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Author Topic: Need Advice on Movie Collaboration
Osiris
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Hi,

It's been a while since I've been active over here in Hatrack, but I hope you all don't mind me bending your ears for some advice.

A few weeks ago after I released a story on Amazon I was contacted by an indie movie producer who liked my work and the story very much. He asked if I'd be interested in meeting to discuss possible collaboration.

After some back-and-forth via e-mail, we finally arranged to meet earlier today and we really hit it off, and what was supposed to be a one hour meeting turned into three and a half.

Aside from having very similar backgrounds, we discovered we have aligned goals in terms of what we want to do with our respective crafts and he's interested in collaborating on a low-budget science-fiction movie with me.

While this is all really exciting, it is uncharted territory for me. I'm hoping someone around here might have some experience in this arena.

One of the biggest questions I have is what, if any, kind of compensation should I be requesting? I don't want to sink the opportunity and yet at the same time, this is likely to be a major time commitment and I don't think any writer should be giving their talents away for free.

Also, what sort of credits should one ask or expect for if co-writing a script with a producer?

If anyone's had this experience, could they share what kind of time-commitment they put in on a weekly basis? I have my hands in a few different pots and it seems likely I'd have to sacrifice something in order to pursue this.

Anyway, thanks for listening/reading. The feedback will be appreciated!

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Grumpy old guy
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With regard to monetary compensation, it is usual to sell the intellectual property rights to the story for an agreed amount--contracts signed and so-forth. Another route is to sell the rights to the novel for a small percentage of the income of the film, either net or gross.

Once the rights to the story have been sold, the writer usually has no more involvement unless asked to collaborate with the screenwriter. This again could be rewarded with monetary compensation for work and effort, or a percentage figure.

On-screen credit depends on the role. It is usual for a "Based on a novel(story, idea) by:" if you haven't had any other input. If you collaborate on the screenwriting then it is usual to be acknowledged in either the opening or closing credits; sometimes both--"Written by:"

Your time question is like asking how long a piece of string is. It all depends on the agreed role you undertake. Just look at some to the "Making of . . ." doco's you get on DVD/BD's these days.

Hope this helps.

Phil.

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Osiris
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Thanks Phil. To clarify, though we talked about possibly working off one of my stories, it is more likely that we'd collaborate on something new together in writing the screen-play. Hence why I'm uncertain about how compensation would work in this scenario.
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Meredith
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Before signing anything, find an intellectual property attorney to advise you. Or an agent, if you have something like a firm offer. They know how to negotiate these things.
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extrinsic
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Extreme caution advised. Three and a half hours and the topic of compensation didn't come up? A writer is in a seller's market and an indie movie producer is in a buyer's market as pertains to writers.

This sounds suspiciously like a scam: a congenial stranger makes contact through a web listing and talks collaboration project. I hear about one of these indie-movie-producer-contacts-self-published-writer-for-project through the grapevine about once a year. They all so far fell through and the writers, all self-publishers listed on Amazon, become reticent about giving further progress reports, embarrassed, I expect.

Likelihood the offer is not a scam is low. Genuine, even indie, movie people are unlikely to pick a writer out of the wild blue. They cherrypick their creative performers from proven and personally-known acquaintances. Scammers rely on targets' gullibility and vanity and confidence and eventual silent embarrassment. Next comes the bilk, the touch, an ask for shared investment in pre-production expenses.

Double-check credentials, and triple-check for a scam by asking for an up-front proposal with written terms, including compensation terms and an up-front retainer compensation. Know the end and exit game: This much money for this much product for this much time passed. Also, propose a high amount for a retainer and gauge reaction. Negotiable? Balks? Agreeable? Passed over and advised time enough later for firm negotiations? Bolt; do not pass Go; do not collect $200.00.

