This is a followup to my previous question about obtaining short story screen rights…

I recently contacted a publisher to get motion picture rights for a 40-year-old short story. The publisher wrote back requesting a financial and creative proposal for the rights.

What exactly needs to be addressed in this proposal? Or should it be two separate proposals? Or does this look like a job for a legal professional?

I’m very excited (and completely nervous) about this, especially since it’s a story I’ve thought about adapting for the screen for the past 9 years.

Alan from Norfolk VA

Thanks for following up with your progress since last time and congratulations on getting someone’s attention. There is no standard proposal and you should not need a legal professional to prepare it. There is also no right answer to what you should include in your proposal. I imagine the agent wants to know how much money you are proposing or, if you want some rights without money, why you should have them and how the agent’s client will eventually get paid.

In the past when I have sought rights to material, I have sold myself rather than offering a lot of money (mostly because I didn’t have the money and I had some interesting industry credentials). I have, over the years, secured some quality material that way. However, when I was required to deal strictly with an agent, I was not as effective because agents usually focus on the money. Nevertheless, if you have some special credentials that make you the right person to exploit the property, share that with the agent. If the author is still living, he may see whatever you submit to the agent, so keep that in mind. The less special your credentials, the more money you will need to offer.

If you have no real credentials and limited money, you may want to propose that the agent’s client option the material to you for, say, $1,000 a year for up to five years. The real difficulty is to arrive at the price for exercising the option. Do not pick a number that is unrealistically high or it will prevent you from ever selling your script. You are not the one paying this bill; a producer or studio is. That having been said, what is a good number? It is hard to tell.

One approach I have tried is to agree to split all money obtained for story rights and screenplay rights by percentage, but I have the power to negotiate the price. For example, a split of 20% to story rights holder and 80% to you. That means if, at the time you sell your script, you negotiate a fee of $35,000 for the story rights and a fee of $200,000 for your spec script, you would add the two sums together for a total of $235,000, 20% of which would be paid to the author ($47,000) and 80% of which would be paid to you ($188,000). You might come up with a different formula or idea to interest the agent.

Since the agent requested, you also need to respond to the creative side of the proposal. However, at this point, you have no idea who you are selling to or what the rights holder’s interest is. Anything you say, no matter how brilliant, is as likely to kill the deal as make it. Before submitting a formal proposal, you might want to get on the phone to the agent and find out who actually holds the rights (for example, is the author still alive), and what the rights-holder is looking for.

Good luck and keep us posted.


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