Feb 20, 2010

Considering the Options

1095 Days Later...
Three years ago, a producer gave us $5000. I'll call him Sheldon. (It's not his real name).

In exchange, he entered into a "joint-venture" production of a short film based on my script, and won a three-year option on my feature-length screenplay. We'll pretend the name of that script was Zaniness Ensues. 

Twinkie Trap 3 It wasn't a great deal, but a starving man doesn't turn his nose up at a stinky Twinkie.

When I signed, I made sure the dates all said January 2007, so the contract would extend 1095 days from cashing the check. Over the last months of 2009, Sheldon discussed that impending expiration date on at least two occasions.

January came and went. No word from Sheldon. I was free.

I started making plans. I had control of my screenplay and my short film again. I would finish the edit and send it to competitions. I would cash-in my few connections and get a packet out to agents, a packet including Zaniness Ensues. I  would leverage another producing team’s interest in Zaniness Ensues and get them to make submissions on my behalf.

I wrote a long blog post about it. I was legitimately excited.

Perhaps you read it?

At First, Just a Delay...
A week ago, Sheldon wrote claiming that the contracts should extend 1095 days from the date of signing, which was October of 2007, a full 8 months later.

Upon closer inspection, the contracts were self-contradictory at best. They mention January 11th twice, upon my insistence, but also state that the term would extend from the completion of the short film. They do not define "completion."

At the time, I understood "completion" as meaning completion of shooting, and that would mean January 2007. By any other reasonable definition of "completion," the short was never completed, and Sheldon's option never began. That is because, in his capacity as "joint-venturer," Sheldon asked us to shelf the short for the good of the feature script. We never delivered a finished edit. We never submitted it anywhere. It is still lacking a final cut.

Meaning, either the option never started, or it already ended.

But he stood by his date of October 2007, the date of signing.

At first, I was furious. But I took a step back, took my dog for a walk, and decided to be bigger than the situation and accept the 8 month delay. My friend and business partner has been representing Misplaced Planet's interests in our dealings with Sheldon, and he wanted to write Sheldon, since Sheldon's change of date seemed alarmingly disingenuous.

I approved. Couldn't imagine a downside to asking a reasonable question.

Then, Things Get Worse...
Mechagodzilla Sheldon responded to gentle, courteous questioning in this manner: he held a sword aloft, lightning struck it, and he transformed into a 400ft Mecha Asshole, blasting ass blasts into screaming crowds. He became every writer's nightmare.

He invoked this clause:

6.5 ...Company will be the sole owner in perpetuity of any and all development material, including without limitation any treatments, screenplays, etc., written or created in connection with such development or pre-production.
Meaning, he intends to keep all the revisions I've done for the last three years. Despite the fact that half the revisions were started prior to our relationship, despite the fact that he provided almost nothing in the form of concrete notes, despite the fact that he can't benefit from doing this, despite all that, he intends to invoke the asshole clause.

Come October, I could conceivably send the original, pre-option first-draft of the script to agents and other producers, but the vast collection of revisions I've made are legally his to keep.

And worse, he might claim that any *replacement* revisions I make are still resultant from his involvement. As in, "I was the one who said the bull was a problem; replacing it with a dog instead of a frog is irrelevant – it's still a change you made because of me."  He might make bogus claims on anything further done to the scrip. He can do that for a period of time extending until the sun expands and swallows-up the inner terrestrial planets including Earth, or until all human-kind merges into a hive-minded super-organism lacking selfish individual needs. Whichever comes first.

Point being, if he wants, he can haunt the script forever -- and no one wants to buy a haunted script.

I wrote him the following:

It is my wish that, if we elect to go our separate ways in October, it is a clean and amicable break. I have made no final decisions and have no solid intentions aside from using the piece to pursue representation. But we have both made good faith contributions and sacrifices for this project, and I would prefer that they remain in good faith. 
He hasn't responded.

Which Leaves Us Where?
artax It leaves the script and the short film in an ugly, swampy limbo. The threat of legal entanglements hang over the whole affair, paralyzing any possible forward movement. I cannot trust Sheldon to be a mature professional, not before October, and certainly not after it. It is clear: he has a disproportionate sense of entitlement, a cockeyed conception that he deserves to be compensated for the risks he freely took. And a great deal of paranoia.

To keep anyone else from profiting where he lost, he will tie up the script forever. "Anyone else" includes me. I will never profit from this script I wrote, until he profits too. I will extend the option and play ball with him, or I will never play ball with that script again.

And so - my most successful, most promising screenplay has been stolen from me.

I am embarrassed at my naivety. I am discouraged and I find it difficult to work on Sick Day. And I am dizzy, because I know that I must continue to be naive, must continue to risk abuse, must continue to be abused, or else, the discouragement wins.

I have to take this baseball bat to the teeth and keep giving the world a bloody smile.


Meanwhile – In the Same Person's Head...
Buffy-Tarot-Card-Art-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-1116089_900_1432 On *exactly* the same day that Sheldon made his intention to haunt my script perfectly clear, that other set of producers sent me the option paperwork for my newest script, which we’ll call Gravedigger's Son. Yes, I was burned and asked to trust again in the exact same day.

I signed them. I faxed them. I sent them off.

Which means, Gravedigger's Son belongs to these new producers for the next 365 days. In exchange for $1, which was actually just an understood, imaginary $1.

Right now, I have control of zero (0.00) promising, completed screenplays. My future is in the hands of these new producers, and Sheldon. I cannot tempt an agent or manager to take me on, because, what script would they take out and sell? Yes, it's going to be tough meeting that 2010 deadline to find myself representation.

Really, really tough.