On the other hand, an independent film producer approached a writer acquaintance about buying film rights to a published work, bought outright, and indie sceenwriters adapted the work for film under rigidly defined terms. Screenwriting and prose composition are different arts. The writer earned a few dollars from the rights sale and a few from royalties and residuals, though was otherwise uninvolved in the film project. That's the natural and necessary way of the business.

Even sincere proposals can go awry. I've been burned over different art products that I invested time and money into and then the buyer backed out and left me holding the bag, same with business collaborations.

[ April 10, 2015, 11:19 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Osiris
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Extreme caution advised. Three and a half hours and the topic of compensation didn't come up? A writer is in a seller's market and an indie movie producer is in a buyer's market.

This sounds suspiciously like a scam: a congenial stranger makes contact through a web listing and talks collaboration project. I hear about one of these indie-movie-producer-contacts-self-published-writer-for-project through the grapevine about once a year. They all so far fell through and the writers, all self-publishers listed on Amazon, become reticent about giving further progress reports, embarrassed, I expect.

Likelihood the offer is not a scam is low. Genuine, even indie, movie people are unlikely to pick a writer out of the wild blue. They cherrypick their creative performers from proven and personally-known acquaintances. Scammers rely on targets' gullibility and vanity and confidence and eventual silent embarrassment. Next comes the bilk, the touch, an ask for shared investment in pre-production expenses.

Double-check credentials, and triple-check for a scam by asking for an up-front proposal with written terms, including compensation terms and an up-front retainer compensation. Know the end and exit game: This much money for this much product for this much time passed. Also, propose a high amount for a retainer and gauge reaction. Negotiable? Balks? Agreeable? Passed over and advised time enough later for firm negotiations? Bolt; do not pass Go; do not collect $200.00.

On the other hand, an independent film producer approached a writer acquaintance about buying film rights to a published work, bought outright, and indie sceenwriters adapted the work for film. Screenwriting and prose composition are different arts. The writer earned a few dollars from the rights sale and a few from royalties and residuals, though was otherwise uninvolved in the film project. That's the natural and necessary way of the business.

I suppose some more details are in order to explain why I don't think it is a scam, though your points are well taken in regards to contract negotiation.

He didn't contact me through a web listing. We are both part of a local social group for Egyptians that meets in person but organizes through Facebook. It's through this group that we became acquainted. We live in the same town and his business is about 20 minutes from my home.

Also, I met him in their office. I saw all their video equipment, and sat down to watch clips on their video-editing rig on a movie they are working on. He's been featured in the news and on PBS for movies he's worked on. So unless he is also scamming reporters, he is legit.

He's worked with PBS and done many corporate videos as well for companies I've heard of. His is a small outfit, low budget, and I'm under no illusions that this is Hollywood or even high-end indie material. They've got a website here (http://ravision.net/index.html) and the clip I watched on their editing rig is the movie titled "Desert Stars" on the webpage.

The reason he approached me, I believe and he expressed this, is because of our shared cultural background and our interest in re-framing the way the Arabs, Arab-Americans, and Muslims are treated in creative media. We're both interested in presenting such individuals as protagonists as opposed to the usual villains.

That said, I think it is always good to be cautious. Most of the meeting was just getting to know each other and building trust, and we agreed to talk about expectations next time we meet (It's considered a faux pas to talk money immediately in Egyptian culture). I can promise you if he asks me to share in any expenses, or doesn't want to formalize things in writing, I will be gone and consider it a lesson learned. As they say, money flows to the writer, not from the writer. I find this especially valuable and will use it to guide me:

quote:
Double-check credentials, and triple-check for a scam by asking for an up-front proposal with written terms, including compensation terms and an up-front retainer compensation. Know the end and exit game: This much money for this much product for this much time passed. Also, propose a high amount for a retainer and gauge reaction. Negotiable? Balks? Agreeable? Passed over and advised time enough later for firm negotiations? Bolt; do not pass Go; do not collect $200.00.


