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3 June 2016 ·

When Hollywood comes knocking: Part 1

It may sound like a dream come true – but don’t quit the day job
So, someone is asking for the film rights to your novel. But what happens next?
By all means, crack the champagne – but then, take a deep breath. Who is asking and exactly what are they offering?
Can a letter like this change your life?
Taking this
A freelance producer or screenwriter may request the exclusive right to pitch the book for a specified amount of time. That’s what I initially signed for Nim’s Island. There was no fee but producer Paula Mazur’s vision coincided with mine, and I believed in her commitment to the project. I’ve signed eight other such agreements: one became the film Return to  Nim’s Island; one eventually progressed to script development for a TV series, paying a total of $3000 before cancellation. The others went nowhere and paid nothing. 
What the independent producer is pitching is an option: a contract giving a company the right to create a film from your book. There should be a fixed time period – they’re leasing the rights, with an option to buy. The option price is likely to be 10% of the purchase price, with the balance paid when filming starts.  But the only three things an author absolutely needs to know first are:
        1) This is still a very long way from a film.  I haven’t been able to find a figure on how many film options eventually develop into films, but the percentage is small. Very small. It’s a bit like being given a lottery ticket. 
to this
        2)  You need a specialist film/media lawyer before you agree to anything. As a VP at Fox said to me when Nim’s Island’s green light looked unlikely, ‘Just remember: some films do get made.’ You want to be sure that if yours goes ahead, you have no regrets about your contract. If it’s a Hollywood deal, get a Hollywood lawyer. Don’t be shy of asking questions, from how their fee structure works to every part of the contract. Never take anything for granted: if you want to go to the red carpet premiere, ask for it to be put in your contract.

         3) In signing the option you are handing over control – discuss their vision first. (eg I was warned that the budget would mean radical changes to Nim at Sea; that respect gave me confidence to sign.) If they take up the option to buy and produce it, your opinion will have no more legal weight than when you sell a house and hate the new owner’s renovations. 
This is an edited excerpt from an article first published in the SCBWI journal in 2013. These thoughts are drawn from my own experiences and are not legal advice. 
Subscribe or tune in next next week and I’ll post on the next step. 
On our 5 year journey: Wendy Orr & Paula Mazur


  1. Fiona Ingram Thank you for this article. I LOVED Nim's Island, and no, not just because it had Gerard Butler and an assortment of enchanting animals - what a fantastic story it is. I have had a few nibbles for my MG book series, no firm bites, but someone in LA is VERY keen, so holding thumbs. I know it takes forever to get a book to a movie, and even then the percentage that makes it is very small. But this is a lovely article explaining things and I'm looking forward to the next step.
    June 3, 2016 at 9:50 pm · Reply
  2. Wendy Orr Oh, good luck! It's exciting even if nothing happens, just knowing that someone is willing to spend so much of their lives working with your story. I hope to hear more...
    June 3, 2016 at 9:52 pm · Reply
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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio