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The film business, especially when it comes to major financing and large scale film studios, is a back and forth world of ups and downs. A film goes through many stages before it hits production, and if the project does not stay on a course that the company backing it approves of it can be shut down entirely. When a studio decides to give up their rights to a project it is called “turnaround.”
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Whether a screenplay is an original creative effort or an adaptation of a piece of source material, the studio owns the rights to it after they have purchased the script. From here they may or may not actually make the film. There are a number of factors that play into this decision. A company may buy the script hoping to make the film but then are unable to find the right people to produce it for the correct price. They may even buy it up simply to prevent rival companies from being able to produce the film.
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If a studio decides to put a project into turnaround they are then allowing a producer to take the project and try to sell it to another company. This only occurs when a studio decides that it is not going to make a film and there are still filmmakers that would like to make a film from the property. The producers then take it to other studios to see who would like to buy the property for a set amount, which is determined by the studio predominantly. Once it is sold then a certain amount of money is paid back to the studio that was previously negotiated. This can also come with an additional amount of interest. From here the original studio may still be eligible to retain some financial reimbursement from some type of profit sharing. This is negotiated individually as there is not a standard for how this works.
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At times an unmade film can simply return back to the person who originally wrote it, so film companies usually want to make their money off it. This is a very common practice in studio filmmaking where films are traded and sold like financial investment packages.