Screenwriting : The Dollar Option: What Are the Pros and Cons? by Whitney L

Whitney L

The Dollar Option: What Are the Pros and Cons?

Hey guys!

What are your thoughts on the "dollar option" in Hollywood? Do you think that any good can come out of those deals for emerging filmmakers? What are the pros and cons of those types of deals?

Dan Guardino

The pro for the screenwriter is they made a whole dollar and that will probably all they will ever see. The pro for the filmmaker is they tied up someone's screenplay for a dollar and can use the screenplay to try and raise development money and production money. In most cases they will fail to raise the money.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

Dollar options are very commonplace because most indie type producers can't afford to hand writers a check for 10 grand. If you sign one, try to limit the person shopping your script to one year. Or do a six month shopping deal to limit the time someone can tie up your material. Also don't sign with anyone that hasn't any legitimate film credits. I stick with people that have worked with actors I'm familiar with instead of complete unknowns. I cover this topic at length in this Stage 32 blog.

Kay Luke

The days of five figure option checks are gone, bu anybody who can't come up with a lousy $100 for a short term option is nobody to get involved with.

Craig D Griffiths

A $1 is more like a handshake. You are just giving someone security that you will not sell it from under them for a set period of time.

The reason for the $1 is that there has to be “consideration given”, meaning something of value for a contract to the executed. Otherwise it is just an agreement and an agreement holds less weight in court. Plus a contract can enforce. Penalties which may be harder to enforce in an agreement.

Dan Guardino

Philip. I am not positive but I believe a write to shop only allows them to shop your screenplay not take it off the market.

Doug Nelson

Sad to say, but our nice little option cottage industry has long since shriveled up. To the OPs question about 'any good ' coming from a $1.00 option... I suppose it could, but I highly doubt it. (Kinda like playing the lottery.)

Whitney L

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I think this is a great discussion. Are we living in an era where now the only way to get a film made is if it's about a comic book character? What's happening with "mid-tier" types of films? Are they extinct? If the option industry has shriveled up, what does that mean for screenwriters these days? Should I stop everything and start writing a comic book character story instead of what I'm working on now? Interesting times we're living in....

Doug Nelson

Keep the faith Whitney. Those 'good old days' (which weren't that great) are gone, that's true. The old entrenched filmmaking industry has become only a shadow of its former self but a new democratized independent filmmaking industry is struggling through its infancy. The old studios are striving to stay alive by making profit driven popcorn movies now. Those 'mid-tier' films as you call them will likely return as the Independent Filmmaking Industry matures. It probably will take some time for the cream to rise to the top but I'm confident that it will - so, hang in there Whitney.

Whitney L

Thanks, Doug. It will be interesting to see what the future brings. I have heard that Indie filmmaking can be just as competitive, so I'll be interested in what develops as the years go on. I wonder what will happen.

Bill Costantini

OMG....somebody really needs a reality check. Doug, you really need to get out of the forest once in a while and go see a film. "A shadow of its former self." Wow. LOL.

I could easily list 100 great films that have been released in the last year alone. I've done it here before for you at least a few times, but I doubt that will have any impact this time either.. "A shadow of its former self." Wow. Unbelievable.

“Film is the most important art and it has the power to change the universe.”— Milos Stehlik

REST IN PEACE, MILOS STEHLIK (February 6, 1949 - July 6, 2019)

Doug Nelson

Bill - just get over it.

Bill Costantini

Doug: I am really shocked that a guy (or anyone else) who calls himself everything that you call yourself on your profile would have that type of attitude. Just from diversity and equality standpoints, cinema has never been as expansive and inclusive as it is today. And from subject matter representation and global film making perspectives, to annual production outputs, distribution channels and technology advances, it's even greater. And from a year-in/year-out summary, more great films get made in every successive year.

I am just trying to help you. There is nothing personal in my defense of cinema or its service industries whenever I reply to those who have opinions similar to yours. I hope you will take some time to realize all of this, catch up a bit, and change your attitude. And if not, so be it. (But I really hope you do.)

“Film is the most important art and it has the power to change the universe.”— Milos Stehlik

REST IN PEACE, MILOS STEHLIK (February 6, 1949 - July 6, 2019)

Dan MaxXx

So what do "comic book movies and mid tier" budget films have to do with $1 options?

There are plenty of indie films made every year. Visit film festivals like SXSW, TIFF, Tribeca, Sundance.

Whitney L


There seems to be a trend where films that are "in the middle" with their budget don't seem to get made as much as the big tentpoles or the indie festival type of movies. I think the point was that there seems to be a disappearance of the middle ground. This matters to filmmakers because if you are trying to make a film that's not a big tentpole type of movie or a film festival type of film, is anyone going to want to produce your film? Distribute it? Market it? That's definitely something serious filmmakers should be aware of.

