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bortus 02-27-2012 06:24 PM

Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Could use some advice from the community on this one.

I've spent the last 2+ years "consulting" on a tentpole film for a major studio, currently in development. The project is shared between two production companies -- one a very well-known company on the studio lot; the other is an outside first-timer who brought the rights to the material.

My "consulting" began with the outside production company and has included many months of development, including creating a full outline and developing the daylights out of the project. Over time, the relationship has grown to include players at the other production company and with the studio.

Experienced writers are writing the script, with input from me. My ideas are all over the project. However, the outside production company has been very crafty in preventing me from interfacing too directly with the studio -- they filter everything through their own monicker and advertise me as a consultant for their company.

But... they have never paid me, have resisted all attempts at a conversation on this topic, have offered absolutely nothing. (They're highly unscrupulous.) More than that, I am fairly sure that neither the internal production company or the studio is aware that this is the case. The situation has "lawsuit" written all over it.

I do have a lawyer on standby in case it becomes necessary, but I'm wondering if there's something an agent can do -- a way to strategize toward a better standing. My questions are, do franchise story consultants usually get paid and credited? If so, by whom? How does "consulting" usually work in this type of situation?

Anyone experienced with this?

BattleDolphinZero 02-27-2012 06:26 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Interesting. Waiting on one of the more seasoned guys for this one.

I'm gonna go see if I can steer them your way.

jimjimgrande 02-27-2012 06:41 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
What specifically was your agreement with them when you began consulting on the project?

I assume it was oral and informal, but how were you approached, what did they ask of you, what did you offer to do, and what if any form of compensation was discussed?


And a lawyer would be a more appropriate person than a agent to negotiate a fee for your consulting services, but a little more information first, if you don't mind.

And I can tell you right now that this thread will quickly lead to a "You should talk to your lawyer and not listen to 99% of the advice you're going to get here" kind of place.

JeffLowell 02-27-2012 06:52 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
This is a weird one. I'll take a shot, but I'm sure there are some details I'm missing.

Since there was never a contract with the studio, none of your writing will make you eligible for credit on the project. It can't be submitted in an arbitration, nothing. The WGA can't get involved.

So it simply becomes an employment issue between you and the company who is saying you're their consultant. Basically, you're working as a producer on this project. But with no contract and no pay changing hands...

I don't know why your lawyer is just on standby. You've worked for two years without getting a penny. How much worse do you need things to get before you involve the lawyer?

bortus 02-27-2012 07:11 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Here's some more info:

The initial intro was made via a close friend, who has been my partner on the project. (He's not a writer but a franchise guy, knows the author and so forth.) The outside production company asked us to start doing development because the project was stalled at the studio -- the concern at the time was length, and he felt if we could show the studio that the project was tractable, it would get the ball rolling on an official search for writers. That's exactly what happened.

We signed a loosely-worded agreement that named us "thematic consultants" and said we would not own our ideas. Several attorneys have since seen the agreement, said it was vague and that since it offered no consideration for our services, it would probably not hold up. The unspoken agreement with the producers was that they were giving us "an opportunity." Though they themselves have acknowledged that we have gone far beyond the terms of that initial agreement.

Our attorney's advice was that the deeper we got with the studio, the stronger our situation was. He felt the tactic would be to contact business affairs at the studio and negotiate with them. We've been on standby waiting to see how deep we'd get with the studio. I've hesitated going back to him only because litigation of any kind would probably ruffle feathers and I wanted to first see if there was another way to do this.

I do have an opportunity coming up to speak with a high-profile agent who's familiar with the project. But again I'd like to go into that call, or an attorney call, or any call, understanding the legalities of the situation and knowing what questions I should be asking.

By the way, drama explodes on this project weekly. The outside producer makes regular, unrealistic demands and consistently absorbs our ideas as his own. The only reason we've put up with it is that we both love the project.

It's hard to imagine that a major film could come to screen filled with my ideas and that I wouldn't be somehow entitled to credit and/or compensation of some kind. But then again, many things in Hollywood are hard to imagine...

bortus 02-27-2012 07:21 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
One more detail. As a result of this project, I have a general writers' meeting set up with the lead producer of the internal production company soon, to discuss other projects. Healthy, positive situation and an opportunity to work with a high-profile producer.

