The devil is always in the details…
January 18, 2012 § 1 Comment
Yes, the surprise always rears its ugly head after the project moves forward. Perhaps you did some free spec work, took some meetings, even pitched the idea, and when the dust settles everyone believes they are on the same page. They present a contract with the terms spelled out — or maybe they are still hidden? Many times, both you and the producer have misunderstood the deal. “I thought you knew that we expected you to do _____?” You’re not even on the same page, let alone in the same book. I continually learn this axiom: Cut your deal going in. Before you get involved deeper in a project, always make it clear what you expect and what you are willing to do.
What happens if you have done some work on the spec screenplay and you’ve accepted in principle the basic terms of the deal, and then find out an important deal point wasn’t mentioned or assumed — don’t be afraid to walk away. Everything in life is negotiable. If the deal’s terms are more than you are unwilling to do, politely excuse yourself from the situation and move on. Don’t be afraid of losing the job, because you didn’t have it in the first place. Producers will respect you more if you don’t easily roll over and just accept any crappy deal placed in front of you. Crumbs are just that — crumbs. If you weren’t asking for a loaf of bread, but for a piece and they offered crumbs, time to walk on brave warrior. Your journey is on another path.
We are the storytellers. Our creativity is our power and the currency that separates us from the other talent. A writer needs to be more like the samurai who were raised to face the enemy without fear. Find your centered place, always be mindful and proudly walk into battle with a clear vision and resolve of what you want and deserve from any deal. If negotiations don’t work and there’s no room to wiggle, move on. There is a calmness that comes from your resolve to walk away. It’s a confidence that comes from knowing your ability as a writer and placing value on yourself when others may not.
If anyone tries to cheapen your talent or ability, politely remind them of the reason you are at the table and not some other writer. Never be overbearing or angry. Be like the samurai when he decides to pull his sword. In the samurai’s mind, he is already victorious before his sword leaves the scabbard. The blade will not return to the scabbard again until the opponent is eliminated. You must have the same resolve when you decide to walk away from a deal that just isn’t in your best interest as a writer.
Hollywood is a business where you constantly have to look out for yourself and it’s much better to have a team in your corner to help you navigate the murky shark-infested waters. If your team includes an agent, manager or attorney, let them play the bad cop. You as the writer must always play the good cop. In any business deal, always be clear about what you expect and what they expect of you as the writer. This way there will be no misunderstandings as the project moves farther along and everyone will truly be on the same page. Be true to yourself with regards to how much you are willing to do on a project under the terms offered. Your time is precious and you will not get those minutes and hours back. And yes, you must have an entertainment lawyer in your corner for any deal.
Never forget, the devil is always in the details.
“Hollywood is a place where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder.” — William Faulkner
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