Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

So you want to write a script based on one of my stories?

by Rob - September 29th, 2010.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

An email I just sent:

Thank you for your latest phone call and follow-up email. I should be frank, though. Optioning film and TV rights to my works for up-front money is a major part of how I make my living. When we first spoke on the phone, you offered me as full compensation 15% or 20% of whatever the script you might write based on my work might ultimately make you, if it ever makes you anything. That’s just not how I — or other established writers — do business. You might find this blog post of mine of interest:

Film Options

If a feature is being made, I’m always looking for a six-figure purchase-price floor (regardless of the length of the source material), and it’s never tied into the scriptwriter’s fee (nor would it normally be paid by the scriptwriter; rather, the studio would pay it).

Options fees, on the other hand, are paid by whoever is interested in developing a project: an actor, a scriptwriter, a producer, or a studio. But we never do options, even for short stories, for less than four figures per year, and five figures is common for novels. So, before you invest a lot more of your time into thoughts about developing screenplays based on my work, please make sure you’re in a position to actually acquire the rights under industry-standard terms. :)

I truly wish you the best of luck!

Robert J. Sawyer online:

3 Responses to So you want to write a script based on one of my stories?

  1. This seems an especially important distinction to make in the case of science fiction, where tying up rights makes even less sense in low-budget scenarios, given the generally expensive nature of science fiction adaptations.

  2. I’d be curious to know, though, if there is any situation where you’d accept a low bid — or if you accepted one in the past, and had either a positive or negative experience — I assume that you’d be less inclined to do so since you’re now in a strong position to sell said rights, but what advice might you give a newer, less established author? It might be good fodder for a future blog post or article.

  3. I’ve never had a good experience giving a truly low-ball option. I once gave a guy an option for a dollar, and he did nothing with it; I’ve occasionally given free options, and they’ve never led to anything.

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