I mention this because I wouldn't want to do anything to potentially sour that relationship. For instance I've wondered if I ought to use that meeting as a chance to pitch my consulting services to him and potentially "jump ship" -- but I'm thinking it's better just to let that be about new projects.

In short there are a lot of factors in play and I don't want to ruffle any feathers -- but it would be nice to get paid and/or credited, or at the very least get set up as an independent consulting entity rather than being swallowed up by these unscrupulous external producers who, by the way, are full of bad ideas that we are constantly working to mitigate!

JeffLowell 02-27-2012 07:47 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Is the lawyer who's advising you an entertainment lawyer? Because the thought that he's going to contact business affairs and just start negotiating when no one at the studio knows that you want to be paid as a writer (or producer) is a little off from how I understand things to work.

I think, from what you've said, that everyone at the studio and the legit production company thinks that you're an employee of the producer who brought you in. The studio has made deals with all the producers. They've hired writers. They think they have all the rights and deals in place.

Two years into the project, to have someone say that they're not being compensated and that the studio has to make it right - and that they've created literary material that was never purchased and is the basis of drafts... My guess is that it would not go well.

If your attorney is an entertainment attorney who's well versed in this stuff, listen to him. If he's not, talk to the agent who you've got an in with and explain what's going on.

This is a really strange situation. I understand not wanting to ruffle feathers, and that's smart. Maybe the first person you should have your attorney have a strong conversation with is the outside producers. They're the ones who are treating you shabbily, so it doesn't seem like you're risking a lot by pushing them a little.

BattleDolphinZero 02-27-2012 08:50 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Is this an animated project?

Or is this a situation where you're an assistant who is pitching ideas at his boss and his boss sometimes implements them and sometimes doesn't?

bortus 02-27-2012 08:52 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
No not animated. (But curious, why do you ask?)

No, not anybody's assistant.

Yes, attorney is an entertainment attorney.

JeffLowell 02-27-2012 09:06 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Since animation is non-WGA and group created, it's a different world.

If your attorney is an experienced entertainment attorney that you trust, you should tell him your concerns and do what he tells you to do.

I'm certainly curious to hear how this turns out, if you wouldn't mind reporting back.

BattleDolphinZero 02-27-2012 09:27 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Also, in animation it's common for all the various artists to chime in with story ideas as the movie is being made.

This is a strange situation.

jimjimgrande 02-27-2012 10:37 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Yeah, I second what Jeff said about having your attorney contact the outside producers.

Maybe after you've met the internal producers and told them that you've been consulting on the project and after you've met with the agent and, to whatever extent you can, asked his opinion of the situation.

Be curious to know how this turns out (and what it is, too - but posting it here probably isn't a good idea.)

credit, at least as anything other than a consultant, doesn't seem like it can be on the table, but getting paid should be.

bortus 02-28-2012 08:31 AM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Thanks folks. It's definitely a weird one... I'll report back once there's some progress.

Geoff Alexander 02-28-2012 10:35 AM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
As everyone else has said, it is strange, and your entertainment attorney should bring up the question of credit and payment with the parties with whom you've worked. I have a question for you, why you? Why are you in a position to consult on a preexisting property for a company when you seem to have no track record? Do you have specialized knowledge, i.e., military, police, medical, that sort of thing, that would give your input value for their process?

And, I'd have to say that two years goes way beyond doing someone a favor or giving casual input. If what you did was substantial work and is something that they used to move the project forward, then you should tell them you want a credit and you want to get paid should the project go into production. Period.

BurOak 02-28-2012 11:13 AM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by SBScript (Post 790216)
As everyone else has said, it is strange, and your entertainment attorney should bring up the question of credit and payment with the parties with whom you've worked. I have a question for you, why you? Why are you in a position to consult on a preexisting property for a company when you seem to have no track record? Do you have specialized knowledge, i.e., military, police, medical, that sort of thing, that would give your input value for their process?

And, I'd have to say that two years goes way beyond doing someone a favor or giving casual input. If what you did was substantial work and is something that they used to move the project forward, then you should tell them you want a credit and you want to get paid should the project go into production. Period.

I was wondering the same thing myself. :confused:

bortus 02-28-2012 12:12 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Basically a unique subject matter expertise, combined with being in the right place at the right time, and knowing the right person. Just crossing my fingers that we can keep the whole thing going and get everything above board!