[ April 10, 2015, 11:34 PM: Message edited by: Osiris ]

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extrinsic
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That sounds sincere now: shared cultural values underrepresented within a mutually-shared multicultural background.

They, the proverbial they, say extremists stand out from the silent and otherwise respectful majority by any means to an attention-getting end. Many silent heroes slog through life without noisy notice. They have many stories to share.

Seemingly insignificant cultural idioms, like Arab culture believes money talk comes later in a negotiation sequence is uncommon for brash U.S. business practices, are possible motifs for such a narrative. Usually, film and narrative offhandedly drop in idioms like that, or show them as vices. They are tired for those reasons. Their mythology development as familiar and exotic advises they be fresh and fully realized on the page or screen or stage; that is, mythology is natural basic nature and vivid and lively action influence of a motif or idiom.

A portrait of differences in cultures and celebrations and overlaps and clashes and transformation outcomes thereof, to me, that's the action of consequence underneath a surface action, no matter the tangible action.

[ April 11, 2015, 12:46 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Negotiated and agreed terms of a signed contract are the norm. The exchange of intellectual property for financial reward, the transaction. Collaboration implies shared risk and reward scenarios. The risk, in your case, may simply be your time and skull-sweat, theirs, equipment and financing. Remuneration ratios to be agreed upon, the greater the risk ratio, the greater the reward.

Get a lawyer, either IP or Contract, once you get past the initial meet-and-greet phase and start talking money and definitely before you start giving away your ideas for free. You may also want to do some financial/credit checks; although, if they're Muslim, credit rating may be hard to ascertain. In that light, social/community references may suffice.

Take it slow. There's no hurry. Dot all the i's and cross all the t's.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Favorable business transactions depend on little more than a clear and mutually understood promise, and a handshake, if that. A business transaction that depends on a contract is in the main a basis for dispute resolution and not worth the paper it's written on for that reason. The costs of dispute resolution diminish value, and not just financial: public good will, good and pleasant relationships, and heartaches and headaches. The paperwork for a mutual, cooperative, or coordinate transaction is just a memorialization of terms, for memory. Trust is a person's good word and not opening a door for corrupt possibilities. Knowing value, effort, time, and expense and real worth is due diligence done and prepared beforehand.

Knowing a film option rights offer based on comparables is a best due diligence practice, for one. Proven blockbuster novel options range in the significant fractions of a million range or millions. A novel, say that sold a few thousand copies, more like a few hundred for the option. An option is only a guarantee the novel's adaptation is exclusively available to the option holder and usually includes an expiration and reversion clause by a date certain.

A film rights contract is the terms by which a creative property's copyright is assigned by an owner for production and distribution.

Collaboration projects are generally considered works for hire engaged by a senior decision maker, the project an actual or speculative business asset of a proprietorship or corporation or partnership, informally partnered collaborations notwithstanding. They are usually based upon a fixed compensation package based on an advance signing bonus or retainer, a fixed amount of pay per unit of time or piece and per a sequenced deadline, as in pages per week, performance of expectations, and a time limit for the project.

Outright sale of, say, a film project -- its treatment (summary or synopsis sketch), draft script, production script, or as-filmed script with ongoing amendments endorsed is a one time transaction per phase.

A general principle of thumb for an asking price for all of the above is present rate of revenue earnings per time period plus a "creative" labor percentage kicker and a tax responsibility as well as, maybe, perquisites like insurance -- health, life, employment, business liability and operations, if they are warranted. If one earns $3,000 gross income per quarter for six hundred hours employment otherwise, a six-hundred hour project revenue should be commensurate.

An at-risk project where risks and rewards are reciprocal to the parties may be for a fraction of the above formula, contingent upon recouped investments and profitable revenue returns, though no more risk than can be reasonably withstood; if only labor, then time, spare or taken away from a full-time job. Also, where a party stands in regard to returns may best be placed after operation expenses payments (hourly labor, materials like camera data cartridges, and office rent and utilities, etc.), at the same time as all risk-invested parties receive returns, though before profits are calculated.

