Beauology 101: Just Sign On The Dotted Line… Then Go Away

Beau Smith

Beau Smith

Recently, I was talking with some writer friends of mine. (Yes, I have friends.) A couple of them recently had properties of theirs optioned for film and TV. Both of them got fairly decent option money and credits. Neither were signed on to write the properties if they get made into film or TV, but they knew that when they signed the papers. Or at least they should’ve.

Time passes, TV and film writers are assigned to the projects by the folks that optioned the properties. My buddies get to read the scripts. They’re both a little shocked that their characters and stories are nothing much like what they created as comic books. The names are the same, but that’s about it.

They never saw it coming.

Then again, maybe they did, but like a lot of other creators, they didn’t think it would ever happen to them. After all, their agents, reps, and managers all said it was the right thing to do. The option money is pretty good. Where did they go wrong?

Well, they weren’t realistic. They read their option and their lawyers explained it to them, but yet they still clouded their own thinking with the excitement of their project being a feature film or TV show. They blindsided themselves.

Guys, once you sign that dotted line and take their money, they pretty much have the rights to do whatever they want with your property. They do it in their eyes and wallets to make it as profitable a film or show as they can. Your property is on their side of the fence now.



A few years ago, Clive Cussler, writer/novelist known for his Dirk Pitt books, signed the dotted line for his novel Sahara to be made into a Matthew McConaughey movie of the same name. It was made. Cussler didn’t like it. He even whined about McConaughey not having dark hair and green eyes like the Pitt character. The studio had McConaughey dye his hair and wear contacts. Cussler then took the film studio to court. They in turn took Cussler to court. More mud is being slung than a presidential election.

When all of this started, noted novelist Stephen King commented about this topic and related ones in his Entertainment Weekly column. He threw a very realistic opinion on it. Mr. King commented that you should read the contract, and either sign it or don’t. If you do sign it and take their money, then understand they are going to do what they want with the story/character. It’s pretty simple.

I agree with Mr. King. It’s common sense. Sure, you should negotiate as many stipulations and deal breakers as you can, but once you say it’s okay and take the check, then don’t whine or cry. I tried to explain this to my friends, but they continue to look at it all through those rose colored glasses that no one should really ever wear.

My suggestion for creators/aspiring creators of any sort is to really do your homework on options and contracts. The internet is a huge source of information as well as books and libraries. Most of all, talk to other creators that have made these deals. Listen to your lawyers. Put your fanboy thoughts aside and deal with this as if you were buying a house or a car. I can’t stress that enough. You have to look out for yourself. You can’t be in the mind frame of a 12 year old comic book reader/fan. You have to be a businessman that has something someone wants to buy. You also have to remember before you sign that line that your name will be attached to whatever they do with the property. You’re not only selling the rights to your character, you’re selling your name and reputation as well to a certain point. Know that.

It applies to working for a publisher like Marvel Comics or DC Comics as well. If you’re writing a monthly series like Wonder Woman or Spider-Man and you create some really terrific characters that end up becoming the next DC or Marvel icons, know that unless you worked out some sort of shared equity in your contract, those characters are not yours. They belong to the publisher. If you create the next Wolverine, know that more than likely, you will not share in the wealth that may come from that character being in films, books, clothing, and other merchandising. Think before you sign and if you sign, live with it.

It’s common sense, but I also understand that many or you/us love our hobby. That’s great. Just don’t get your passion for your hobby mixed up with your business sense. It’s like the difference between having sex and making love.

Patience and persistence are the two most powerful things you can have in the entertainment business. You’ve got to have them to break in, to stay in, and to make sure you don’t get hosed or hose yourself. Those that lose the two “P’s” only have themselves to blame when they get pissed on.

It’s all common sense, amigos. Think about it and use it.

Your amigo,

Beau Smith
The Flying Fist Ranch


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