June 12

TO SELL OR NOT TO SELL….

Vincent from USA asks:

Ok, so I am in a weird place right now. We (co-writer and myself) had a spec go wide a few months ago. Lots of meetings, no offers. We were approached by a good size producer, with several film credits of substantial size, who is moving into tv more and more. He has 2 new shows coming out this fall.

So, he is interested in adapting out script for tv, however not necessarily with us onboard. At first we said, NO WAY. But, the more we think about it, we’re both at a point in our careers where the “BREAK” has not yet come, and therefore we’re living very much day-to-day.

My agent suggests he wants us to sell the rights/pitch to someone and have them write the pilot. By someone I’m assuming a network? Anyway, what I’m wondering is IF we sell the rights for someone to bring to life for a tv series or at least a pilot, what kind of money is that?

Selling what essentially would probably be a pitch for tv. At this point we hate to do it, but really see the freedom a little money would give us to move a few other things forward.

I’m not quite clear on the question, so I’m going to state some assumptions on my part. As I understand it, a highly qualified producer wants to adapt your feature script into a television pitch but does not want you involved beyond selling the initial idea. Your agent suggests that you sell the rights to someone to write the pilot.

From your scenario, it’s hard to tell whether you are selling anything at this point, or whether a producer and your agent are just asking permission to present ideas to others for possible exploitation as a TV show. You need to clarify what is actually on the table. The important part of this process is always to pin down what is real and what is just an aspiration of the people that want a piece of your creativity, often for nothing up front. There is nothing wrong with deciding to let them have a piece as long as you know what is really happening and decide that’s what you want to do.

Here are some questions you should answer before you make a decision:

1. Is the highly qualified producer willing to pay you now to develop your script or does he intend to develop it and pay you only if it gets picked up?
2. Why are you assuming the “someone” is a network?
3. Are you guaranteed credit for being the concept creator?
4. At what points in the process do you get paid? When does the first money come into your pocket and what has to happen for that money to be real?
5. What kind of money can you expect?
6. At what point in the process does the amount of promise of money get reduced to a written agreement?

You will think of other questions, too. Anytime people are throwing around concepts you don’t fully understand, make your agent explain them. Don’t be intimidated into thinking you should know so it is dumb to ask. You are a writer, not a producer, and, especially in television, you may not have any idea how the process works.

All that having been said, if a real sale is on the table, if you haven’t sold anything yet, selling something to mainstream Hollywood is generally a good thing for your career, especially if it puts enough money in your pocket to allow you to focus on the next writing. As far as what kind of money they are talking about, I can’t tell you. You need to clarify that with your agent. It is likely no one has any idea at this point and they just want to know whether you are open to moving forward on a TV concept without you being attached to write it. If you are only willing to do it for a lot of money, say so and work with your agent to get some clarity on what “a lot of money” means to you. You do not want producers or agents who are excited by your work to start shopping something you are really not willing to sell.

Lastly, advice (including this advice) is just advice.

Good luck and congratulations on being in the game.




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Posted June 12, 2005 by TW in category "The Business

3 COMMENTS :

  1. By alan on

    does the net effect of selling to this guy move your career forward? if you’re not getting ripped off, i would go for it. seems like this deal would separate you guys from the pack

  2. By Alex Epstein on

    If someone’s rewriting your pilot, you should at a minimum be attached to the show as staff writers. They can always rewrite you, but you get the credits and experience. They’ll have to pay you, but that’s just the cost of buying the project from you. After all, you created something, right?

  3. By TW (Post author) on

    Alex,

    Thanks for weighing in on this. For those who don’t know, Alex has a great deal more television experience than I do. (Mine is essentially non-existent; Alex’s is extensive.)

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