Screenwriting : Short "pay" by Barry John Terblanche

Barry John Terblanche

Short "pay"

A production company found interest in one of my shorts (not that short ~ 28 pagers) They wished to "option" it? I said, cool. And I sent them my option agreement to sign. They turned around and said; No, they want to own the rights to my script/plot/story. They say it's their time, effet, and money to make the movie. And they want the rights to it! I said; pay for it then... Can you believe they said to me NO on the grounds that I'm A NO ONE and they will be doing me a favour! Yeah, I get we option our shorts for exposure. but, not for free! What your thoughts on this? Regards to all.

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator

Personally I'd let just about anyone make a short I wrote for free if I felt they might do a good job with it. Unless they happened to have a huge budget and were holding back on paying simply because they looked down upon writers.

Doug Nelson

If they want to option it; that's one thing. If they want full ownership, that's not an option - it's a purchase and is based on money for script. If they want to option it for free - it may/may not be to your benefit. If you go that way - specify the option terms and keep it short (like 90 days). Make sure they are reputable.

Claude Gagne

Do you say the whole shebang? If they make the movie, you won't be mentioned as the screenwriter! You won't be making a small percentage of the movie? The producers will make everything and you're history. That's a slap in the face after they said you're a nobody. To me, I would say shove it up where the sun doesn't shine and keep your script. If it's that good, you won't have trouble later to option it. You must have one great screenplay. That's me. You are you and you may want to have your name out there, but you won't get it from them as far as I can see it. Do what is right in your books.

CJ Walley

Getting short scripts made is like an internship. You do it for the experience and connections rather than the money and exposure.

I gave shorts away for years. Most options expired. Some productions were terrible. A few were great. I learned a ton from it all which completely changed my approach to my voice and building a career. I owe a great deal to the experience and that's before even getting into how it helped me develop my storytelling craft.

Most shorts make a loss for the filmmakers and most talent is paying to show up in exchange for a free lunch so every dime you take comes out of the production. That's self defeating in my opinion unless the production is unusually high profile such as a film made for marketing purposes or to be screened on network TV.

David DeHaas

Barry... if it's that good just make it yourself... I believe in you!

Claude Gagne

If I got some money to make a trailer and shopped it around, would that be good enough for some producer to continue on the production and back me up? You know, it all boils down to money in anything we do today. A lot of talent is probably washed down the drain every year for the almighty dollar.

Joe Thayer

Many of us wind up producing/funding our own shorts. If someone is willing to fund and produce it for you that's great. Them calling you a No One is a Dick move, so if you want to send them to Hell for that, more power to you. However, wanting to sell a short is a tall order - in my opinion. Is anyone selling shorts?

CJ Walley
Dan MaxXx

Dunno. Stay home and do nothing, or have a thing made?

Joe Thayer

CJ Walley Nice, there is hope!

Derek Reid

Ah, but CJ... I have given away a short on Script Revolution so you have now been EXPOSED! - Derek Guru

Jess Waters

I agree with CJ Walley here, this is about getting the experience and quality when it comes to shorts because realistically no one's gonna make money off of short pieces. Your benefit in this situation is exposure, access to talent, and hopefully something you can throw on your IMDB. BUT if they are calling you a "no one" and want to own what you've created WITHOUT copy/credit then they probably aren't the kind of people you want to work with anyway.

Gary Floyd

If they like the movie enough to pour their time, money and resources into making it, but they don't like it enough to pay you for the rights, that sounds wonky. Sure it's not a scam?

Maddison Bullock

I agree with Gary Floyd It's so ridiculous to claim they are pouring money into the movie when there is no movie without a script (regardless if it's a short or a feature)

When producers give answers like that it reaks of unprofessionalism and also tells me that they are acting too big for their britches. Furthermore, It's a matter of respect. No reason at all they can't offer 50-100 bucks and then nicely say to you that they know it's worth more but they have a small budget and want to do your story justice so they have to put the remaining budget into production.

