Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is the stuff we, the writers, produce. It is also the stuff that movie directors and producers treat as their own as soon as they get their greedy little hands on it. I’ve been approached so many times by directors/producers who want to make a film, have no idea what to make a film about so they want an idea from me. As a writer, like all of you are, you’ll understand that ideas are meat and drink to me. That’s what gets me up in the morning. So they want ideas? I have more than enough ideas to keep me going for the next fifty years.

I therefore give them my ideas in the form of a script and within minutes it’s become “their” film. Most directors/producers barely remember my name once they have the script. In fact, one director from hell actually removed my name from the script entirely as he went into the shoot and put a large “Adapted By A-Hole” title on the front of it. All he’d done was little more than adding a comma to one sentence! Did I mention at the start of this blog that I am as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore? Well, that’s still true.

Another director and I talked for a bit about the story I’d given her – remember she had NOTHING before I came along – and we decided after a conversation on the phone that I would add a small sub-plot. The idea came about after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between us and resonated strongly with something I was going through personally. So I took it and wrote a sub-plot into the script. Of course it was a matter of seconds before she came back to tell me that the script should read “Written by Me and Herself.” Dammit, she already had the director credit as well as the producer credit and hadn’t actually touched the script in any way at all. I refused to add her as a writer because writers, well, write. I gave her a “Script Editor” credit instead.

So the question I want to ask you is this: why do writers have to fight so bloody hard to be given the rightful credit due to them? It’s unheard of in any other part of the industry and, remember, they would have NOTHING to work on if it wasn’t for your script. Somehow, the egos in the film industry are enormous, and the higher up the hierarchy you go, the less credit you give to anyone else around you.

In case I haven’t made myself clear, your simple little script is the foundation on which all their egos are built. The Actors would look rather silly without your lines. The Director couldn’t throw his/her weight around without your script. And the Producers couldn’t drive snappy little sports cars if it wasn’t for your words. This is what I mean when I talk about Intellectual Property. Just because everyone can write an email, people in the film industry more than any other, underestimate the amount of skill it takes to put written words into the right order. Also an idea from a gifted writer is just that: a gift, an inspiration. It is not an email. A director who is not a writer would NEVER come up with the same idea as you have. A producer, unless he or she is also a writer, wouldn’t be able to write the same script you have written. Not in a million years.

So here’s my advice. When I heard that the A-Hole director mentioned above had taken my script and put his own name on it after removing mine, I became very good friends with a lawyer. I then sent a very sweet and “feminine” letter (see Pushy Women above) to the director and the producer asking them to clarify for my lawyer’s sake exactly what my credit on the film would be as it was my script alone which green-lit the film. I cc-ed the lawyer and told the Dirs/Prods that this was just a formality and wasn’t meant in bad faith at all. After all, I wasn’t trying to be confrontational at all…  I got my credit in the end. It wasn’t where it should have been according to filmic conventions but hey, after the blood bath of the long production which had heads rolling throughout its torturous shooting schedule, I’ll take it.

So, in case you didn’t get it the first time: You own the INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY to your film. It is your legal right. Without it, the film would not exist.

Get a lawyer, read Joe Eszterhas’s book The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood to man up, even if you are a woman. And get TOUGH. After all, writers have rights too.

And here is a quote from the book mentioned above. Elia Kazan, who ended up directing his own work as well as writing it, said: “Writing, in case you don’t know it, is much harder than directing films. It may be the reason why I, perverse I, do it.”

Writers must no longer be soft about owning their own work.

“Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made. The publisher and the play producer are showmen too; but they exploit what is already made. The showmen of Hollywood control the making – and thereby degrade it. For the basic art of motion pictures is the screenplay; it is fundamental, without it there is nothing. Everything derives from the screenplay, and most of that which derives is an applied skill which, however adept, is artistically not in the same class with the creation of a screenplay. But in Hollywood the screenplay in written by a salaried writer under the supervision of a producer – that is to say, by an employee without power or decision over the uses of his own craft, without ownership of it, and, however extravagantly paid, almost without honor for it.” Raymond Chandler - http://www.openculture.com/2011/07/raymond_chandler_theres_no_art_of_the_screenplay_in_hollywood.html