What is a screenplay option? Is a common question.
The best way of thinking about a script option is that someone is renting your script. You are giving someone the “Option” to purchase the script in the future.
Why not just buy the script?
A film is a product of a hundred moving parts. A producer has to pull all those parts together to get a film made. A producer will not want to own a script if they can’t all the part together, they wont want to own a script that they can’t get made.
There is no set price for an option. It is really up to the writer to figure out what they will accept. An option will have more than just a price, it will have a number factors. (You can get a option document and explanation here.)
Options are always exclusive.
I had a writer say that no one was willing to take an open option on his script. Technically there is no such things as an open option if you look at what an open option would be. An open option would be the right for the person holding to the option to purchase the script off you, while you (the writer) can sell the script to anyone else that makes you an offer. So what advantage does the option holder have that the person the person doesn’t have? Nothing. So therefore the open option isn’t a real thing.
The entire reason an option exists is to provide security and assurance to the parties involved. A producer/director isn’t going to spend time, let alone money, pulling a deal together if someone else is doing the same thing. They need to know that the time and money they are spending isn’t going to be wasted.
Options don’t always result in a sale. More often than not a producer will not be able to get the money needed and the option will expire. But an option is a confirmation that your story has merit. So not only do you get some money, some recognition, but you also get s small ego boost.
So in a nutshell an option is like someone renting your script from you. Just like renting your house, you can’t rent it to two people at the same time. No one is paying good money to share a bathroom and a bed with someone they didn’t intend.
We have a details of what should be in a screenplay option. It is important to know as much as possible before signing an option.