Your craft and your vision are worth respect! Barry John Terblanche

Cannon Rosenau

They are doing you a favor because you can now add "optioned writer" to your CV. It is very valuable. Most options don't make money these days, not like in the days of yore when there weren't as many platforms. Not as lucrative, but it is a leg up to be taken more seriously when pitching your next project.

Sorry if I repeated anything above. My contact lens is currently fuzzy so I didn't read all comments thoroughly.

William Martell

In the USA there is no real market for short films. So no money coming in, which means no money going out.

I made all of my short films out of pocket (and that was back in the film days where for 16mm you paid for raw stock, paid for a work print, paid for processing, paid for your A & B for the final cut... and then paid for copies if you wanted to send it to film festivals - a small fortune!), and I was also the entire crew, and the cast worked for credit and meals (which I paid for). I think that's basically how shorts are made in the USA today, too. Even some low budget features are made by one person with a camera and lights.

So if you write shorts in the USA, you are probably better off making them as well.

If you are outside of the USA, there are government arts programs that fund short films, so there should be some pay for the script in there.

Craig D Griffiths

And they are?

I am guessing “no one” as well. Most people that offer you an opportunity for exposure and “no bodies”. Professionals (in all industries) treat people professionally.

Barry John Terblanche

Thanks all for your comments. The point I was making, is that they wanted to OWN the script. As opposed to an option whereby I'd still own the rights to it. My 28 page script has the potential to be lengthened, and could make for a T.V film? That said, I will option said script in the hope that the short movie gets noticed by a company that will want to buy the script, to make a T.V film from it. I believe in optioning shorts for exposure. All my shorts are available for free option.

Kiril Maksimoski

As William commented above, route it to Europe producers. I know producers in France and Germany actually selling short films via their platforms. If there's money for them, sure gotta be for you.

On the length, you either compress it to standard short duration (15 pgs max) or make feature outta it. You're kinda in a middle and that can produce greatest sin of all - short film becoming boring. Even watching stuff like Die Hard for 3-4 hrs will bore audience, you get what I mean?

Barry John Terblanche

Kiril... I do get what you mean. And you so correct. This was one of those "half-way-home" scripts. I'd be appreciated if you could "hook me up" with those France and Germany producers. - My (16) shorts a freely available for option. You in my contact list, so Ill PM you.

CJ Walley

It's normal for a producer/prodco to want full ownership of a script's IP.

Firstly, if the film is going to be screened in festivals, it has to be a story that's exclusive to the participating filmmaker(s). That's stipulated in most entry requirements.

Secondly, for peace of mind, it means the producer/prodco has locked in rights to exploit the very content they've invested in making. That's just smart business sense.

This all said, I did used to option a lot of short scripts under the agreement I retained the story and character rights. Most people were fine with this given that they were getting the script for free.

Something I want to address again is this illusion that short films will get a writer exposure. This is a myth. All the attention on successful short films, like feature films, is directed onto the director and the lead actors. Writers, directors of photography, producers, etc are pretty much ignored.

You do it for the experience, as mentioned, and because it proves you're willing to be a humble artist to people you meet in the future which is very powerful.

Gary Floyd

I'm concerned this type of obeisance enables industry norms that allow people to be exploited, professionally and personally. If someone asks you to play a humble role, there ought to be a better excuse than, "I had to when I started and now it's your turn."

Barry John Terblanche

Thanks, CJ. Breaking down what you saying - Give it away for free + They own the rights + No writer exposure = Humble artist.

Bamutiire Jerry Edmund

You are lucky you met a producer willing to make a short film they did not them self write. These short films hardly have revenue models but as an upcoming produced writer, you can surrender your story rights and stay with bragging rights over the produced short. And you can always have this produced short in your portfolio when bidding for paying work like scripting adverts and music videos; it's hard to get those gigs without at least a produced short film you wrote.

Also note that both the sports and entertainment creative industries are quite the same. They have an amateur-to-professional strategy. Like a basket ball player starts out an amateur player then is later called to paying matches, so it is for actors, writers name it. Unless you went through schooling institutionalized industrial training that left you retained for work in the commercial zone. Believe that!

Johnathan Burns

TBH I write features for Option and Shorts for credit, exposure and networking. As others have said, shorts cost money, they don't make money (unless it wins comps/festivals). My recent short was a collaboration which resulted in my gaining a writing credit which, in my infant stage career is worth far more than anyone would pay. I have a rule with my writing (especially shorts) in that I don't get to attached or precious with my stories. After all, they are an expression of my creative imagination and completely fictional so if a producer imagines it differently (with the backing of industry experience), I'm always willing to be flexible. That said, it can be easier said than done so for some of my pet projects I'm less willing to Option for cold cash and more likely to bat for an E.P. deal.

Wal Friman

So the argument is that you are a no one. Here you can ask them if they would have anything against changing that? What would they say if you asked them to write "Barry John Terblanche's" above the title in the short?

Barry John Terblanche

Wal, yeah. that is the norm. The writer no matter an option or sale... His credit (name) is always listed in/on the film.

CJ Walley

Yes, humility is a superpower in this industry. It's often the deciding factor between if someone's passion lies in connecting with an audience or chasing fame and fortune.

Those willing to speculate and create for the sake of creation are long-term friendship material and thats really rare to find. That forms strongly bonded teams that go on to do big things together. Most people are just looking for a pair of shoulders to climb on and you have to be wary of that.

Same goes for doing favours. Helping someone more powerful out, especially when they aren't expecting it, pays dividends in time.

I've watched people try to play hardball for years and never get anything made. You can be that unpaid writer helping to pack the grip truck one year and that producer on a mid-budget feature the next.

There's people on this very forum I've cut out of my life because they're blatantly self-serving and there's people here who've been working on my sets because I can vouch for their good character.

Barry John Terblanche

Hi CJ Thank's again for chiming in. Your comments are always of wisdom. But, ...(quoting you) ~ same goes for doing favours. Helping someone more powerful out, especially when they aren't expecting it, pays dividends in time.

DIVIDENTS? Here I disagree. I'm not here as a screenwriter to help out any POWERFUL people that may have become so, by such. We screenwriters are always taken/treated like we owe producers, directors, something in life!? They the Gods, and we nothing... Option your script - free- we own rights - etc. NO!

Claude Gagne

Harvey Weinstein exploited his influential position to commit criminal sexual acts including rape. To me, what this producer is doing is a grave act in influencing a poor little screenwriter to get his screenplay and throw him in on the side so he can reap all the rewards. You don't have to be a Christian to realize this and in my books, this is totally wrong. The power of authority is everywhere even when it comes down to the president of the United States. Do you honestly think the producer will voluntarily go to this poor screenwriter and request another screenplay from him. I don't think so!

Dan MaxXx

why can't you make shorts yourself, hire your own people?

Wal Friman

Barry, I was thinking about how Halloween wasn't simply Halloween, but John Carpenter's Halloween. Saw a documentary where they asked how on earth he got that.

Claude Gagne

Dan MaxXx . I can, money! If someone would finance my directing, I would. Hire a crew, cast, with the help of someone (!) where we can throw out ideas. I think Canada is going somewhere with short movie-making, especially for television.

Gary Floyd

If your creativity is powerful enough, money won't stop you. I've seen someone shoot a compelling space drama from his garage using a pair of surplus soviet cosmonaut uniforms, expressive lighting and extreme close-ups. He spent maybe $120 on the whole thing.

Dan MaxXx

Claude Gagne You won't because you don't know how to. So start small, use a cell phone and practice. Look at TikTok. Regular people, young and old, are making great content with 0 money.

CJ Walley

Maybe you guys could share your self produced shorts to help inspire Claude?

Daniel Smith

You should get paid even for a short.

