When is a Screenwriting Contract NOT a Screenwriting Contract?

 

written-contract-600x276 Not long ago, I engaged in a long negotiation with an overseas production company- Templeheart Films based out of London, England, and their principle, Lyndon Baldock- regarding developing a new concept, story line and horror screenplay around a certain location in which they had previously secured for filming. This relationship was a long time in development for me at Shark-Eating Man Productions, as we had done several “freebies” along the way for them and their associates. I counted Templeheart producers and their stable of actors, directors and producers as valuable contacts and good friends, as we seemed to enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual support for a couple of years at least. Lyndon and I Skyped on several occasions; he seemed like a straight-shooting, trustful fellow, very pleasant and seemingly easy to work with. I immediately felt comfortable about the new business relationship and was excited about the future of the screenwriter/producer partnership.

Templeheart Films have about a dozen produced horrors, most straight-to-DVD, and have relationships with European companies as well as Red Box for distribution, so I was pretty sure this screenplay, if good enough, would be produced and, eventually, marketed and sold. A contract was submitted to me, and while the money was not what I’m used to, this wasn’t about the money at all. I was looking long-term and working with a reputable producer. One benefit was that I was able to bring along a couple of writer friends and give them credit as well, giving them their first produced writing credit, and this was exciting for me. I always find it a thrill to help others achieve their goals whenever possible.

Outside of the compensation, the contract stated some very hard dates regarding deadlines, and penalties should those deadlines be missed; penalties for the writers being late, and penalties for the production company being late in payments and/or notes. These are fairly common protection clauses, and the contract was reviewed by attorneys on both sides of the agreement. This contract was signed in May 2015.Horsehead

It was explained to us that the director had a screenplay written, and while he was a very talented director and self-promoter, he lacked any real writing skills, so they wanted to see what I could do. After a few weeks, and some brainstorming with the other writers, we came up with two very strong story lines, and submitted one- which Lyndon loved, much to our pleasant surprise. He emailed me explaining that he will review further and submit notes immediately.

I waited…and waited. No notes were forthcoming.

I sent a reminder email regarding the notes; still no response.

It should be noted that the first draft was written and forwarded for review PRIOR TO ever having received the down payment to start the project- which I NEVER do. In this case, I felt that we were more than working associates and more “friends” and felt I could trust them, perhaps more than I should have.

Also in reviewing the contract again, I noted that if the Mr. Baldock did not respond with notes within an eight-week time period, the draft submitted is considered final and acceptable, rendering the contract completed and making all payment immediately due.

After ten weeks of no contact, and no feedback notes on the first draft submitted- and, most importantly, NO down payment paid- I fired off an email to Mr. Baldock requesting immediate payment of the down payment and the payment in full for the contract, outlining where he and his production company breached his own rules:

“The engagement shall commence on the 12th of June 2015 (the “Starting Date”).
                 
1.1                    The Writer shall deliver the First Draft to the Company as soon as is reasonably practicable but in any event not later than six (6) weeks from the Starting Date and in this respect time shall be of the essence of this Agreement.

1.2                    The Company may within six (6) weeks from delivery of the First Draft give written notes to the Writer following which the Writer shall deliver to the Company the First Draft Revisions as soon as is reasonably practicable but in any event not later than three (3) weeks from the date of the said notes and in this respect time shall be of the essence of this Agreement.

1.1                    the sum of $xx,xxx payable as to $x,xxx on the delivery of the First Draft and $x,xxx on approval of the Shooting Draft or if no revisions are requested by Company six (6) weeks following delivery of the First Draft; and…”


In summary, Mr. Baldock failed to fulfill ANY of his legally promised obligations per the signed contract created by his own company’s attorneys. He failed to meet any of the deadlines HE set, and he failed to make any of the payments as promised. Eventually, the down payment was wired to my bank through a bank transfer, but this was months after the fact, and weeks after the deadline. Now, I was requesting payment in full, per the contract.

Screwed

What was Lyndon Baldock and Templeheart Films response to this request? They simply recreated a second contract, with NEW due dates and requested I sign that.

Well, naturally, you can imagine what I told them. I requested another Skype with Mr. Baldock, but suddenly, he was no longer interested in Skyping with me. I only wanted him to look me in the eye when explaining to me how he could lie and cheat me out of a legally binding contract. He must have known this too, which is why he refused. In his effort to get me to sign the revised contract, he stated “Let me know if you prefer something else and we’ll see if we can agree to something.” I told him what I preferred is that the other contract be satisfied, i.e. paid off as contractually obligated, before I’d even consider entering into another agreement. Needless to say, he refused. I took my script, and haven’t spoken to them since.

Now, many will say “sue the bastards!” This is quite difficult to do when you’re talking about another country, and they know this, which is why I handle out-of-country agreements quite differently these days. It’s a shame you have to find out the true character of someone through these kinds of awful experiences, but I trust this is not the first time they’ve done this kind of move. I now realize everyone’s your “friend”- providing you give them free work. When you start asking for them to pay for it, or pay for their mistakes, then you start to see what they’re really made of. Don’t think for a second that if I was late in my obligations- by eight, ten twelve weeks- or didn’t deliver at all as promised, they wouldn’t have had the same response. Of course they would. After all, this is still a business. Apparently, a business in which not everyone who passes themselves off as legitimate company can be trusted.

A signed contract isn’t necessarily a signed contract, unless, of course, you’re willing and prepared to chase it all the way in court at great expense. This is a slam-dunk winner, but far too costly and not worth it to me.

So I wrote about it instead.

 

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2 thoughts on “When is a Screenwriting Contract NOT a Screenwriting Contract?

    1. thescriptmentor Post author

      Hi Sillysadness! I’m sure the followers of this blog would love to hear one of your contract stories as well. It’s just makes the case stronger that just because you have a signed document doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is going to follow it, anymore than a red light forces a driver to stop. It’s really the mores of society of that enforce the red light law (as well as police, of course), and it’s the character of the people involved in the contracted agreement that make those enforceable (as well as civil court). When dealing with companies outside of your state or your country, it makes it more difficult and more expensive, and they know this. If you’d care to share, we’d love to read it!

      Reply

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