This is a weekly column behind the scenes of Alex LeMay’s latest project, DARK JOEY. DARK JOEY is a collaboration between LeMay and writer Jim Uhls, who wrote the major motion picture, FIGHT CLUB, as well as his writing partner Ric Krause. Follow along here: #Film-School:lemay-makes-a-series
As the funding offers for DARK JOEY begin to get sorted out, it dawned on me that if I were walking into this situation for the first time my brain might turn to jelly. It can be a swamp of new terminology like “success benchmark participation increases,” budgeting mumbo-jumbo like “talent fee holdbacks,” and legal quagmires like “IP revision clauses,” all of which sound mind-numbing and overly complicated. Let me see if I can untangle some of this for you so it’s not so murky. Basically, there are 4 things you need to keep your eye on where funding/budgeting negotiations are concerned. Bear in mind, these are based on averages and your deal will have its own unique quirks to it, so be flexible without giving away the store. One thing to remember- most series’ don’t get offered an option (an ‘option’ gives the studio the right to produce your series at a future date and is often represented by a separate fee of a few thousand dollars. They either produce it or they don’t. These deals happen quickly).
Things to be aware of when getting series funding:
Production Budget/Episode: This can vary from $5k-40k for the average web series, scripted or not. Most often they are looking for 8-10 episodes per season, and the average cost per episode being in the $15k range. That means your overall budget for a 10 episode season is $50k-$400k (there are exceptions where it’s a lot more but that tends to be reserved for major talent).
Executive Producer Fee: This is almost always 10% of the production budget (obviously if you can negotiate more you’re a rock star, but that’s SUPER rare). So that gives you between $5k-$40k that goes directly to you, the owner of the intellectual property (IP) (IP is script, story, and any other content that comes directly out of your series like sequels or spin-offs).
Production Fee: If you and your team are going to be the actual production company that does all of the physical production work on the series, meaning you have all the shooting, administrative and post capabilities, you can often get a production fee of 5% of the total budget. However, unless you are an established, trusted production company, it is rare that you will be assigned with this task. Most studios will assign a production company to you or if you have relationships with ones they are familiar with you can often go that route. If you are not doing the physical production, you can not negotiate this fee. However, just because you aren’t doing the production doesn’t mean you don’t have control of the project.
Separate Talent Fee: One of the big expenses per episode is onscreen talent costs. They can really eat up your production budget. That is why it is imperative that you negotiate a separate talent fee, meaning the studio or the brand sponsor is responsible for covering that amount. However, you are not entitled to charge your fees on top of that. That is simply a pass-through (just what it sounds like; it passes through the budget as a straight cost with no fees attached).
You’ll see I mentioned Brand Sponsors. That’s because very often, a brand will put up the production budgets for promotional consideration, product integration, and prominent placement in the advertising for the series. Don’t be threatened by any of this. It doesn’t have to be cheesy or considered selling out (see last weeks post - How To Not ‘Sell Out’ When Working With Big Brands. )
Lastly, a great way to keep more of the production money in your pocket is to build a line item in the budget for producer, writer, director costs, and if you are ACTUALLY doing those jobs it is perfectly right that you get paid for them. However, I usually leave some of that money in the production budget as every little bit helps. You can negotiate that with the production company.
When all is said and done, whether you have an agent or not, these are things you should familiarize yourself with. Most funding contracts fall into similar patterns of execution and it is your job to work with the studio, production company, and brand to work out the best deal for all.
This, combined with my training guides 5 LAWS FOR SELLING TO WEB SERIES DISTRIBUTORS and HOW TO CONTACT HARD TO REACH WEB SERIES BUYERS should give you a healthy leg up and some solid tools for not only getting in the room with buyers, but negotiating the most advantageous funding for your project.
As always, feel free to ask me any questions in the thread below and I will definitely answer them. Keep Creating!