More Thoughts on the Value of Free

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?

 

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