your champion.

If you are overlooking the task of enrolling champions, you are not doing your job. It is no excuse that you live in Iowa. It is no excuse that you don’t know who to call. You have a cell phone, don’t you? You will not even have to pay the long distance charge.

So how do you enroll champions? By being a human being. Pick out your favorite production company, call the receptionist, tell him or her who you are and what you are up to. Ask him or her who at the company might be willing to look at your script and tell you what they think of it. If the receptionist does not know, find out if the receptionist is working his or her way up. If so, ask the receptionist to read your script. You would not be the first person in Hollywood to get a break because a receptionist mentions to her boss that she is reading a mind-blowingly awesome script. That’s how people move up in Hollywood; they find good material and bring it to their superiors. You, with your cell phone and your internet (to research the companies), can begin enrolling champions today, right now.

The key to enrolling champions is to be normal, intelligent, professional, and friendly. You may make many calls without success before enrolling your first champion, but you will enroll them. Do not be dejected by the ones you do not enroll – and by all means do not alienate people who are not interested. They may well be interested tomorrow or, worse, remember you when they can hurt your career. People in the industry want what you want – they want to work with nice people who can do their job well. That’s all you need to convey in a conversation to begin enrolling champions. And the way to convey it is by being it – not by saying it.

So, now that you know what it takes, don’t complain. Just do it.

Go enroll champions….