Glad You Asked Department 5/20/13
Time now to once again play Answer Man. Today’s question is on a topic that’s broken many a writer’s heart…including, yes, my own.
Thanks to Edye P. for having the special kind of courage it took to bring this up:
I’ve been writing for a couple of years now, long enough to have an agent and specs she’s proud to send out.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been on pins and needles about a proposal the agent sent to a major studio. A week ago, everything was rainbows because negotiations had begun and the network had accepted, “in principle,” our terms: WGAW minimum for the pilot script and a staff writing position if the show got on the air.
Yesterday, however, my agent got a call from the person whose career the series would be based on, with the woman saying, “Who is Edye P anyway? Why do we need her? Aaron Sorkin would love to write this?”
The woman wants me to write the script first to prove I’m “worthy” before she’ll okay the deal. I know all too well that I’m nobody and should be happy for the chance to play the game. But I’m crushed. I know there’s nothing you can do about making this deal, but I need some consolation. Help!
To which yours truly, LB replies:
I feel your pain. To be precise, I’ve felt it. Many times.
People not directly involved in the TV/film biz (even those in other branches of showbiz) always think they can “do better” when put together with a new writer/producer/director, or even one who simply isn’t what they think of as A List. They may not be A List themselves, but they’re certain they deserve “the best.”
The last time this happened with me was with a certain Outlaw Country Star and all-round insult king. (In person, as opposed to onstage, he makes Don Rickles look like not merely a saint but an angel.)
A few years ago, when I was living in the South, Outlaw Country Star’s Acting Manager/pal brought me in to write and produce a biopic based on a not-exactly- best-selling book on OCS’s life.
AM/P flew with me to the West Coast to meet with OCS. We didn’t exactly get off to a great start. OCS looked me up and down as he entered the meeting room (mostly up because he’s very short) and said, “Are you Jewish? Jews have destroyed the music business, you know.”
It got a little better after that, and at the end of the day I went home with the AM/Pal’s assurance that we’d be making a deal soon and I should get started working out all the production details, especially the budget.
I didn’t have much else to do out in the country, so I enlisted the participation of a terrific line producer and wrote the creative proposal-business plan the AM/P wanted. During the process OCS and I talked on the phone a few times, and I even arranged for a director buddy of mine and his crew to accompany him on what he then thought would be his “Final Tour” and shoot the hell out of it.
During the tour, the AM/P told me how well people were reacting to the proposal. In fact, he said, he had all the right people lined up with the right money.
After the tour, the AM/P called me again. OCS, he said, had been thinking. If there was that much interest in an OCS biopic, it certainly couldn’t be because of me, an ordinary mortal who also was “some semi-retired TV guy.”
Nope, it had to be because of OCS. Which meant that OCS and his pal were sure to get more money if the film had an Oscar winning writer-producer instead…and several of those types were, AM/P said, champing at the bit to be in.
So off the project went without me, and…well, you haven’t seen it, have you? Or heard about it being prepped or shot or in post? The film was never made. As far as I know it never got written…and no real money ever got put on the table.
Based on my experience, regardless of what happens here, your agent still has something to negotiate: Payment and possible credit for you for what you’ve done if the project goes on without you. (Call the WGAW. they may have some advice about that.)
And take consolation in the fact that if the subject of your series decides to look for someone else to build on the foundation you’ve built, odds are that will be the end of the project. Things just always seem to work out that way.
Odds also are that not working with her in any way will be much better for your life than doing the gig. Personally, at the very least, and probably career-wise as well…even if the project goes ahead. Because at this point, if you continue to participate there’s a very good chance that you’ll end up the lightning rod for every bit of criticism the subject ever has, and that’s one of the most stressful situations you can be in.
Of course, if you do end up with the deal, forget I said anything. You’ll have created a series. You’ll be working on it. You’ll be banking sizable $$$. Enjoy!
In other words, if you squint just a bit, this is far from a disaster. It’s actually a win-win situation. It’s all just a matter of perception.
My purpose here is to help as many undiscovered creative geniuses as possible. But I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!