Tuesday, April 28, 2015


How I was the Dumbest Person in the Room 

This being a true and accurate account of 
a Career Event that has become part of 
a Recognizable pattern 
of Similar Career Events 
Haunting my Effort as a Creative Artist

Recently a very talented director inquired about a project I developed years ago and still control as a producer.
Nothing had happened from the director's earlier connection to the project, but in the intervening years his career had jumped a few levels up the industry ladder. The director now felt the time was right to get a screenplay he had always loved finally produced.
But there was still a problem... 
On my side.
What prevented this project from being made years ago... 
Will probably still prevent this project from ever getting made.

When I first developed the project with another screenwriter we worked long and hard on a script that eventually went out to the industry.
The screenplay made a splash, but was never produced despite the intense interest. Over the years, the script became one of those almost-produced-film projects. The screenplay was almost always under an option agreement, usually with a name director, and/or name actor attached… but never shot.

The issue why it was never shot had nothing to do with the usual suspects. It was not the budget, or scope of the production -- the script could actually be shot for a price -- less than 1 million, or even as low as 250k, if everyone involved below/above the line were working for scale or “favored nations.”
And there were no creative issues holding back a production -- the screenplay has a contemporary urban setting, an  accessible storyline dealing with relevant dramatic conflicts which continue to be attractive to young movie goers as well as older audiences.

Doubting the veracity of the above assessment on my own project is a valid response, which is why I point out that the screenplay I write about (and have chosen not to name, for reasons that will become obvious as you read on) has had non-stop interest, including several options, since it was released to the industry. 

So, what’s the problem?
Here’s the problemI made a bad deal with a producing partner associated with the project.

I call this type of mistake a “Crack in the Foundation.”
It’s a term home builders use when deciding whether they can remodel a home or need to completely start over. When there is a “crack in the foundation, i.e. a fatal flaw in the concrete that the whole house sits on, there’s almost nothing they can do but start over.

Warning Signs of a Crack in your House Foundation 

Foundation problems may mean expensive repairs. Here’s what to look for to keep small concerns from becoming big headaches.
Knowing the early warning signs of foundation troubles can head off problems that ultimately could cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix. The sooner you identify potential problems, the easier — and less expensive — it is to fix them.
- Taken from some Brochure left in my mailbox

1. There is a lot of interest in your project. 
Almost everyone who reads the script wants to produce the project. But somehow the project... slips through the cracks of never getting produced.

2. Everyone involved in the project wants it to get produced... 

All except ONE PERSON. 
This person is the one who usually grinds everything to a halt.
Sometimes this person stops initial interest from moving beyond the state of initial interest. But the worse is when this same person causes the project to go south at the 11th hour of negotiations with a third party interested in providing the financing and means to produce the project. 

3. There becomes an observable cracked pattern in the person's behavior. The demands by this person always end up being unreasonable, unrealistic, or uncompromising.

4. This person ends up getting more satisfaction being in control rather than moving forward, because the reality of making a movie means they will no longer be in control.

My original deal concerning the project seemed to invite a production if I could only come through with a really good script... which obviously I achieved after my work with another screenwriter on the project. 
The problem began with the original deal concerning the writing of the script. That deal had the other producer picking up the tab for the writing fees (for the record -- fees which I was entitled to, but I chose not to receive because of my membership in the WGA. Compensation for writing on the script did not conform to guild standards, so I recieved zero compensation for working on the script). 
The deal point that has ended up haunting this project is the Joint Ownership clause in the contract I signed with the other producer. The specific line that has doomed this project is underneath this clause and reads: “mutual approval by both parties.” It's a phrase that has ended up being a teflon bullet, packing enough fire power to take down every potential production that has come calling over the years. 

The contract language was based on this premise – that the joint owners would be reasonable and sane people, both wanting to make a movie. 
But it did not taken into account that one of the partners would see the clause as a weapon to achieve the exact opposite -- keep the jointly own project in development limbo, where the damned work, take meetings, and talk about making movies, but never actually make anything at all.

BOTTOMLINE: Be careful who you sleep with to get a project made.
Not everyone will have your agenda.
The worse case scenario is that a viable project in the marketplace could begin and end if it is built on a cracked foundation.