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Old 02-27-2012, 07:24 PM   #1
bortus
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Default 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?
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Old 02-27-2012, 07:26 PM   #2
BattleDolphinZero
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Default 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.
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Old 02-27-2012, 07:41 PM   #3
jimjimgrande
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Default 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.
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Old 02-27-2012, 07:52 PM   #4
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Default 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?
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Old 02-27-2012, 08:11 PM   #5
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Default 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...
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Old 02-27-2012, 08:21 PM   #6
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Default 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!
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Old 02-27-2012, 08:47 PM   #7
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Default 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.
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Old 02-27-2012, 09:50 PM   #8
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Default 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?
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Old 02-28-2012, 11:35 AM   #9
Geoff Alexander
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Default 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.
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Old 02-28-2012, 12:13 PM   #10
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Default Re: Consulting on a Major Studio Project

Quote:
Originally Posted by SBScript View Post
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.
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