I’ve been lurking around the web, seeing what other bloggers have to say about free options. Most of them think they’re a terrible idea. And I absolutely agree. Usually. Here’s a really good post on the pros and cons by Larry Zerner: http://zernerlaw.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/should-you-give-a-producer-a-free-option-on-your-script/
Across the board, the main argument against a free option is that a producer has no incentive to sell or produce your work if he or she hasn’t put any money into it. Once they’ve sunk even a few hundred dollars into the option, they’re more likely to hustle a bit, if only to recoup their costs.
There’s only one problem: I have worked with a lot of producers who *have* paid me for my work and still don’t set the project up. While a free option provides no incentive, a paid option is no guarantee that the producer is worth his salt. What to do?
First of all, I make a lot of mistakes.
Second – once I’ve recovered – I try to pitch my material primarily to producers I like and respect. That does help. Pitching also keeps the amount of free work down to a minimum.
Third, I’ve found that keeping the terms of the option reasonable is key. I like 6 months, with the option to renew for 6 more if someone’s biting, although other writers prefer shorter terms. Producers invariably want longer terms, and honestly I understand that, especially in TV. There are no hard and fast rules.
And you know what? I still give out free options, usually to friends. I’m about to give away a short, for instance, just for credit. Why do I do this?
Possibly because I’m an idiot.
But also because these are people I love, people I’m excited to work with, people who energize me just by being in the same room with them. People I believe are going to succeed at making movies – and I want some of them to be my movies.
How about you? Anyone have a good (or horribly bad!) free option story to share?