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Some issues of integrity in film and television

I recently had a conversation with one of our SP 'members'. The person expressed experience based concern about intellectual and creative theft.

We know how difficult it is to protect ideas and concepts by legal means and copyright.

It made me think about my nearly five decades in media, arts and entertainment. I'm over 70. I keep seeing notices, invitations and offers made by all sorts of people and both commercial and allegedly non commercial entities suggesting that people should submit ideas and pitches to them. Often those invitations are linked to prizes and or an opportunity to have ones ideas supported.

It occurs to me that I instinctively distrust these sometimes worthy institutionalised invitations, pretty much out of hand. I just don't bother to engage with such. I'm lucky, I don't need such help but can appreciate why these things can be attractive propositions for youngsters and beginners. But now I pause to consider where my instinctive knee jerk reticence stems from.

It stems from over forty years experience and is well founded. Despite the apparently liberal and 'right on' culture usually associated with arts and media it would be naive to assume that our industry is only inhabited by the virtuous, even within the most august and worthy organisations. I've had a small but annoying number of pitches obviously stolen by senior commissioners in Film and television. The explanation usually relying on "We are already in development of a very similar idea". Whilst some coincidence does occur, some are extremely unlikely. Watching the stolen ideas broadcast later, in which specific elements pitched that were nearly impossible to have been coincidently achieved, on a number of occasions, has been a salutary lesson. Commissioners, for very practical, even if unethical reasons, have their favourite producers, too many partners can be a pain, especially if they're untried.

Perhaps most troubling has been that those incidents have been associated across the broad range of entities. It's not just associated with overt business piracy but also with the career ambitions of individuals within organisations.

I believe that the great majority of commissioners and prize givers have high integrity. It only takes a small minority however to create disproportionate detriment. As in the bad apple effect. They don't have horns growing out of their heads. They can be as charming as your best friend.

Now if one is a young beginner and one is applying for some sort of micro budget prize (typically less than £1,500 per minute) with mentoring of variable quality thrown in, there's no great risk even if ones pitch is suspiciously rejected or constructively usurped. It'll be ay least a valuable lesson.

For me however, I'm not enticed by invitations to pitch by any entity, no matter how grand or worthy they appear to be, without a prior trustworthy relationship already in place. One learns by ones own worldly experience. Healthy and good natured cynicism is not paranoia, it's wisdom

Weigh up the odds, Making disclosures is an investment. How valuable one deems ones property to be ought to be proportionate to the risk one takes.

  • Hi John, Nearly thirty years ago when the internet was still a relatively new curiosity to most people I was at a party in Kennington London when I was introduced to a junior commissioning editor/producer at C4. He asked me did I have any ideas to pitch to him, jumping at the opportunity and since till that time there hadn't been ever one on TV, I pitched my idea an outline about a weekly TV show discussing all that was new happening on the internet. OK, something completely excused by the concept of being Zeitgeist but here is the rub I had suggested that the show could end with data burst frames. Frames of information, data, fact sheets, links for websites, etc that would be contained in two or three seconds glitch's, each second containing up to twenty-five separate frames of information which could only be viewed by recording the show when transmitted and then step frame, moving through the segment using a single frame advance progression on a video recorder (this was in the VHS hay day boom time when nearly every household had a VHS player and Blockbuster was king). So coincidence of Zeitgeist was disproved, that of a similar idea being thought of around the same time now, since the new C4 show ended with a data-burst, exactly as I had described it. I had made the error of making a pitch to a TV exec, wrong time, wrong place, not a formal meeting with no representation present. A couple of years later I was invited to a beach party when attending the Cannes film festival hosted by the Weinstein Brothers, after being introduced to them by Llyod Kaufman since they were standing greeting some of their guests in person near the entrance I had perhaps the chance of a lifetime to pitch to them but after my C4 experience, I passed, which thankfully, clearly turned out for the best in the long run. Sadly not my greatest opportunity missed.

    8 months ago
  • Thanks for that contribution Ray. It's certain that we're not alone in such experiences.

    The wiser we get the more joyously and lightheartedly we are able to dance with the business of the business.

    8 months ago
  • Just to chip in my 2p - differentiating between pitching ideas and feature scripts. Ideas can't be protected (AIUI, - John you'll have a better handle on this than me), but the expressions certainly can. And the thing that terrifies producers above all else is spending a few houses worth of money on a project then not be able to sell the film as they have a legal claim from a writer.

    So the irony being that the features world (which is by no means noted for its unbridled integrity) it's probably safer to wave your projects around than the ideas/TV world?!

    But of course in Features there are other shady practices, such as a friend who got a sales guarantee from a decent-level distributor, against which to find backers. He found an investor ready to come in with half-a-mil or so (that's pretty rare and a huge achievement), and doing his due diligence he contacted the distributor about the guarantee. The distributor then tried to get the backer to invest in their own projects instead of the one they had offered a guarantee on. The backer was so affronted by the seediness that he just backed out of the whole deal, film was never made...

    8 months ago
    • Thanks Paddy. I can particularly relate to that story.

      We once found ourselves unwittingly drawn into a police investigation. Our 'executive producers turned out to be international money launderes and gangsters. We had a great time for a bit, they wined and dined us flew us first class to exotic locations and had no intention of making the great comedy feature we thought we were making. Turned out we were just an expensive prop for a multimillion pound con.

