If you want to acquire film rights to someone's published work to develop a script, you must assure the studio that would produce the film that the property is free and clear. Protect yourself legally.
Step 1: Research and network Read books, articles, and attend seminars on the subject of buying film rights. Network at film festivals with producers and writers who have already succeeded in buying film rights for a book.
Step 2: Get an attorney Get an attorney who practices entertainment law and has specific experience negotiating contracts in Hollywood, especially with securing film rights for literary material.
TIP: An option period will normally span 1 year to 18 months and should include provisions holding the purchaser accountable to actively try to sell the film property.
Step 3: Set a purchase price Negotiate a purchase price with the author even if only paying an option fee for the temporary exclusive right to create and sell the script, based on the literary property. After this term, the rights again revert to the author.
Step 4: Insert provision Insert a clause into the purchase agreement that explicitly states the producer is under no obligation to produce the film. No studio will buy a film script based on a book without this provision.
Step 5: Provide the author royalties Provide the author in writing with standard rights to royalties for sequels, prequels, and TV series monies that might eventually result from a production of the author's work.
TIP: Though gross and net profit payments are unlikely to ever be realized in Hollywood film deals, sweeten the deal by giving the author a percentage of the profits as co-producer.
Step 6: Get it in writing Insist the author state in writing that the characters in his optioned work do not appear in any other books that might have already been purchased by another person or production company.
Step 7: Include credit for author Stipulate in the contract the right to use the name and likeness of the author to promote the film. Conform to all Writer’s Guild rules in determining how and when the author's and screenwriter's names will appear in the credits.
FACT: Humorist Art Buchwald sued Eddie Murphy and Paramount Pictures in 1988 for taking his story, which became the film Coming to America.