In its simplest form, ‘optioned’, as it refers to movie making, means the author has given exclusivity rights to a producer to buy the film rights to the story at a set price and at a later time, typically within 1-3 years. A minimal amount of money is exchanged at this point and once the timeframe has past, either party can walk away. Sometimes a producer is so in love with the story they will continue to option an idea over and over again until they actually purchase the rights to it.
At the option stage of the game, there is no director, no actors, and sometimes there isn’t even a screenwriter. Often the producer is working on getting a screenwriter and a studio in place before they actually purchase the rights. Producers are essentially ‘packagers’. They bundle things together, like a good screenwriter and interested director, in order to make the film idea more interesting to the studios. The benefit to doing it this way is the producer hasn’t shelled out the big bucks yet, and if they can’t find a studio to pick it up, then they’re not out as much and the author can choose not to option the idea with that producer again.
Once the idea has been picked up and the film rights have been purchased, the process moves into what Hollywood affectionately calls Development Hell. This is a waiting place, and for some film concepts, it can be a very long wait, decades even. For example, the Disney movie John Carter began initial development in 1931 and didn’t release until 2012. Yep, over eighty years!
One of the ways to limit an ideas time in Development Hell is to make sure your story has what Hollywood wants; a hero that a moviegoers can relate to; it’s visually appealing; has a reasonable budget; doesn't have unnecessary scenes; has franchise potential; appeals to young and old, male and female; and has merchandising potential. Author, John Robert Marlow, goes deeper into this subject here.
The moral of the story, if you see that your favorite book has been ‘optioned’ for a movie, don’t hold your breath for a release date. It may never come.
Visit with me again in two weeks and I’ll be talking about getting the Green-Light.