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Sun 17
Jul
2005

Talk to me, baby

Writing My last blog gave some people the idea that my life is all L.A. movie premieres, shooting hoops with Adam Brody, and doing coke lines off Mary-Kate Olsen’s bare stomach, but sadly it’s not. From an author’s point of view, selling film rights tends to be like this:

Agent: We’ve got a great offer from Legendary Director X!
Author: Oh, cool!

One Week Later.
Agent: Yeah, that didn’t come off.
Author: Oh, damn.

One Week Later.
Agent: We’ve got a great offer from Excellent Production Company Y! Want to take it?
Author: Sure, okay!

Toni writes:

so did you sell all of the rights to Company over to Doubleday or do you get all of the rights? I’m curious about how this whole process works…..do you get a cut of the film profits?

While Nathan, more succinctly, says:

Paramount. Nice. You must be loaded now.

First I should point out that there is no Company movie deal yet; there’s just people talking. That may or may not lead to a deal, but even if it does, it’s unlikely I will be rolling around naked in hundred-dollar bills. Well, I might be, but there wouldn’t be that many of them. Movie rights deals are structured so that they have a front end and a back end. The front end is the money the film studio pays now, which buys them an exclusive period (usually a year or two) in which to develop the film. This is called an option, and the amount paid is relatively small. Exactly how relatively small depends on whether you are, say, Dan Brown, or, say, me.

The back end is the juicy part. This can include a percentage of profits, but mainly it’s just a great big wad of cash, about an order of magnitude larger than the front end, and payable when the film goes into production—that is, when the cameras start rolling. Many, many novels are optioned but never go into production, in which case the option lapses and the author is never paid the back end. (I haven’t seen one yet.) Some authors are more than happy with this, because they get to sell the film rights all over again. (Which has happened to me once.) But this is pretty anti-climactic. I want to snuggle into a soft red movie seat and chew popcorn while a story I once dreamed up is projected in 35mm. Then I’ll shoot some hoops with Adam Brody and go see Mary-Kate about that coke.