      One lives and learns

      8 months ago
    • @John Lubran Oh John, such a painful, if not rare, story! At least your guys gave you a few good meals!

      Thinking back, I know a friend who was wined and dined with all the frills by a Mr Rolex (a generic term) who was a serial crook using film projects as fronts.

      And a project I was on where after the "backer" didn't come through (way, way too late into preproduction)...
      He claimed to have just sold a $14M company or something like that. Anyway he was always just 1 day, just 4 hours, from transferring the money. Or the money transfer was blocked by the bank, but he was just on his way to sort it out. Or whatever the day's excuse was.

      I argued that if he was good for £4m in a week, he was good for £50k in cash today, but funnily enough... He also didn't have any kind of online presence - not a worry in itself per se., but it looked rather like someone had been round clearing up any references to him, with stubs of forum posts about him being a crook. Anyway, after everything inevitably collapsed, I was watching "Can't Pay, We'll Take It Away" on C5 one day and saw him. The bailiffs couldn't find anything to take away besides two pairs of designer sunglasses and belts, the tools of the grifter trade to look rich and credible!

      8 months ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin. Well at least you got a great story out of it Paddy. Could be a plot for a comedy gangster movie.

      8 months ago
  • Hi Paddy & John,
    Having failed to be able to post in the SP Bulletin in regards to a two day teaching gig at the International School of Screen Acting Summer School courses, I received a request to pay £200 to become an "organisational member" before I could then promote myself?
    I contacted SP after two failed attempts to post a short message to the SP Bulleten. SP got back to me and suggested I contact Sally at SP, when I did I received the following response:

    "For reasons of transparency and democracy, I'm afraid we can't advertise paid for services or courses for free. But you're welcome to become an organisational member. In short it's a low-cost, user friendly service allowing people like yourselves to advertise to our community on our training page and in our daily bulletins.

    - Costs are annual as below:

    £200 annual fee: 1 x ad per month over 12 months, or

    £300: 2 x ads per month over 12 months, or

    £600: allows you to post 4 x ads per month over 12 months

    - Payment is by yearly invoice - once paid, you're ready to post ads"

    Numerous other Shooters regularly post promotional posts without the necessity to pay £200 to become "an organisational member", to promote two days paid teaching work I find this completely unfair and onerous, I, therefore, am stepping back from this forum and stoping further contributions forthwith. Just wanted to let you guys know why I am about to fall off the radar. All further communication and responses to your posts will be made directly off SP.
    Kind regards Ray

    7 months ago
  • That's a sad message from Ray. I can empathise with his sense of there being blunt administative disproportionality.

    We're losing a highly experienced and wisend member whose generosity of valuable contributions and informative repartee to this site have been worth somewhat more than the £200. Not least his regular update of Festivals and special opportunities, which I'm further saddened to find has now disappeared from the bulletins.

    I doubt that his fee for the one off tutorial he wanted to tell us about would have left much over after paying the £200 at issue.

    Perhaps further refinement, discernment and nuance might be beneficial to
    both the quality of standing enjoyed by SP and for the sustainablity and evolution of it's business model, which includes the revenue stream at issue, that is otherwise entirely legitimate and may well be much needed?

    The sence of collegiate community amongst an unknown but significant core of 'members' is an important part of the heart and soul of this place. It's not beneficial to diminish it lightly or off hand.

    Elegant remedies are available.

    7 months ago
  • Hi all,

    Yes Ray’s contributions to SP are fantastic and hugely appreciated.

    In terms of members wanting to advertise paid-for training courses, we’ve had the same advertising policy in place for many years now. And what we’ve tried to do is offer different types of advertising in the Training Directory (+ bulletins), depending on people’s alternate needs.

    Some people advertise their training courses in the Training Directory (+ bulletins) every week. Some decide to use their ads over a shorter period of time. We think £200 for a year of advertising, can work out quite fairly. In many cases, courses are £100-£250 a day, and that’s just if one person, took up one course from advertising in SP.  

    It may be the case that for Ray, his £150 weekend course is just a one-off course and there is no other training he wants to advertise this year. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but the more info we have can really help us too. 

    For sure there is always nuance and everyone has different needs and we’re keen to help where we can, whilst remaining consistent for all other people providing training as well. I've responded to Ray to understand if he has different requirements, or is offering just a one off course and hopefully we can sort something out.


    7 months ago
  • The film industry isn't unique to issues of intellectual theft. There are a few others.

    Two things come to mind though with reference to film and television IP.

    1. Protection works best and is able to support your works when following the industry standards protocols. Ie copyright your script. Don't submit to people, agents, studios etc directly without an invitation.

    Protection is also about doing your research on the person or company you aim to send samples or actual screenplays to.

    If you don't know the rules, then you're not ready to step into the arena yet. Get ready first. Get savvy and then you'll have a fighting chance.

    2. If you do find your IP has fallen into the wrong hands, know that for you to fight it can cost a fortune and take years, just to stay in the fight. Take a good hard look at the situation and be realistic about your chances of winning a settlement.

    In most cases, you should really move on and put it down to experience. Don't make it emotional or you'll never get over it.

    I had a situation with a £bn company who I felt had taken a script of mine that I had pitched to them and had rejected as not their thing. Months later one of their top artists came out with a video that had shot for shot copied my script.

    As a member of the DGA and BECTU Directors side, they tried to help me but we all realised it was battle we just couldn't win.

    Hey, ho!

    6 months ago