Debbie Croysdale

@Barry Words said to you, "You're no one" makes me sad and angry. A reflection of Google era, we live in times where brownie points are gleaned via traceable credits on websites, nothing wrong in that in itself but it's used now as general tool of judgement . Cool writers made it long before world web, Shakespeare, Chaplain, (he wrote some films) Hemingway, Polanski and even early 90's Tarantino. (gave a script to someone to give to a barber.)

Doug Nelson

CJ, I'm with you on that. I've noticed that few if any of the "filmmakers" on S32 are willing to let anyone see their films. I've offered to televise them (for free) and still no takers.

Trevor LeCain

oftentimes, a musician's debut album is the most inspired. We're all familiar with the sophomore slump, so why risk giving someone your heart and soul for nothing? There's a chance you'll never write anything as meaningful to you again. If the story is that personal to you, keep it. Find a filmmaker on the same level as you and collaborate. Film it on an iPhone. Hire first-time actors. This is the way to go. Look to Robert Rodriguez for inspiration. But if you want all the fancy lights and big names... if you want those shortcuts, you will pay the price. It honestly just depends how close the story is to your heart. If I was trying to build a resume, I would sell formulaic pieces that I'm not terribly attached to.

Tim Bragg

I guess the first thing to ask is, have you optioned anything before?

Dan Guardino

Barry. I would've told them to go to hell.

Barry John Terblanche

Tim, yeah 2 - Dan, No I politely just thanked them for their time.

Dan Guardino

Barry. That is because you are nicer than me. Anyway you probably dodged a bullet because they'd probably want you to do a bunch or rewrites for free and cut you out of a screenwriters credit. That's way they wanted all the writes to your story and your characters.

Barry John Terblanche

Possibly true? Most of us here on this site has been around the block. If anything, I'm hoping this post is read and understood by new writers to this great site. It's after all an education site... To the new guys and ladies here, even a short script is still your work and voice. Look after it! If in doubt about a scruples deal? Or you just want some advice? This is what we about here. And I'm sure I'm speaking on behalf of all members hereto.

Bamutiire Jerry Edmund

A lengthy contribution of mine over here but you won't regret having a read. Believe that! Here:-

I fathom your incident Barry John Terblanche . I agree with Maddison Bullock 's take that pay is key but I also accede to CJ Walley 's advocacy for a volunteering hand. What do I mean then? In life we can easily mistaken one as hellish because we never take time to really understand why they are offering a package some type of way. I recommend you seek to fathom why they are insisting on not paying for the rights yet they may be need them as so their ownership is required to assure any short film exhibitor or festival legal serenity with the work.

Key points to note: They may be broke but possessing the equipment to film the short and as well having supportive actor friends. And about having called you "a nobody," know that we are of different psychological personalities; whoever told you so may be the type who fears exposing their financial lack insecurity and so they naturally take it to empty braggadocios talk they may be unable to even fathom as insulting. Don't let that blind you. The way forward is understanding these people. And surrendering story rights does not mean rendering you a ghost writer. Simply fulfill your communication responsibility by asking of them to credit you as writer. And since they are unable to pay you yet you really feel attached to the story, ask them to allow you to be a script supervisor to make up for that emotional need of active involvement.

Volunteering as a means of building community is key; our entertainment industry like the sports industry has an amateur-to-professionalism climb strategy but this growth happens within a community you again and again work with; the truth is you'll have to sacrifice to break into a supportive community family. You are lucky a family is calling out to you and what best time to join in when they need you.

Tennyson Stead is one great Hollywood insider screenwriter we are privileged to have on here on Stage 32: for inspiration read these 3 Stage 32 blogs of his:

Copy: Debbie Croysdale Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator Dan MaxXx Doug Nelson Claude Gagne Johnathan Burns Joe Thayer Gary Floyd Tim Bragg Cannon Rosenau etc

PS: I think a short films anthology on DVD like a music EP or album or like a short stories book, would make a good revenue model for short film writers and producers. No one is interested in buying a single short film, even from my attempts to source one advertiser funding, a head of one of the most successful international product placement agencies told me they don't do product placements for short films probably due to their uncensored informal releases online. And a You Tube view count does not imply the short was fully watched and a placed product caught sight of.

