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In the film industry, an option is a contractual agreement between a movie studio, a production company, or a film producer and a writer, in which the producer obtains the right to buy a screenplay from the writer, before a certain date.

In the same way, producers can obtain options to write screenplays based on books, articles, video games, songs, or any other conceivable works of authorship. The term is often used as a verb in Hollywoodmarker: "Paramount optioned the short story by Philip K. Dick."

Financially, the contract qualifies as a real option and is thus very similar to other types of options.

Film options

When a screenplay is optioned, the producer has not actually purchased the right to use the screenplay; he has simply purchased the "exclusive right" to purchase the screenplay at some point in the future, if he is successful in setting up a deal to actually film a movie based on the screenplay.

This is usually a slow process in which a "package" of sorts is created. During this time, the producer must:
  1. Get the screenplay written (if the option was on a book or other work, and not a screenplay)
  2. Obtain informal agreements with the director, the principal actors, and the financiers
  3. Take it to a studio who can provide distribution and more financing
  4. Finally, polish the screenplay to suit all participants — the exclusivity of the option allows this step without risk of a rival attempt to produce the same property


If this goes wrong, it may lead to development hell. If all this tentative planning falls into place, then actual agreements are signed, the producer obtains money to start operations, the option is exercised with part of this money, and the producer actually buys the screenplay from the writer.

Exclusivity

Film options are exclusive, usually for an initial period of 12-18 months. After the expiry date, the producer no longer has an exclusive right to buy the screenplay, and the writer can option it to a different producer. Most option agreements specify the prices of additional extensions (most commonly one extension, also for 12-18 months), should the producer be unable to put the movie together in the originally specified term, and choose to extend. The fee for the first option period is normally applicable to the option exercise price, while the fee for the extension (if exercised) typically is not applicable, though that is not always the case.

Options in Hollywood

Options are not expensive by the standards of Hollywood movies. For True Romance, Quentin Tarantino received US$50,000 to option his script. Many writers are happy to receive a few thousand dollars. Option contracts typically do specify the eventual cost of the screenplay, if the producer does end up exercising the option.

Since optioning a screenplay is far cheaper than buying it, options are very popular in Hollywood for speculative projects.

Theatrical options

The above rules generally also apply to the option contract for a completed play between playwrights and theatrical producers. However, one significant difference is that the playwright may refuse to allow their product to be changed in any way without his or her consent and involvement.

The option will provide for the provisions triggered by the purchase of the play when the producer has put his investors and money together. Occasionally, a play will be commissioned by a producing organization, and in that case the writer will not be working "on spec", and the notion of an option will not arise.

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