Geoff Alexander 02-28-2012 12:57 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by bortus (Post 790222)
Basically a unique subject matter expertise, combined with being in the right place at the right time, and knowing the right person. Just crossing my fingers that we can keep the whole thing going and get everything above board!

I sort of figured it was specialized knowledge. Get what you can, but be willing to settle. It could be anything from a "Special Thanks" in the credits and a little payment to a (co) Producing or EP, or AP credit, all contingent upon how clearly your contribution would be reflected going forward and upon how well your attorney is able to navigate the companies to create a reasonable agreement.

LIMAMA 02-28-2012 03:28 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Boy, talk about a minefield.

Rhodi 02-28-2012 03:53 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me like this guy has followed advice similar to that often dispensed by pros on this forum regarding working on spec for production companies and has gotten seriously burned.

Bortus - I truly feel sad for the situation you find yourself in, because I have a very bad feeling you'll end up paddling with your hands at the tributary of Up **** creek and **** Out of Luck river.

bortus 02-28-2012 04:11 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Nah. Even if I never get a dime or a thank you, it's been a great project and a huge calling card. Professional recognition would be great and I'll pursue that for as long as possible -- but there's nothing to be sorry for here, this is overall a really good situation.

JeffLowell 02-28-2012 05:11 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Rhodi (Post 790243)
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me like this guy has followed advice similar to that often dispensed by pros on this forum regarding working on spec for production companies and has gotten seriously burned.

Not one pro has ever suggested anything even close to the situation he finds himself in.

Geoff Alexander 02-28-2012 05:34 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by JeffLowell (Post 790254)
Not one pro has ever suggested anything even close to the situation he finds himself in.

Seconded, Rhodi, you must have misunderstood what people have advised on this sort of thing in the past.

Rhodi 02-28-2012 06:10 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by JeffLowell (Post 790254)
Not one pro has ever suggested anything even close to the situation he finds himself in.

That is a gross misrepresentation of my comment.

If the OP had asked for advice on this forum 2 years ago about this particular situation, it seems to me the consensus would be 1) Working for free is now an industry norm; 2) Don't talk about money, it makes you look like an amateur; 3) Don't ask for terms in writing. "It's like asking for a pre-nup at the same time you accept a proposal." 4) If terms are even discussed, they can be done so on an informal basis.

JeffLowell 02-28-2012 06:21 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
You're simply wrong. First off, we're not talking about speccing a script for a producer, so this is already two completely different things.

Second, here are the three things I said to keep in mind when considering speccing a script. I think it's a pretty fair summary of what the pros who've talked about speccing with a producer have advised:

Quote:

Originally Posted by JeffLowell (Post 787178)
I think the three questions to keep in mind are:

Do I love the idea?
How credible are the producers?
What happens to the script if it doesn't sell?

It seems like the OP in this thread loved the idea.

The production company who controls the material and he signed the contract with is "an outside first-timer."

Again, there was never a script to sell, and obviously no conversation about what would happen to it, since it never existed.

So, it passes the smell test on one out of three criteria.

To suggest that the pros here would have told him to do this isn't supported by any conversation that's taken place on this board.

DangoForth 02-28-2012 06:40 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
If memory serves, Nimoy and Keogh were in a similar situation on one of the STAR TREK movies where they came up with the original ideas for the film. Pretty sure after all was said and done they ended up with "Story By" credit. Might be worthwhile to research.

Rhodi 02-28-2012 06:54 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by JeffLowell (Post 790260)
To suggest that the pros here would have told him to do this isn't supported by any conversation that's taken place on this board.

So your advice two years ago on this particular case would have been to negotiate a rock-solid contract with Unscrupulous Productions through an entertainment attorney?

JeffLowell 02-28-2012 07:02 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
They were never asking the OP to write a draft to take out and sell. This was a pre-existing property, not even a spec situation. They were asking for him to basically serve as a consultant/producer. And yes, my advice would have been to get hired before he started writing.

Speccing is very different. You're creating something that you own and can sell. There was no chance of that happening here.

BattleDolphinZero 02-28-2012 11:55 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Jeff, you leave no room to respond with those concise answers.

Rhodi, do you not see how this situation is fundamentally different from speccing a script for, say, Lorenzo, or Grazer, or Rudin?

Geoff Alexander 02-29-2012 10:30 AM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Rhodi (Post 790264)
So your advice two years ago on this particular case would have been to negotiate a rock-solid contract with Unscrupulous Productions through an entertainment attorney?

