More than a few years back, Mandy and I frequently argued about money.
Fair enough, money is a common cause of arguments for most couples.
What made it a mite unusual was we were arguing over what to do with money we didn’t have and were more than likely never going to get. This was the point in my life when I was beginning to sign movie contracts and although the option fees were always modest, the expected final fee would be a fair amount of money.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about (you know, the people who are still trying to find out if actors really have sex in sex scenes) an option is a kind of promise by me not to sell the script to anyone else and allows a producer the rights for a fixed period of time (usually a year or two) to try and raise money to make the film.
Sometimes you get paid a percentage of the budget every year, sometimes you get a one off payment, sometimes you let them have it for next to nothing because no one else is interested in that script and it’s better to have someone else hawking your script than to have to do it yourself.
An option only really applies to a spec script, since (hopefully) you’ll be paid a reasonable fee for anything written on request.
Either way, on the first day of principle photography (the day when the actors start not really having sex with each other) you get the main bulk of your fee which will usually be between 2.5% and 4% of the film’s budget.
Or at least, that’s how it works in the shallow end of the pool. There are minimums you can expect to get paid, but in micro-budget land that can work out as more than the total budget for the film. At the other end of the scale, on a $200,000,000 film … I have no idea. 4% of 200,000,000 sounds like an awful lot of money, but good work if you can get it.
I can’t, in case you were wondering.
Or at least, not yet.
My, that was a long explanation considering the majority of people who read this blog are writers who already know all this. Some of you probably have a considerably better idea of how the system works than me, this is just my experience: sign an option for a pittance in the expectation of getting a shit-load of cash dumped on you in two years’ time.
Remember, at this point you still don’t really know what the budget will be – that’s something for the producer to decide when they go through the script. I’m sure they have a vague idea before they sign, but most of them are quite coy about telling you until they know for certain.
So some time after signing, you casually enquire what budget they’re hoping to raise. They tell you and you nod politely and allow the conversation to drift onto other matters.
On the way home you jump up and down, screaming with delight and punching the sky until a passing police officer asks you to stop.
And that’s when the arguments start.
Not with the police officer, with your partner. Unless your partner is a police officer.
Suddenly it seems you’re going to be very well off in exactly two years’ time.
What the hell do you spend the money on?
My first thought is always an Aston Martin, but realistically I think I’d have to really have run out of things to buy before I ever wasted over £100,000 on a car, no matter how pretty. Having said that, I’m pretty certain I could spend £30,000 on one of these, conscience free:
The arguments range from paying off the mortgage, retiring, expensive holidays, new houses, hiring someone to do the hoovering, the biggest fucking TV you’ve ever seen in your life … the list is endless.
So are the arguments.
Eventually it all reaches a kind of simmering resentful compromise where you both agree to pay off the mortgage but secretly keep one eye on the TV ads.
Before you know it, the two years are up and … nothing fucking happens.
The producer not only couldn’t raise the money, but seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth.
Two years of arguing over non-existent money.
Brilliant, thanks a lot.
After the third or fourth time of this happening, you start to get a little wise. When someone tells you the budget, you don’t believe them. Or genuinely don’t care. Nothing is real until it happens, possibly not even then. There is nothing in this business which is worth getting excited about until you know for a fact it has already happened.
The future does not exist, ignore it and live for today.
Do you have a large sum of money in your bank account? No? Then there’s no point trying to spend it, is there?
I have strictly adhered to this philosophy for a few years now and I fully intend to stick to it for years to come.
Or at least I did.
Until a phone call a few days ago:
“Hi Phill, I’ve got director x interested in the film, only he doesn’t think the budget is realistic.”
Oh here we go, my imaginary fee is about to get cut in half.
“Yeah, but he knows some people who want to invest and we’re looking at £xx,xxx,xxx now.”
Holy fucking shit! That means I get … fuck, where’s that contract? What’s my percentage?
HOLY FUCKING SHIT!
HOLY FUCKING SHITTY FUCK!
ON A STICK!
Of course, I’m no more likely to get this amount than I was to get the last amount. The smart money is still on there not being any money at all, ever; but … still.
Suffice it to say, the house is full of TV adverts and arguments once more.