An at-risk participant's profits are a secondary risk category usually based on gross profit share as a percentage of the gross revenue. Note that for corporations the business model is ten percent of gross receipts is gross profits. Corporate income taxes and corporate officer salaries and board "honorariums," stockholder dividends, and their accounting, legal, and correspondence costs, and capital costs (property loan repayment, etc.) are paid out of gross profits. That's the standard model anyway, not after creative accounting practices skew numbers whichever way a shady CEO, CFO, or COO, president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, or other executive desires.

The overall standard business model regardless of organization is 30 percent material costs, 30 percent labor costs, 30 percent operation costs, and ten percent gross revenue, known as keystone.

A writer working on a freelance for-hire project basis is actually a refined material producer or material cost and not per se a laborer or labor cost. Again, creative accounting practices may see that differently.

[ April 11, 2015, 06:26 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Osiris
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While the Egyptian aversion to talking about money in initial discussions is part of the cultural norm, I can attest to its failings first-hand.

I met through another Egyptian friend an Egyptian who worked in building maintenance and had aspirations of striking out on his own as a general contractor. We met socially for dinner, and became acquainted and discussed vague plans to go on a fishing trip sometime.

As it happened, after our meeting I had need of a contractor to help me build a fence in our yard. So we thought about our new friend and contacted him.

We had discussions, I told him I'd pay him of course for his assistance. When I tried to hash out details of said payment, he avoided the issue.

Now, based on prior experience of what I'd payed other contractors, I suggested ~$650 for 15 hours of labor, which was more generous than what a prior laborer charged me.

As expected, he continued to avoid the discussion of money as is common among Egyptians. Eventually the job was finished, and at this point the discussion was unavoidable.

Finally, he said to me, just figure out what a regular contractor would charge for labor and pay me 75% of that. So I did my due diligence, found a tool to calculate the number, which resulted in a payment of $500, smaller than what I'd initially proposed.

So when he was informed of this number, but offered the original $650, he became irate and accused us of trying to scam him. We finally learned the number he'd been hiding in his mind was closer to $1,500, which was a ridiculous number. The confrontation was drawn out over several phone calls where we explained to him we did exactly what he asked and this was the number that we came up with. I further determined what we were paying him was 3 times the labor costs per laborer of what a professional fence company had given us in an estimate.

Eventually he relented and accepted the money, which we sent along with our research justifying the number, but the damage to any budding friendship was done and we haven't spoken since the incident.

Moral of the story... leave no room for assumptions. Put EVERYTHING on paper in a signed contract so that the project can move forward with a solid foundation of trust and mutual respect.

As for my situation, I'm thinking of some sort of hourly/per-word/per-page fee combined with some percentage of revenue from the sale of the movie and possibly some language regarding any potential royalties due for possible licensed products (T-shirts, mugs, etc). Would this be asking too much?

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Dave Wolverton/David Farland has recommended (from his own experience in movieland) that rather than sign on as "the writer" you try to sign on as one of "the producers" so that you have more say in the end result.

In most movie making scenarios, the writer is at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole with little or no say in anything once the story rights have been paid for.

If you want to be more involved, contract to be a producer, not just the writer.

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Grumpy old guy
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:

A business transaction that depends on a contract is in the main a basis for dispute resolution and not worth the paper it's written on for that reason.

It is also the basis to avoid that complication; everything depends on each individuals intent. The handshake agreement, while enforceable in law in Australia, is no basis for easy resolution when a creative or financial disputes arises.

A contract is simply a set of clearly defined rules all parties agree to abide by. Contention only arises when one or more parties seek to vary the terms, usually in their own favour.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Unless a merchandise motif is identifiably a writer's creation, copyright or trademark or patent, a merchandise licensing percentage could be a bridge too far, though a negotiation point nonetheless that may yield a concession on another point in the writer's favor in exchange for a yield on the merchandise percentage.

