In this week’s Killer Nashville blog, author Carmen Amato shares her insights in structuring a movie deal that she can live with. While this is an individual decision, it is a path well-worth thinking about: what can you live with? Hollywood is notorious for making deals… in favor of Hollywood. Here are a few things to consider as you troll the dark waters of Tinseltown.
Happy Reading! And until next time, read like someone is burning the books!
7 Tips for Negotiating Your Mystery Movie Deal
By Carmen Amato
As an author, you own ideas. Stories are your final products.
If you sign a contract with a publisher or distributor, in effect, they are investing in your final product. If you sign a contract with a screenwriter or movie studio, they aren’t an investor so much as the owner of a separate work of art based on it.
This is an important difference. The trick is to become an investor in their final product.
When I began the Emilia Cruz mystery series, I knew it would translate well to film. Emilia is the first and only female police detective in Acapulco, taking on Mexico’s notorious drug cartels as well as the country’s culture of machismo. Set in an iconic location, the Emilia Cruz series is a multi-ethnic drama, with plenty of intrigue and action. Think Hawaii 5-0 meets House of Cards.
Given all that, I wasn’t surprised to receive queries about buying film rights after the third book was published. But I was surprised by what I learned along the way to a signed deal:
Separate but equal: A screenplay for a film or series based on an author’s book is a separate and new entertainment product. That owner (screenwriter, studio, director, etc.) is responsible for its final form and bringing it to viewers. The contract is the vehicle for defining the relationship between the originator (you, the author) and the film owner.
Due diligence: Research about those seeking rights to the Emilia Cruz series yielded critical information. One prominent director only made Spanish-language films. Another studio had a strong record of documentaries, but not drama. I ultimately signed with screenwriter and director Emily Skopov, best known for her work on Xena, Warrior Princess.
Ask, but be realistic: Ask for what you want in the contract negotiation, but unless you have significant influence in the film industry, don’t expect casting or final script approval. Some areas to negotiate include source credit, production role, and rating. Do you care if your novel ends up as an XXX adult film?
Skin in the game: My research also showed that many authors give away film rights in return for “exploratory” efforts by a movie studio. That’s a real gamble, in my view. Not only did I feel that I should be paid for the film rights, but I wanted the buyer to want to be incentivized to move ahead on the project and get their investment back.
Own what you sell: Does anyone else in your publishing food chain (publisher, agent, foreign rights distributer, etc.) hold rights to your story? On the flip side, are you selling more than you intend? In my case, I held all the rights and ensured the contract did not give away rights to characters, future distribution, or franchise rights. Yes, the Emilia Cruz lunchbox could happen.
The everlasting story: You need an exit strategy to avoid tying up your rights forever. In the final contract I signed, there is a cascading timeline that allows the contract to expire within a certain time frame if no progress on a film has been made.
Wilderness guide: A good intellectual property rights lawyer is your essential guide. Expect to pay 20% of the amount you receive, or a flat hourly rate. Yes, it will put a dent in your wallet, but the potential for mistakes with long-term impact is much less.
Ready for Hollywood? Be a realistic and informed negotiator at the onset of any film rights discussion. Don’t do it just for the money, but for your author brand and momentum for your next project. For the investment of a lifetime.
Not to mention that lunchbox.
In addition to romantic suspense novels The Hidden Light of Mexico City and Awakening Macbeth, Carmen Amato is the author of the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, including Cliff Diver, Hat Dance, Diablo Nights, and the collection of short stories Made in Acapulco. Originally from New York, Carmen’s experiences living in Mexico and Central America drive the authenticity and drama of her writing. Visit her website at carmenamato.net for a free copy of The Beast, the first Emilia Cruz story, and follow her on Twitter @CarmenConnects.
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