Peter 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.