How to Option Film Rights to a Book

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How to Option Film Rights to a Book

We’ve all been in the position before where we’ve read that really amazing book and thought to ourselves, “This would be such a good movie.” But as a film producer, it’s hard not to actually seriously consider optioning film rights to a book that you’ve fallen in love with. When you know, you know…And if you think that you’ve found the perfect book to turn into a film the next big question is. Do you know how to option film rights to a book? And more importantly, are you prepared for the task?

If you’re an independent filmmaker that only recently decided you’d like to option rights to a book? You’re almost certainly not going to look at optioning the rights to a New York Times Best Seller.

But perhaps there’s another book that’s caught your interest. And that might offer some opportunity without so much competition? Whatever it is, the first step to learning how to option film rights to a book is to decide what book you want to acquire the rights to.

Understanding Copyright Ownership

According to the U.S. Copyright Act, the author of a published book is the one that owns the rights to the work. These rights are not automatically granted to anyone other than the author unless.

Or until the author makes the decision to allow another individual or entity such as a film producer rights to the work.

This means that the first step to learning how to option film rights to a book is to find out who the original copyright owner is (the author of the book). And to begin negotiations with the author directly.

Independent Film Production

If you’re an independent film producer that doesn’t have a lot of capital to produce a film? You must consider the low capital as you consider the book you wish to option rights to. The option is going to most likely cost you money as will actually purchasing the rights.

Additionally, you’re going to need capital to actually follow through with the production. It’s very likely that the book to film option contract is going to include a clause. One that requires you to produce the film within a designated period of time.

Or else relinquish your rights back to the author so that they may sell the rights to another producer. The idea here is to not tie a book up for too long with a producer that’s not going to fulfill the actual process of producing the film from the book.

(You can see how an author would want to be sure that whomever they sell rights to actually moves forward with the production and doesn’t stall, hence the need for an “option period.”)

Do Your Homework!

Before you negotiate the final option rights with an author make sure that you’ve done your homework. It’s going to be very important that you check the U.S. Copyright Office. To ensure that the book is copyright registered to the author.

And that there are not already any other conflicting options, registrations for production, or potential liens on the book. This is important as you want to be sure that there is a clean chain of title for you to start your production with. 

Copyright Report

Ordering a Copyright Report will cost you a bit. So if you’re on a tight budget you might want to tackle this research yourself for free. As long as you’re working with a book to film deal that is relative to a book copyrighted after 1978.

You can perform your search online at the U.S. Copyright Office. Although you might not get all of the details you need.

The majority of the time any pending options, transfer of rights, or other pertinent information that you might need to know. Before you move forward with your contract should be available to you.

Acquiring the Initial Option Period

With a clean chain of title research, you’re ready to negotiate the initial option period with the author. Keep in mind that each subsequent option period will likely cost you a bit more than the first.

So you’re best off getting as extended an amount of time as possible with the first option period. Most authors will provide 18 months which should be suitable for you to determine whether you can pull together the necessary elements for production: screenwriter, financing, cast and crew.

Most likely, financing is going to be the biggest hurdle you face in this process. Just keep this in mind as you establish an initial option period that you and the book author can both agree upon. 

The Initial Option Payment

As you’re navigating how to option film rights to a book you’re going to quickly learn that there is no set rate of payment to an author for the option period. It’s possible, if the author is really interested in getting their book produced and will work with you.

That you could get the initial option period for $0 down. But this of course will depend on the author. Many authors will want to make something off the option. So a good estimate of cost is between $500 and $5,000 depending on the popularity of the book.

The initial option payment is going to apply towards the final purchase price for the book rights so just remember that whatever you pay now will be deducted later on. However, know that option extension payments are very rarely applied to the purchase price.

Therefore, it’s in your best interest to do as much as you can in regards to the preparation to produce the book now rather than having to extend the option later.

Exercising the Option & Purchasing Book Rights

In the event that you are able to allocate appropriate capital to the production and you’re able to secure a cast and crew to produce the book on film you’re going to want to prepare to exercise the option and purchase the book rights before your option period expires.

This is going to require that a contract be formed for the purchase of the book rights. Learning how to option film rights for a book is all about this one big final contract – the Rights Purchase Agreement.

In Summation

Once you’ve purchased the rights to produce the book on film it’s time to really get moving. The author will grant you various rights to the book allowing you to produce the screenplay, film, and subsequent versions of television or motion picture products.

Including remakes, sequels, and television series as well as various other products that are based on the original book. 

Although you’ll likely understand the majority of the rights that are provided in your final contract, it’s important for you to work closely with your entertainment attorney to ensure that all important aspects are covered and that you understand the arrangements being made.

Ultimately, learning how to option film rights to a book isn’t so difficult but it can be a time consuming process that requires patience, negotiations, and a lot of hard work. Just make sure you work closely with an attorney to ensure the process is handled smoothly. 

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