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Old 09-26-2018, 11:48 AM   #1
LondonScreenwriter
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Default What to do when a collaborator turns on you?

I’ll try to explain this as quickly as possible, but essentially, a person I was collaborating with on a spec TV show pilot and series, who I have worked with for almost a decade, has told me he wants to take my name off the “Written by” part of the pilot and only give me credit as the “Co-Creator and Co-Developer” of the series. And I have no clue what to do.

More backstory. I came up with the initial premise of the show, some of the characters, the setting, and tone, but I like to co-write and work with other people so I asked my normal collaborator if he’d like to co-write it with me. (We actually haven’t co-written anything for a while; we’ve been working on separate projects.) He really likes the idea and we expanded and fleshed out the details of the world, outlined the pilot together, and then split the writing 50/50. I wrote my half, he wrote his half. But then before we came back together, he totally rewrote most of the dialogue for my section, but kept most of the flow, characters, settings, and structure.

At first, I was well, that’s okay, I’m not exactly happy with him doing this without telling me, but hey, we’re co-writing this and I’m going to do the same with his part in the next draft anyways. A few months go by, we finally talk about the changes we want to make, but this time he says we should each write our own draft and then bring them together to see what we each like the most from each draft. I wasn’t really a fan of this idea, but I said sure.

Then a few more months passed where he got busy with other projects and I got busy too. Then about a month and a half ago, he messaged me and said he was going to start up on it again. I said cool and that I would too, but I have so other projects to finish up first, but then I would have my version of the pilot written in just over two months. I asked him if that way okay and if it wasn’t, I could see if I could shuffle things around, but he said no problem, that would work.

So we go our separate ways, I’m working on these other projects and now a month and a half after we had our last conversation, he comes to me and said he’s really happy with his new draft and after getting feedback from people, wants to send it to his manager, who he hopes will shop it around. But since he felt like he rewrote/wrote most of the script, he wants sole writing credit for the pilot, which he says is a normal thing.

I’m kind of like WTF!?! It hasn’t even been the two months I said I needed to get the new draft done and you’ve been getting feedback from other people and want to take my name off of it! But I try to clam myself and ask him for his latest draft so I could check it out.

I start looking through it and while the half that I wrote was greatly rewritten and almost 90% of the dialogue and action description has been changed. Some of my words are still there and almost all my structure of the scenes, some of the jokes, character relationships, setting, etc. are still there. He’s bringing up to me WGAs arbitration rules about needing to write 30% of the script to receive credit and I’m still thinking, one, neither one of us are in the WGA yet, and two, we were supposed to be writing partners.

He tells me that he still wants to me to receive co-creating and development credit, but from the way he side stepped me and changed things without even consulting me, I feel like I can see how much real creative input I’d get if it ever got made.

So what would people do on here? Any ideas on how to save our writing relationship? (Which at this point, I’m still very angry and never want to work with him again, but maybe I’ll cool down.) Or am I overreacting and should see more of his side of the story? What does everyone think?

Edit: And before anyone asks, no we didn’t have a written agreement in place. He is someone I’ve worked with for years and i just didn’t think we needed it because in the past, we always split everything 50/50.

Also, he’s in LA and I’m in London.

Last edited by LondonScreenwriter : 09-26-2018 at 01:20 PM. Reason: Additional Info:
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Old 09-26-2018, 01:23 PM   #2
Ronaldinho
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Default Re: What to do when a collaborator turns on you?

No. Not normal.

Tell him in no uncertain terms that this is 100% unacceptable.

The WGA terms are irrelevant, because they don't apply to writing partnerships. That's between the two of you. It's absurd for him to unilaterally change the process and the credits. Also, in the WGA, you don't get rewritten until you've been paid.

Have you been communicating by email? If so, great - you've got a nice digital paper trail. If you haven't been, now's a good time to start.

You're not overreacting. He's behaved in a reprehensible way. What he's doing is not okay.

Also, legally, he can't unilaterally cut you out. You absolutely would have the legal ability to scuttle any sale (and when you sell something, you have to write something down that attests that it's 100% yours - if it's not, if you know it's not, and sign that, then he is personally liable for any damages.) You own what you wrote, and you jointly own the script you both worked on. Even if he rewrote everything it'd still probably be derivative work and he'd have to buy you out of the rights of your joint script in order to sell it.

**** this guy.
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Old 09-26-2018, 02:32 PM   #3
Northbank
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Default Re: What to do when a collaborator turns on you?

Writing separate drafts was a really bad idea. You write together or go back and forth on one draft. He used this to write you out of your own project.

This is not even close to being "a normal thing." Submitting it to anyone without your permission was a dick move - whose name was on that draft?

As above, this is not how the WGA works on many levels.

Short of murder, you're not overreacting at all. This is theft by stealth.

State in email, in no uncertain terms that this is unacceptable and any attempt to sell this or even submit without your full credit and consultation (for any plan a rep may have) will be met with legal action.

F*ck this guy.
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Old 09-26-2018, 04:31 PM   #4
JoeBanks
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Default Re: What to do when a collaborator turns on you?

did you have an agreement in writing beforehand?
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Old 09-26-2018, 06:03 PM   #5
EdFury
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Default Re: What to do when a collaborator turns on you?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ronaldinho View Post
No. Not normal.

Tell him in no uncertain terms that this is 100% unacceptable.

The WGA terms are irrelevant, because they don't apply to writing partnerships. That's between the two of you. It's absurd for him to unilaterally change the process and the credits. Also, in the WGA, you don't get rewritten until you've been paid.

Have you been communicating by email? If so, great - you've got a nice digital paper trail. If you haven't been, now's a good time to start.

You're not overreacting. He's behaved in a reprehensible way. What he's doing is not okay.

Also, legally, he can't unilaterally cut you out. You absolutely would have the legal ability to scuttle any sale (and when you sell something, you have to write something down that attests that it's 100% yours - if it's not, if you know it's not, and sign that, then he is personally liable for any damages.) You own what you wrote, and you jointly own the script you both worked on. Even if he rewrote everything it'd still probably be derivative work and he'd have to buy you out of the rights of your joint script in order to sell it.

**** this guy.

^^this 1000%^^

He doesn't just get to decide. If he pushes back, just email his manager with these details, tell him you have a paper trail and that if they try and sell it without you, you'll scuttle any deal they have with legitimate ownership claims. Producers hate those and will drop a project over that.

Don't try and salvage anything. Just get your credit.

I wish you luck and next time, sign a partnership agreement no matter how much you trust someone.
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Old 09-26-2018, 06:04 PM   #6
AnyOtherName
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Default Re: What to do when a collaborator turns on you?

Echoing what others have said: this guy is a bottom-feeding scumbag. Fortunately, you have total power to shut this down since his chain of title isn't remotely clean. To make a deal with a buyer, he'll have to make a deal with you-- and if it's not WGA, that deal can include credit allocation.
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Old 09-27-2018, 08:40 AM   #7
LondonScreenwriter
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Default Re: What to do when a collaborator turns on you?

Thanks for the responses everyone. Still can't believe he's doing this to me after almost a decade of working together. But I guess people change.

Yeah, definitely getting partnership/collaboration agreements from now on. Even with "friends."
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