My short stories anthology book ( has commercially reached audience consumption better than I believe any informally released short film version of any of them would. My feminist insight message was well-preached.

Above all remember; ego is a killer. I will quote Tim Fargo: "Excuses are the rocks where our dreams are crushed."

A wise man once said that wisdom calls out in the streets but you pour scorn on her, then when you need her you'll come searching but she'll hide away from you.

CJ Walley

Doug Nelson, you said it not me.

Barry John Terblanche

Hi Bamutiire. All you said... If you wrote a script like this - Eg; STAY AWAKE MARY. Check it out on my profile. Would you just give it away?

Bamutiire Jerry Edmund

Sacrifice always has to be costing on your part Barry John Terblanche but as Tennyson Stead implies, it's always worth it if it's for the good of joining and strengthening a family. Socialize with these folks who approached you, get to know one another as friends, and if they really want you to become family, go ahead give it in. In due course as Tennyson Stead and CJ Walley assert, it yields fruit. And for your case it's just one short; what of CJ Walley who has sacrificed lots and better yet Tennyson Stead who has too helped even beyond the short screenplays phenomenon? I pick lessons from Tennyson Stead's post It's not about the straight-forward business, it's about growing in a family. From me to you is that expect no perfection in any family you join; that's why they need you to strengthen them. And soon you begin together making that money you dream of.

JJ Hillard

In my case, the short I wrote (6 pages) was optioned for $1 and then eventually bought by the director/producer (for a modest 3-figure sum). All the usual film rights, except for literary (e.g., I could write a short story based on it), were transferred to the film company when I signed the agreement. The director/producer sent me their option agreement to sign. Due to Covid concerns, the project remains in pre-production status until it's safe to film. At least I get my first IMDb credit as a screenwriter! Being compen$ated for my script also takes some of the sting out of seeing changes made to it by the director and actors. And BTW, the director found my logline/script on the ISA site.

Debbie Croysdale

Good tip from @DanMax Tik Tok is generally known for "Youth" content but since the giant software company Oracle bought USA rights in late 2020, pretty soon it will be full of more adult content. I been doing numerous one on one tutorial zooms during pandemic and on two occasions, two separate industry movers reckoned "Get in early with this particular platform." Transmedia grows, changes and becomes more of a diverse universe every second.

WL Wright

If there is no consideration, there's no contract, period. There is the question, answer it according to your own perceptions and act accordingly. Good Luck all!

John Ellis

Everything CJ Walley said.

If it was me, I'd do a deep dive on the producers.

Since the film will do me no good at festivals (as CJ said, it's all about actors and directors), or, really, anywhere else, establishing a good relationship with a legit producer would be a great boon for me as a writer.

CJ Walley

The first person who ever produced a short of mine was a student at a London film school at the time (2012). She was very humble but, when I looked her up, it turned out her father was a Serbian media mogul who owned the largest soundstage in Europe. She was producing her own show in her teens. She's now moving up in the world in LA and the short she made from my script was her first proper piece of scripted filmmaking. That's a powerful connection that cost me only six pages.

Dan Guardino

Barry. A 28-page short would probably cost quite a bit to film so my guess is they intended on doing something else with it. When they asked you to give them all the rights to the story and the characters, I figured they were going to try and turn it into a pilot for TV series. Once they owned everything they can hijacking the creator and screenwriting credits and leave you out high and dry.

Next time someone says they want to option one of your screenplays tell them to write it up. It really isn’t up to you to do that. When you get their option agreement you can agree to it or counter their offer. Personally, I don’t write short screenplays because I don’t want to produce one and I really don’t want to work with people who do produce them.

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