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The Making of a TV Show from the Ground Up, Part 2

Usually at this point in my telling the story of how a TV show gets birthed, I’m interrupted with a spate of questions…so let’s answer a few of those right now!

What’s the difference between an option deal and a shopping deal?

In a word, money. In an option deal, somebody pays to control the story rights for some period of time. Some option deals can last for up to 7 years, although most are significantly shorter than that.

There’s usually an upfront fee paid for the privilege of controlling the story rights. Then, there’s a pre-negotiated payment the author will get paid when the project sells A back-end payment is usually around 2-4% of the expected budget of the final TV/film project. There’s also usually a cap, meaning a maximum amount that the copyright holder will get paid when the project is made.

A shopping deal is always very short term and no cash changes hands. In it, the author gives a producer the exclusive right to try to put together a deal for a TV show or film, and the producer promises to attempt to make a deal happen during that time.

In a shopping deal, the author negotiates their own sales price and terms for the project once a studio shows interest in buying the project. In my case, because a lot of studios tried to buy my project, I was able to get paid more than I would have if I had signed an option deal and agreed to a flat price upfront.

Is one type of deal better than another?

There and pros and cons to each, and a good TV/film agent can talk you through those. The reality is practically no book-to-movie deals ever end up with a movie getting made. It might be better to take the option money upfront. But, if you’re convinced your project has a real chance of getting made, you might want to consider doing a shopping deal.

How many projects that get optioned end up getting sold to studios and made?

The current number is about 1.77% of optioned books ever get made into films or TV shows.

Here are a few other interesting statistics:

  • 85% of movies are made from books
  • In 2006, 50 books were made into movies. But by 2014, that number had dropped to 12 books that got made into movies that year.
  • In 2022, 26 books were being made into movies (not all of them are finished or in production yet)

How expensive is it to make a TV show or film?

It can be VERY expensive! Individual episodes of a big TV show can cost millions of dollars to make.  Of course, it’s possible to film some types of television on much lower budgets. The same goes for movies. A very small-budget movie might cost a few hundred thousand dollars, and the big ones can run into many hundreds of millions of dollars to make.

How much money do writers make in TV/film?

Before I answer this, I must explain what a non-disclosure agreement is. It’s a clause in contracts that forbids the people who sign the contract from revealing the contents of the agreement. NDAs usually include serious threats of legal action if the clause is breached, meaning it’s disobeyed.

Almost all writers have to sign NDAs as part of their TV/film contracts, so none of us can tell you exactly how much we make. But I can tell you that for small productions, an author might make about the same money they would make in a good print publishing contract. At the top end of the industry, writers can make millions of dollars on a single project.

A TV show option on a book might make in the $25,000 to $50,000 range. At the top end, it could be a LOT more than that. For a small movie, the screenwriter (who is usually the author because micro-budget films can’t afford to pay for adaptations) might make $15,000 to $30,000. At the top end of the film industry, the author might make upwards of a million dollars. The screenwriter—the person who wrote the script—could make several times that much.

In my next post, I’ll talk about what it is that producers and studios are actually looking for in projects.

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