1. telemachus
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    telemachus New Member

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    a question about fees for basing script on a book

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by telemachus, Jan 28, 2009.

    Hello all,

    I am a first time scriptwriter and would like some business advice. I am busy writing a screenplay based on a book and wanted to get some ideas on how much/how to pay the book's author.

    The background is as follows:

    The book was written in the mid 70's.
    The publishing company went out of business.
    The ex-owner of the publishing company says all the publishing rights are with the writer.
    The book writer is very keen for his book to be developed, and he has not written since them, he is working as a doctor.

    I would like, if possible, to offer him some percentage of the fees I get for writing in exchange for exclusivity for a few years. That way I will avoid spending money before making any! I was thinking that since the initiative is mine, and I would be selling the script as well as writing it, I should get 60% and the book writer 40%. Is that in the ball park, and is this kind of deal common/recommended or not?

    Your advice would be much appreciated!

    Thanks,
    Mark Palmos,
    UK.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's really not up to you to decide how much to pay the author!... you'll have to pay whatever he wants, if you want to adapt the book...

    that said, if he's leaving it up to you, offer him whatever percentage you wish and he can either take it or leave it... but you both have to understand and accept the cold, cruel, hard fact that you probably will never be able to sell the script, so no money may ever exist, to be divvied up...

    the fact that you've never written a screenplay doesn't put you in a good position to demand exclusivity for free, and if i were advising the good doctor, i'd tell him to charge you a hefty option fee for a year or whatever [starting at ₤5k], so he won't be out completely, if some 'real' screenwriter, or a producer should approach him and want the rights in the meantime... and stranger things have happened, so it's not out of the question that such a coincidence might pop up...

    whatever you do, get a contract in place before writing a single word... and have a literary/film industry-specializing attorney look it over [should also be drafted by one, really] before signing... study up on standard contracts and fees at www.wga.org ... but keep in mind that the fees mandated there are for pro members of the union, not unknown newbies... the uk may have a similar group... if so, go there for basic info...

    if you want any more detailed advice/info privately, or help with this, drop me an email any time...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  3. telemachus
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    telemachus New Member

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    Hello mammamia,
    Thanks for the response.

    I am not in a position to be paying £5k up front. I would like to pay a percentage of the production budget or a percentage of what I get as a scriptwriter. At least that way I am not out of pocket if the project never goes ahead.

    Someone mentioned 1-3% of the production budget, but I am not in the position to negotiate that since I will not be the producer of the film! So thats why I was suggesting 40% of what I make as a writer.

    Does that sound ok?
    Thanks again,
    Mark.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as i said, anything that you both agree on is 'ok'... it's common for author and screenwriter to split 50-50... but there's not 'rule' in effect here... it's whatever both parties can live with...

    and since there's little to no chance the script will ever be sold/produced, it would make no sense from the author's pov, to let you do it for free, counting on money to be made later... which is why any author with half a brain will expect to be paid something up front, if the writer is an unknown with no connections and next to no chance s/he'll be able to sell the script...

    what have you discussed so far with the author?... is he really willing to grant you adaptation rights for free?...

    and do you both understand that adapting a novel to the screen is much harder to do and takes more talent/skill/experience than writing an original screenplay from scratch?...
     
  5. telemachus
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    telemachus New Member

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    Hello mammamia,

    I have not spoken to the writer yet, an attorney relative of mine has spoken to him as they live in the same country.

    His book was written in 1976 or so, he is a doctor and has not written anything else... so I dont expect him to be chomping at the bit waiting to get some money from his book... I imagine any payment, even promise of payment IF something happens would be enough, but I guess I will find out when I speak to him.

    I asked this same question on the Creative Cow forum, and someone there who is in the process of writing a script based on a book suggests the author should get around 10%, not 40 as I was thinking or 50 as you suggest...

    Thanks for your input. I will ask this guy on the weekend - and then I will know!

    Cheers,
    Mark.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    10% is beyond ridiculous!... and i'd have to seriously doubt that writer actually has a contract with the author for such a silly sum... unless, of course, he paid a hefty amount up front, for the rights to adapt it, and the 10% is just the back end of the deal... which could certainly be true, as it's sometimes done that way...

    keep me posted, willya?... drop me an email, if you don't want to divulge deal details here... good luck!

    hugs, m
     

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