Category Archives: Terminology

What is an overall deal?

Also referred to as an “overall first-look deal”, this is basically a first look deal except anything that the producer develops while under this agreement must stay within the studio and cannot be taken elsewhere even if the studio passes. In return, the studio will pay an annual fee to the producer and cover all of his/her overhead costs.

What is a presale?

If you want to thrive in the independent film world, this is a term you need to become familiar with. It’s an agreement made between a distributor (usually foreign and specific to only one country) and the production company before the film is completed and often times even before production of a film has even commenced. This is a strategy that producers  use to get their film financed. You may here that a producer financed a film via foreign presales alone. This means that a distributor will pay for the distribution rights in their country before they even see the finish product. In return, they will get to pay a significantly reduced cost for these rights as opposed to if they waited to buy the rights to the film in the open market upon completion. They are banking on the film doing well in the box office based on the script, director, producer and actors that are attached to the film. Some presale agreements involve the distributor and producer agreeing – prior to production – on a fixed amount to be paid upon delivery of the film. This is called an advance or a minimum guarantee.

What is a backdoor pilot?

For all intents and purposes, a backdoor pilot is still the first episode in a series, however, it’s filmed like a standalone movie. Often times these pilots can be two hours long. The episode still has inherent commercial value, so they can still air it if they decide not to order to series.  Networks do this to hedge their risk and use it as a proof of concept to see if the show is worth turning into a series. They will air it, see what type of ratings/reception it receives and use that information to determine whether or not they will order to series.

The term “back door” comes from a tactic that networks often use to test spinoff series. What they do is produce an episode within a series that introduces new characters and “sneak” this episode into the season…hence the term “back door”. The network will use the ratings and viewer feedback from that episode to decide if they want to create a spinoff series. The best of example of this is NCIS which is a spinoff from JAG. In season 8 of JAG, there was a dual episode that introduced the characters for what would become NCIS. And then, in season 6, they aired the two-part episode “Legend” which introduced the characters for what is now NCIS: Los Angeles. Again, this all goes back to strategy of creating a TV episode that “test the waters” to see if it’s worth bank rolling into a new series.

What is a first-look deal?

Let’s say you just directed a film that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, or you’re an actor attached to a film that did gangbusters in the box office, or you’re the creator of a nationally syndicated TV show. You are what we call a PROVEN TALENT. The studios and TV networks need people like you to create content for them and hedge their risk in this volatile business. To do this, they will offer you a first-look deal.

This is an agreement that’s made between an above-the-line talent and a movie studio, network, TV studio or production company (for simplicity sake, let’s call this “the company”). Most A-list actors, directors, producers and writers have an overall deal. This agreement basically states that the talent must allow the company right of first refusal to produce, finance and/or distribute any of their projects. In other words, the company gets first dibs on anything the talent develops. If the company passes on the project, the talent is free to shop that project elsewhere. In return for this arrangement, the company will pay the talent and annual fee and cover all their overhead expenses to run their company. If it’s a movie studio, the company will provide office space and other amenities on the lot. Another benefit for the talent that the company will funnel all their property to them. So if the company acquires a huge property, they’ll approach their talent with overall deals first. For example, Disney owns THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, and since Jerry Bruckheimer has an overall deal with them, they will go to him first to produce the film. Or when Paramount acquired Transformers, the first person up for the job was Michael Bay since he had a first look deal with the studio.

NOTE: This is different from an overall deal where anything the producer develops must stay within the studio and can’t be taken elsewhere even if they pass.

If you want a quick reference on where the latest overall movie studio deals are, search Variety for their latest “Facts On Pacts”.

Here are some overall deals you should know:

Disney
Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Boxing Cat Films (Tim Allen)
POW! Entertainment (Stan Lee)
Mark Gordon Company

Warner Bros
Appian Way (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Carousel Productions (Steve Carell)
Green Hat Films (Todd Phillips)
MalPaso (Clint Eastwood)
Life’s Too Short (Chuck Lorre)
Lin Pictures (Dan Lin)
Ninjas Runnin’ Wild (Zac Efron)
Pearl Street (Ben Affleck, Matt Damon)
Revelations (Morgan Freeman)
22nd & Indiana (Bradley Cooper)

Universal
Aggregate (Jason Bateman)
Apatow Productions (Judd Apatow)
Blumouse Productions (Jason Blum)
ImageMovers (Robert Zemeckis)
Imagine Entertainment (Brian Grazer, Ron Howard)
K/O Paper Products (Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci)
One Race Films (Vin Diesel)
Wild Wild West  Picture Show (Vince Vaughn)

Sony
Happy Madison (Adam Sandler)
Overbrook Entertainment (Will Smith)
Scott Rudin Productions
Smoke House (George Clooney)
Syco (Simon Cowell)
Trigger Street (Kevin Spacey)
Hey Eddie (Kevin James)
Laurence Mark Productions
Original Film (Neal Moritz)

20th Century Fox
Bad Hat Harry Productions (Bryan Singer)
Film Rites (Steve Zaillian)
Lightstorm (James Cameron)
Peter Chernin Film
Red Hour Films (Ben Stiller)
Scott Free (Ridley Scott)

Paramount
Plan B (Brad Pitt)
Bad Robot ( JJ Abrams)
Di Bonaventura Pictures
Platinum Dunes (Michael Bay)
Sikelia Productions (Martin Scorsese)
Four By Two Films (Sacha Baron Cohen)

Lionsgate
Tyler Perry Productions

What are “The Trades”?

This is just another word for “the news” except it only pertains to news sources specific to the entertainment industry. You’ll often hear people say, “Did you read about it in the trades?” or “Saw you in the trades the other day. Congrats!”.

When people mention the trades, they are usually referring to one of three major entertainment news sources.

http://www.deadline.com

http://www.variety.com (also available as a weekly newspaper subscription)

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com (also available as a weekly newspaper subscription)

What does it mean to sell a TV show with a penalty?

If you’re one of the lucky ones who sell a TV show to a network, often times they’ll pay for  your pilot script (or pay to have your pilot written if it hasn’t already been done so) and that’s the end of the road for you. They might even produce your pilot and never air it. I’ve watched dozens of pilots that have never seen the light of day. To avoid this, high profile producers/writers will demand a penalty in their purchase agreement. This is also referred to as a PUT PILOT. What this means is that if the pilot doesn’t get produced and aired on TV, the network must pay a huge fee to the producer/writer of the show. This can range for low six figures to low seven figures depending on the contract. I’ve even seen deals that include a series penalty which means if the network doesn’t order the show to series, they must pay a penalty. Networks can also use this as incentive to make sure the producer/writer sells their show the them and not one of their competitors.