Dealing with Movie Producers

Many new writers imagine that they’ll never have to worry about having movie producers come knocking at the door, but that’s a big mistake.

You see, by nature, movie producers are always looking for story material, and most of the time that material is created by other storytellers, either screenwriters or novelists, but sometimes short story writers. So if you have any success at all, even if you just self-publish, a producer might want to talk to you.

But there are dangers in that. You see, there are some 30,000 people who identify themselves as producers. Their job is to find good stories to make into films, then arrange for the financing, distribution of, and creation of the film. It’s a big job that requires a lot of expertise, and there are very few producers who are actually any good at it.

In fact, dealing with the wrong producer can be disastrous. Some are thieves who will try to steal your literary property.

Most producers are merely wannabes. They may not be able to find the money to finance your film, or perhaps they don’t have the chops to arrange distribution with major studios. They’ll take the rights to your work and do their best to make a film, but in the end they will fail, which costs you money due to lost opportunities. In the past year alone I’ve lost two possible sales on one project simply because the property was already under option to a producer who just couldn’t get the job done.

Other producers are called “Golden Retrievers,” and they are hired by studios to try to talk writers into selling their work for pennies on the dollar.

Then there are those producers who really do make movies and get global distribution on a regular basis. They’re as rare as diamonds.

So what do you do when a producer wants to talk about buying your rights?

  1. Find out if the producer has ever made movies before. You can go to imdb.com and look up the producer’s history in order to find out about him or her. (If you join imdb pro, you get more information.) But you can also search on the internet for news articles about the producer. If the producer doesn’t show up, he’s just a wannabe.
  2. Listen carefully to the producer. Many bullshit artists will tell you about films they’ve made where they are “uncredited” as a producer. Don’t believe them. In fact, you will want to do a careful internet search to find out if the producer has a criminal background. I personally dealt with one producer who tried to steal the rights to my books. He later embezzled millions of dollars from investors and now is apparently in hiding in Brazil.
  3. Find out how much they are willing to pay, and how long they want to option them for. If they don’t have any money, tell them goodbye. Seriously, if a vagrant told you how great your house was and wanted to live in it for free, would you do it? You’d better not. As a writer, this is how you make your living. You don’t give it away.
  4. Talk to the producer about his artistic views on your story. A good producer needs to have a strong sense of how to translate your story into another medium. Right now, a lot of producers are getting money out of China, and if they get the rights to your story, they will want to populate it with Chinese actors. Often that is fine, but will it work for your story? You really might need to talk about things like, who will direct it? Who will star in it? Where will it be filmed? and so on. If the producer only wants to talk about how much money you’ll make, run! It’s never that easy.

So if a producer does have the experience, connections, financing, and a vision for your story, then you may have hit the jackpot. Just remember to read your contract very, very carefully and know what rights you are signing away. You’ll probably need the help of an IP attorney in order to handle your contract.

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