The other points are reasonable negotiation points for broad terms. Further point detail refinements are flexible, many based upon expectations. If the priority is portraying a cultural expression, up-front money may be less important than the cause's success, at which time financial considerations depend on the overall success. Other considerations might include if this is a one-time project or a franchise in the making, and really, most of all, the degree of creative contribution. Negotiation from a strong position brings marketable and noteworthy ideas to the table.

I've read more than a few film preparation documents, treatments, rough drafts, finished drafts, etc,, and from successful projects as well as ones that languished in dark trunks, in workshops too. Like prose, a lot of hobby, daydream, and lackluster writing numerically dominates. Even many of the successful projects were disappointing for those reasons, usually from little to no freshness, originality, vividness, and liveliness: retread dramatic circumstances with altered motifs.

So, for me, the ideas are the marketable product during negotiations and after. The idea of Egyptian roles recast in a more favorable light is a starting point. Where do the ideas go from there? What is unique and appealing about Egyptian culture celebration in a multicultural culture?

The idea of an Egyptian laborer who uses an Egyptian cultural idiom to gain advantage over another Egyptian is a stellar idea start. That complication baseline is fraught with promising want and problem potentials for a dramatic clash of wills, both internal-personal and external-public. Each character has moral crises and crises with the other.

A general tendency to pose one agonist as morally superior to another is an issue for me in all narrative media. Posing both and all agonists as more or less equal in moral ambiguity at first is to me a step ahead of the fray in itself, idea-wise. And moral superior starts are what I label, and Damon Knight identifies as one hallmark of, daydream writing. While the dynamic action unfolds, though, moral ambiguity becomes less and less ambiguous, for a really satisfying narrative, film, poem, etc., one agonist transcends wickedness in the face of unbearable temptation, another wallows in it, another is unchanged. Maturation tableaus matter for receiver satisfaction, no matter the culture portrayed or narrative form.

Given the above unique Egyptian culture idiom example, and others, promising appeals and dramatic structures are plentiful. Dramatic turns and outcomes with inevitable surprises are shape makers for such plot structures. Norman Friedman defines a dozen maturation-type substructures common for Western narrative that entail inevitable surprises, paraphrased: a wicked individual is reformed or unreformed, a noble individual is redeemed or unredeemed; a strong individual is laid low, a weak individual is made strong, etc. Are there similar maturation-type substructures for Egyptian and multicultural cultures thereof with similar transformations? I know a few which are either foreign to Westerners or no longer considered noble or ignoble that once mattered and don't anymore.

[ April 11, 2015, 07:42 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Osiris
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:

Are there similar maturation-type substructures for Egyptian and multicultural cultures thereof with similar transformations? I know a few which are either foreign to Westerners or no longer considered noble or ignoble that once mattered and don't anymore.

There are certain things that seem unique to Egyptian culture or at least different from Western culture that are fertile ground. For example, the culture is wired for nearly god-like reverence of parents. Even for the adult children, they are often unable to see the faults of their parents and accept things that we wouldn't accept in the USA. On the other hand, though, on the other hand, it also leads to a caring for one's parents in their elder years that I find admirable. But that said, we saw the parent-deity dynamic play out in the Arab Spring. As Mubarak became more and more desperate in trying to retain power, he drew on paternal rhetoric, talking to the Egyptian citizens as if they were his children, even calling them his children, and positioning himself as their father to try and manipulate them and seed feelings of guilt in them for their behavior.

What amazed me was this actually worked on some people. Shortly after one such speech, people flooded Facebook with messages like "Mubarak is our father, how can we treat him this way?" (Nevermind this father sanctioned the torture and killing of thousands throughout his dictatorship).

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extrinsic
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You've got the idea for marketable ideas. Now let's talk money for advisory editor services rendered. Pay it forward.
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