Most screenwriters write with one singular goal in mind: selling the screenplay they’ve been toiling away on for months (if not years). But what newer writers may not know is that there’s often a step before the official sale. This is called “optioning” and can be seen as a right step on the path to seeing your work on the big screen. So, what does it mean to option a script? In this article, we’re going to go over the definition and a brief overview of what “optioning” means in today’s market. Let’s get started.


First, let’s define script optioning

What does it mean to option a script? In Hollywood, nothing could be as simple as, “I’d like to buy this, here’s some money.” Let’s break down what “optioning" is in its simplest terms.


What is a script option?

An “option” or “option agreement” is a contract between a screenwriter and a producer that essentially “rents” the rights to take the screenplay off the market as the producer attempts to develop it for film production during an agreed-upon time. If these producers fail to develop the script during this time, the rights revert back to the writer. If they succeed, the producers have the exclusive option to purchase the rights directly from the writer. “Option periods” typically last an average of 12 months.


  • Individual producers acting independently from a company
  • Movie studios like Sony, Paramount, and Disney
  • Production companies like Amblin, Blumhouse, and Lord Miller


An option is not a guaranteed sale

So, what does it mean to “option” a script in today’s market? An option can be a thrilling experience for a new screenwriter. It’s proof that your writing has an audience for commercial success. 

Though definitely worthy to be celebrated, it’s important to remember that just because a producer has “optioned” your work, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can start fantasizing about the Oscars stage. 

Options are not a guarantee to a sale. They are more of a promise that the producer will do whatever they can to get your movie made. Any number of things can happen between signing on the dotted line and having your option time run out. For example, a producer’s financing could fall through or a celebrity attached to star may suddenly have a scheduling conflict. 

When this happens and your producer fails to develop your movie during the agreed-upon time period, the rights to your script reverts back to you. Then you can continue to “shop” it around to other producers. 

“How to Sell Your Screenplay” by Script Reader Pro on YouTube


How much does a script option pay?

It could be as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars, or it could be as low as $1. The “dollar payments” are often offered to newer screenwriters and similarly, newer producers without a deep pocket of financing they can pull an upfront payment from. In these cases, the producer and screenwriter are taking a chance on each other, most likely due to a shared creative vision for making this movie a reality. 

More commonly, option prices are offered at 10% of the script’s eventual purchase price. For example, if your producer agrees to buy your script after the option lapses for a price of $250,000, your upfront “offer price” would be $25,000. 

“How Much Do Screenwriters Earn?” by YouTuber Scriptfella


What happens during a script option?

Some writers believe that after their script is optioned, the writing work is done. Right? Not quite. Depending on your “option terms," this period may include multiple revisions based on producer notes or shifts in the market. Additionally, you may be asked to attend pitch meetings with the producer and various “buyers” (distributors who can not only get your movie made, but make sure it’s seen by an audience). 

There’s also just as much of a possibility that you’ll be left out of the development process entirely as the producer provides occasional updates to you. Sometimes they'll even bring in additional writers to get a “new voice” into the material. 

“The Role of the Film Producer” by YouTuber Cooke Optics


What happens after a script option?

If your producer has failed to develop your script during the option period, the rights for the screenplay revert back to you. You may “shop” it to other producers or buyers. Sometimes producers will come back to the screenwriter with a request for an “option renewal,” which extends the option period by another 6-12 months, on average.

If your producer succeeds in making your movie, congratulations! You’re on the road to receiving your “purchase price” and seeing your film idea come alive. It’s important to remember that many producers will include clauses in the purchase contract that extend far beyond simply making your one movie.

The producer is now technically the rights holder. Therefore, they can legally spin-off, sequel, prequel or make your initial script idea into a mini-series as much as they want. Make sure you have a lawyer look over any contracts you sign to ensure you’re protected and fairly compensated. 

“How a Screenwriter Can Negotiate a Contract Without an Agent” by YouTuber Film Courage

Up Next

How to Copyright Your Script

Your screenplay is your intellectual property and it deserves to be protected. But how do you copyright it without paying out heaps of lawyers? Click on the article below to learn the easy steps for filing a copyright to ensure that your original idea is fully protected.

Up Next: Copyrighting Your Script →
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  • Julia Mayfield is a writer/comedian from North Hollywood with a Bachelor's Degree in Film Studies from Chapman University. She's written for shows airing on Disney, Netflix, Nickelodeon, Amazon, and more.

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