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A Brief Explanation of Film Options

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There seems to be a lot of confusion around how books become movies - which is understandable, because it can be REALLY confusing. I get emails and tweets every so often from readers saying something along the lines of:

"OMG, you should totally turn this into a movie!"

Oh, if only authors had that power. Sadly, though, that isn't exactly how it works. In 2009 the film rights to my debut novel THE DUFF were optioned. Instantly I got a lot of emails and tweets that read something like this:

"OMG! So when is the movie coming out? Who are they casting?"

But that's not how it works, either.

When a film is "optioned" there is no guarantee it'll be made. Basically, an "option" is just that - a studio or producer or director or whatever buys the option to make the film. In other words, they pay a certain amount of money (it can range from a tiny amount to a ton of money - usually it's tiny, though) to ensure that they and only they have the right to make the film for a certain amount of time. If they haven't made the film by the time the option expires, they can either re-option or lose the rights.

Now you're probably wondering about that "tiny" amount of money for the option and thinking, "But I thought authors get paid a lot when their books become movies." While " a lot" is relative and amounts vary, most authors do get paid more once the film goes into production. Which may happen right away or . . . never.

I know. It's kind of complicated, but that's show biz!

Now, I'm going to go watch the Hunger Games Trailer again. For the millionth time. Let's hope some more kick-ass YA books like this get optioned! And then turned into kick-ass films!
Kody Keplilnger

Kody is the NYT bestselling author of The DUFF, Shut Out, and A Midsummer's Nightmare, all from Little Brown/Poppy, as well as Lying Out Loud, Run, and the middle grade novel The Swift Boys and Me, from Scholastic. Born and raised in Kentucky, she now lives in NYC.

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9 comments:

  1. Thanks, Kody--that was a very clear and helpful explanation.

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  2. There's a lot of excitement generated when the word "film" gets involved.

    Thanks for the explanation.

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  3. It's still exciting, just to generate that interest, isn't it?

    I was asked to write a screenplay to go along with my film option. I wasn't sure I could do it, but eight drafts later, I can call myself a screenwriter!

    An unpublished screenwriter, of course. Or is that unfilmed? Sounds better to say "optioned."

    Have you thought about writing yours as a screenplay ... dreamed about it ... fantasized ...? :D

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  4. Thanks for explaining that. How cool would it be to have your book made into a movie.

    It would be a total dream come true for me. I think my Time Spirit Trilogy would make totally kick ass movies.... now for a producer to discover them :)

    Thanks for the great post!

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  5. If I publish my current project, I'll probably not have it made into a movie.

    I think it's more suitable for an animation series--on either side of the Pacific. I wonder what's the process for that?

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  6. I find it interesting, the interaction between the buyer and the buyee (the author). Did you have any say in the movie rights to your book, or did your publishing company deal with all of that? I work for a screenwriter who he, himself, has bought manga/book rights, and sometimes there are long negotiations between the author and the buyer due to the adaption process. Was the process long for you? And does your buyer keep you updated on the status of your property?

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  7. I went through this, but backwards. I had a screenplay optioned then the producer sold the novel rights. Suddenly I was a novelist!

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  8. chihuahua - I'm actually not sure. I'd assume the process would be similar (TV works similarly) but I can't say for certain.

    Ashley - Thats a hard question because it may be different for everyone. In my case, my agent kept film rights, so my agency sold the rights to Vast Entertainment. I don't remember how long it took (I was in the middle of editing a novel, which consumed me) and I wasn't that "involved." I didn't really want to be, honestly. I didn't (and still don't) know much about hte movie business and figure its best left in the hands of those who know better while i write books. Now, will I always feel that way? Maybe not. And many authors don't. I"m hands off and am fine with it. Others may want to be involved - whether they are or not depends on a lot of factors. But heck, Suzanne Collins wrote her screenplay for THE HUNGER GAMES! That just shows how much it varies from author to author.

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  9. I hope they get on that adaptation of The DUFF ASAP!

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Item Reviewed: A Brief Explanation of Film Options Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kody Keplinger