Rhodi, no one has ever asked about providing consulting services and how to handle that.

Folks have always discussed writing for free. You see the difference?

tucsonray 02-29-2012 12:53 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Just wondering if you're familiar with the concept of quantum meruit (you may have a little issue with whether there was an expectation of compensation here, but perhaps it can be implied given the duration and nature of the work)/unjust enrichment (this is a remedy I like a lot... of course I do not work in CA so things may well be different there... ask your lawyer). It may give you a little comfort to do so as depending on the facts this is one thing that is worth noting.

Unfortunately often the only way to get 'Unscrupulous' to pay attention to claims like yours it through legal intervention (or the hint of legal intervention), but I know things are delicate as there's a balance between getting what you deserve and getting a reputation as being litigious, even if it's justified.

This is where the art of law practice comes into play... your lawyer is hopefully good at finessing the unscrupulous folks into doing the right thing by letting them know he/she is 'aware of and not afraid of litigation' while making it abundantly clear that he/she is in no way suggesting litigation.

As they said in Nashville, the sign of a top shelf songwriter is being able to write a love song without ever mentioning the word love. Same here with litigation (different art/same result)

So... for what it's worth, in my opinion, it is this quality in your lawyer that you should be paying attention to, in addition to the qualities many folks here have rightly pointed out.

Jeff's comment "Maybe the first person you should have your attorney have a strong conversation with is the outside producers. They're the ones who are treating you shabbily, so it doesn't seem like you're risking a lot by pushing them a little." makes a lot of sense to me.

And yes, I agree with those who see this situation as clearly different from spec'ing for all the reasons mentioned... here there is definitelty a benefit/enrichment being bestowed on the others in this project. I think depending on CA law the OP can get a little traction depending of course on the facts.... your attorney's assessment:

Our attorney's advice was that the deeper we got with the studio, the stronger our situation was.

...seems pretty sound from the way you describe it




BattleDolphinZero 02-29-2012 12:54 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
If it's not obvious, the difference is a script. The difference is also directly working with a single entity as opposed to having several layers between several entities. Including a writer.

Rhodi 02-29-2012 02:01 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by SBScript (Post 790321)
Rhodi, no one has ever asked about providing consulting services and how to handle that.

Folks have always discussed writing for free. You see the difference?

I do now.

My apologies, I guess I got a little steamed on behalf of the OP, because I have a general concern about the direction the industry is heading, and the growing reluctance of writers to demand some form of payment (or even a credit) for their creative input on projects for fear of getting the boot.

I suspect this fear is the very reason the OP has worked gratis for two years, without pushing the issue.

Mac H. 02-29-2012 05:17 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
One thing that other's have only touched on - but bothers me a little.

You had an arrangement in writing to give SME advice for one of the producers (or underlings or whatever) - they owned everything you did.

Fine.

Now you are going to the studio and want a better deal than the one you already agreed to in writing? How is that fair?

I know - you worked for no pay. But you got exactly what was promised - a good experience and no money.

So what is the issue?

You describe the company that hired you as 'highly unscrupulous'. Why? They offered you zero money and you agreed to provide advice for them anyway.

For example - I'm working on a war film. I often email and ring SMEs like yourself for advice. They offer it for free. If, after a few years, one of them was to suddenly start siccing a lawyer on me and describing me as 'unscrupulous' because I asked for (and was given) SME advice for no payment ... I'd be pretty annoyed. It was what they agreed to when they gave me the advice. Heck - in your case you've even given that agreement in writing.

So what is the issue? The simple fact is that most SMEs are quite happy to give advice for absolutely no expectation of payment.

---
Imagine that things were reversed - you ran a coffee shop and contracted a local sign-writing company to do a logo for your front window.

Things were going well - and then one day you get a call from a lawyer repping some guy you never had any dealings with. He claims that he gave advice over the color scheme and now demands you pay him.

You call up the sign writing company who is equally confused - they have a written agreement with the color scheme guy who acknowledged that every piece of advice he gave was owned by the sign writing company.

It turns out the colour scheme guy has consulted a lawyer and decided that he's going to throw that written agreement out the window - something about the contract not being in the correct font or 'due consideration' or some such thing.

