Thursday, June 14, 2007

Samurai option contract

I have made a will several times in the past 11 years. It is possible to buy a preprinted form -- in Britain they are sold in W H Smith’s and Ryman’s, in America in various stationery stores. It doesn’t take much time to complete the document and get it witnessed.

It’s not possible, as far as I know, to buy a preprinted form for a film option. This causes problems in cases where the principals to the deal have no representation. I have often had difficulties because a producer or director wanted to buy an option and there was no document ready to be used: the business advisor brought in to handle the transaction started negotiating for things of no interest to either principal (ice skating rights, business-class fare to the premiere), and the deal fell apart.

Since I have recently sold an option on the film rights to The Last Samurai, I now have a document of which this may be said: it has successfully done what it was meant to do. It has transferred a specific right to a piece of intellectual property from the possessor of that right to a director who needs that right to develop a film.

If I had had this document in June 1996 I could have finished The Seventh Samurai in July 1996. I could have finished the predecessor to The Seventh Samurai in the second half of 1996. If I had had this document in January 2005 I could have finished the book I had been working on for the previous 6 months.

I will discuss some of the pitfalls of dealing with the movie business at a later date. In the meantime I have posted a copy of the contract here.


Anonymous said...

Er, seems v. confusing. But I figure you're at least guaranteed the smallest number I saw in there, so that's good news, I guess(?). But the big question: somewhere in there does it say you'll get a say in the scriptwriting process? In all of the 300+ pages there are many subsets of shootable material that would make things turn out very badly, never mind adding in creative license.

(This is all so exciting!)

ps: Glad to hear that your Mum wrote back. Very interesting what she said; I'll explain how so later...

Helen DeWitt said...

No, there's nothing about artistic approval at any stage. I did offer to write a draft screenplay a while back, but I think Dey was unnerved by my complete lack of experience. My feeling is, though, that it would be one thing to offer a script as something that might or might not work -- at least then one's contribution is one that might speed up the process -- and quite another to subject the film to intervention.

Dey and I did have one conversation about Val Peters -- I was concerned because I had heard a report that he wanted Peters to play a bigger role in the film -- and he said No, he thought the less Ludo saw of his father the better. So that was reassuring. But to try to have some kind of legal control over what's done seems to me to be asking for trouble. A director has to have the freedom to take risks; he may have to make radical changes to the book to get the story down to the length of a film; he shouldn't have to keep watching his back.

(I look forward to your comments on my mother's comments...)

Aetheling said...

throughout the universe!!