Dan MaxXx

People are gonna back filmmakers who separate themselves from the field. Best of the best of next generation: Ari Aster, Barry Jenkins, Chloe Zhao, Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, Damien Chazelle, Aneesh Chaganty.

$1 options in Hollywood. Sure, there are success stories - two unknown screenwriters of “Blackkklansman” , they got the movie rights for $1, won an Oscar.

Kay Luke

Whitney Larkins – it’s more complicated than that. A lot more. I’m just really learning the details, but it’s something like this:

Because of the proliferation of viewing platforms, pre-sale of distribution rights has skewed the Studio Financing System. The whole Finance-Distribution System is in flux.

In other words, there’s a lot of money up for grabs out there. It’s possible to finance a $30,000,000 picture without the Studio System these days, so the Studios stepped back into the role of distributor for those projects. A $30,000,000 movie needs $30,000,000 in advertising, and that’s the Studio’s mid-level contribution. On the high end, the advertising budget for the new tent pole Spiderman movie is—hold on to something!— $288,000,000!

Anyway, the result is that small independent production companies (as opposed to “indies”) are joining forces to produce those mid range films and selling them outright to distributors (sometimes outside the Studio Distribution System, so we’re not as aware of them).

We make a $30,000,000 movie, sell it for $31,000,000, we profited a million bucks plus our Producing Fee, and do it again.

And then the movie does $150,000,000 in BO, which means maybe $70,000,000 in distribution fees collected and the whole deal cost the studio $61 million and it made a $9 million dollar profit for advertising and distribution, no pain in the ass production needed. Or maybe Netflix buys it and it never hits theaters. Either way, the mid-range market is thriving, it's just spread out all over the place.

There’s just so much going on, it’s hard to assess what lies ahead.

Doug Nelson

Yeah Kay, it's a very complicated/convoluted process indeed. There is a lot of Pixie dust floating around in the Accounting Department. Often films that are tagged a loss actually make a few bucks,

Bill C. Thanx for your support.

Whitney L

Kay- I've often wondered what is going on with the DVD market. Although lots and lots of people exclusively use streaming, I think there are still a lot of people that buy DVDs. I wonder if the above the line folks make more money from DVD sales/residuals than from streaming. Is it true that Netflix doesn't release their streaming data and there's no way to know the real numbers? If I'm not mistaken, I think there's less money made by the writers for shows that are put on streaming platforms than those that get a theatrical release or something that goes "direct to video." Please feel free to correct me on this as this is quite a complicated situation.

As far as the other point you've made, I've been hearing for a while that a lot of writers are leaving feature film behind and going into TV because of how there's more money in TV and that film is dominated by the tentpoles. (I'm not saying this is 100 percent accurate, just saying it's what I've been told).

As writers, are we better off to try to push for something to get a theatrical release or streaming?

Doug- Is what you're speaking of the ol' "Hollywood Accounting" stuff?

Scott Sawitz

Instead of a dollar option you can go with a shopping agreement, if they don't want to pay you a proper option fee. Just make sure any option doesn't have deferred money without an expectation of when the money will be paid and in what order (with deferred money it could be a Producer is first dollar paid on deferral, et al).

It's something a good entertainment lawyer can negotiate on your behalf if and when you get there.

Whitney L

Scott- Thanks for your post. Is it possible to get paid and have a shopping agreement? I wonder if you can have an agreement where you're credited as a writer and as a producer. Maybe that would be in a writer's best interest to negotiate that.

Seems like there's a fine line between being desperate and negotiating good terms for yourself. I suppose if you take the bare minimum from the very beginning, you won't be able to negotiate better terms for yourself down the line because you're already starting off "desperate" more or less.

Kay Luke

Whitney -- Generally, DVD rights and streaming rights are sold separately, and the Producers will sell the rights on any particular media separately, and, though rarely, sometimes the rights to "all media, known and unknown, throughout the Universe." So as a Writer, don't even worry about it.

Honestly, I would sell the 8-track rights to a project if somebody wanted to buy them.

A theater release only has to recoup production and advertising cost theses days and the film will make a profit in DVD and Streaming, so it's still the thing to hope for.

As for Netflix ratings, they're tough to figure out, so secret isn't exactly right. They don't want misinterpretations. Consider Star Trek.

1,000 trekkies watch 3 episodes a day. Is that 3,000 views? Yes. 3,000 Viewers? No. And the average TV viewer watches Broadcast TV with friends or family. Trekkies watch alone or with anybody they can get to sit down. How do we know the average number of people in the room?

A real life example is that Star Trek Discovery gets about 9 million streaming views an episode over a 30 day period while The Orville gets 3 million views when it's broadcast once a week, and then is watched 6 million more times via streaming. So how many different people are watching those shows and how many are watching them for the 2nd, or 3rd, or, being Star Trek, 6th time?

It gets dumbed down for the media, but ratings are really complex.

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