From my book, Q & A: The Working Screenwriter:
Should new screenwriters ever seriously consider giving producers free options (a.k.a "the dollar option")?
Allison Burnett (Autumn in New York, Underworld: Awakening): If you really like the producer, and he shares your vision, and you think he will work as hard selling your script as you did writing it, then it’s fine, when you are starting out. Once you are established, however, it’s not a good idea, except as a last resort. You will often find that people do not respect or value what they get for free.
Katherine Fugate (The Prince and Me, Carolina, Valentine's Day, Army Wives): It depends on the producer, his/her success record and how much you believe in them. A general rule of thumb, though, is if no money has been spent, there is less motivation to get things done.
Rolfe Kanefsky (There’s Nothing Out There, Shattered Lies, Rod Steele 0014, Jacqueline Hyde, The Hazing): It’s hard to avoid the “dollar option” when starting a career. I’ve done it a number of times. If some producer is willing to take your script around town, the trade-off is worth it. Just make sure to get the rights back after the six months to a year is up. I would avoid giving a free option to a script for more than a year. If they need more time than that, they probably can’t do much for you. This is also a good reason why you have to have more than one script available when starting in this business. You don’t want your only script optioned and unavailable for a year with nothing else to show people. From my own experience, none of my dollar option scripts ever wound up being made into movies, but I feel many were still worth doing. They opened up some doors and I made some connections because of it.
Neal Marshall Stevens (Thirteen Ghosts, Hellraiser: Deader): I've never done it, because my position has always been that the option money is money that a producer will get back, in the event that he gets a project set up—so that, in essence, the option money represents how much a producer is prepared to bet that he'll be able to sell your project. If he's prepared to bet nothing—that should tell you something. The only circumstance where I think it's justified—and it came up a few times when I was working at Laurel—is when a project came along where, for whatever reason, there were really only one or two places where we felt we could legitimately take it. So, for us to lay out a lot of money to option it—and then have only a couple places to take it—really didn't make sense financially. But in a case like that, the deal should really be for a short free option. The deal for two or three months—long enough to send the project to those couple of places and get an answer back. If the answer is no, that's the end of it and the writer gets his project back, and all he's really being asked to give up is a few months, so that the project can be taken to a few places. Other than that exception, I wouldn't go along with it.
Stephen Susco (The Grudge): It depends on the circumstances. If there’s something to be gained—if the producer is well known, or very passionate and aggressive, and has a real game plan—then it’s worth considering. And always, always, always put everything on paper. Always.
What some folks have said about Q & A: The Working Screenwriter:
“…highly recommended to any budding screenwriter…"
“…a very instructive yet entertaining read…”
“…filled with great insight and honesty…”
“…valuable and practical…”
"…a phenomenal book…”
From David Trottier, author of The Screenwriter’s Bible:
“…I enjoyed reading Q & A: The Working Screenwriter. The content became a discussion in my mind. Years ago when I began my own writing career, it was a book of interviews that inspired me the most. I felt as though established writers were talking to me and giving me their personal advice. I learned from them and improved my craft. The same was true when I read these interviews…”
If you want to stir your creative juices, bolster your confidence, and gain a better understanding of what it takes to become a working screenwriter in today’s film industry, you’ll find Q & A: The Working Screenwriter essential reading!