You don't really know the details - but at sure hell know that it is an internal issue between the sign writing company and the colour scheme guy .. and you resent the trashiness of being dragged into it. It isn't going to put either of them in a good light.

---


Of course - this is just my opinion (given when I'm cranky and haven't had my morning coffee yet) ... and based on a short summary - so the opinion may be 200% off base.

Do with it what you will.

Good luck with your projects,

Mac
(PS: Have you considered what happens if you actually use any of the advice given on this board? After all - Jeff Lowell may decided in a few years to get a lawyer and send you a letter. Since you asked a professional for advice and he provided it (for free) - he may take a 'quantum meritus' point of view and then insist on payment after the fact. Would that be reasonable?

If you give advice to any of us on this board - are we risking being sued because you later decide that, since you've seen your suggestion in play up on the big screen, you can now demand money ? What about if your advice and assistance when above and beyond what is normally

Even if you promise (in writing) that you are doing this for no money .. it doesn't protect us. You can still decide later that you are owed money (or credit or whatever) .. and we know that you aren't fussy about honoring written agreements.

I know - I haven't had my coffee yet)

bortus 02-29-2012 05:40 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
We have an NDA, not a contract to give advice for free.

The issue here is that the initial agreement was unclear, and that all parties later conceded that the initial agreement did not cover the services we were rendering, and yet the agreement has not been updated. There is also the studio's point of view to consider; two unpaid and uncredited major contributors are a potential liability.

Another difference to your painting metaphor is that the project is still very much in development, not dry on the walls. We could walk and there would be an impact. This is not after the fact.

The term "unscrupulous" is used for many reasons. Industry pros have agreed with the assessment. These producers have a track record of behaving this way.

All of that said, I do think the best way forward is via good business relationships up the food chain, rather than litigation at the bottom. We have opportunities in that regard so that's how we'll likely proceed.

If anyone comes across a similar situation, or has relevant advice that hasn't yet been covered, would love to hear it. Thanks all for the input!

Mac H. 02-29-2012 05:58 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by bortus (Post 790387)
We have an NDA, not a contract to give advice for free.

Ah - that changes things. I was going by what you said earlier.

Earlier you said that the the agreement specified that 'we would not own our ideas'. If that had been true then what you had agreed to was far beyond an NDA - it would have been agreeing that what you generate is not owned by you, and had been provided solely for their use.

Mac

LMPurves 02-29-2012 06:00 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Mac H. (Post 790384)
.. and we know that you aren't fussy about honoring written agreements.

I know - I haven't had my coffee yet)

There's cranky, which most times can't be controlled, and then there's rude, which is a choice.

Mac H. 02-29-2012 09:30 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by LMPurves (Post 790392)
There's cranky, which most times can't be controlled, and then there's rude, which is a choice.

Yeah - but all of that is changed now.

I must have misread, but from what was written earlier it was strongly implied that there was a written agreement that any advice they gave as SME for the project wouldn't be owned by them.

Now, it turns out that the written agreement saying that didn't exist - and that it was a simple NDA instead.

That obviously changes things.

But if that earlier interpretation was correct - then that is a MASSIVE issue.

We are all here giving advice and helping on each other's projects.

So if someone did really want to change the agreement and decide that they wanted money and/or credit for their assistance on a project then it is a MASSIVE issue.

But, yes - I was wrong.

Mac

ATB 02-29-2012 11:40 PM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
I know less than sh1t about the OP's situation, but I think Mac has some good intentions. I'd consider his purview.

Aspirant 03-01-2012 08:39 AM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ATB (Post 790450)
I know less than sh1t about the OP's situation, but I think Mac has some good intentions. I'd consider his purview.

Agreed. Even if the facts are not what he originally assumed, that was good insight from Mac.

bortus 03-01-2012 09:33 AM

Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project
 
I appreciate the insight but it's a bit more complex than that.

The original agreement is unclear; the consulting situation has evolved a great deal from the framework for which it was drafted; there has been a verbal acknowledgment of its obsolescence; lawyers, managers, and agents have all agreed that the situation cannot be encapsulated by that agreement.

Your point of view is essentially the courtroom point of view of the external producers, and you express it well. But it's obviously not my point of view, and I'd be taking a very weak stand on the value of my time and effort if I simply gave up on the grounds that there's another point of view to consider.

That said, thanks for the input, I know you're just providing an alternate point of view.


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