I’m sitting here looking at a pile of signed papers that legally will hand over the rights of Death Grip to a company which I know little about except that the guy in charge is nice in person. Whenever I’ve been screwed in the film world, this is how first impressions always go, because like screenwriters, just about anyone can pull off a good first impression, but staying bullshit-free requires a saint.
I’d rattle on about my bad experiences at the hands of those better off in the film world, but they’re all generally the same. I don’t have the energy to lament bad people, any more than I’d curse commercials or germs. So instead, I have a couple notes to remember next time you encounter a situation with a potentially disreputable person, and by that I mean anyone in film:
- References – Sales agents have lots of low budget films and you can Facebook message the producers for at least half of them. We did our homework before signing with a sales agent, and we’re entering the agreement with full confidence that our agent will work in our interest.
- Communication is often the problem behind bad stories– “Bad people” usually don’t think they’re screwing anybody. For example, they may have thought they made the terms of the agreement clear vocally, and neither party thought a written agreement was necessary yet. Both have been running around for the past 18 months with different ideas, and neither consider making a quick phone call to the other just to do a fact check. Eventually, their preconceived numbers differ by a factor of 10, one side says the other “screwed” him, etc.We heard a story that a sales agent we were investigating had “screwed” a film producer, which came as a shock after all the pleasant phone calls with him. We decided not to go with him in the end, but I insisted we tell him “no thank you”, “it’s not the right fit for us”, and “we hope to still do business in the future.” It’s entirely possible that the main issue was just communication between him and the producer, or that the sales agent was in the right completely. So unless you’re the type who thrives on drama and gets off on telling someone to fuck himself after hearing one sour story, one encounter is far too little to justify burning an entire bridge.
- What does “screw” mean?– One fellow told me a long-winded story about his sales agent screwing him. It went like this:There’s no MG (money guarantee) now, they all try to just screw you. If they don’t take your film, they have dozens more to pick from, and then you’re dead in the water. If they do take your film, you have to wait five years until they turn a dime and then you’ve only made 400k and you’re still 600k in the red.You see those numbers? That time frame? He said it so quickly I didn’t actually catch and process it until I had walked out the hotel and a mile down the beach. He blankly assumed my film was a $1 million pic like his, and in the moment I was too high on myself to admit that Death Grip was only a $100K film, and that collecting $400K in cash after five years would be an overwhelming success.Here’s another one:The sales agent took my film and never made any money from it, but I looked at their expenses and was infuriated: first-class non-stop flights, 7-course meals, exotic car rentals, miscellaneous entertainment expenses, they milked us for fifty thousand within the first month.
I had to ask in return, “Was there a cap on their expenses in the contract?” He replied, “Well… no. That’s where we went wrong.” Every sales agent contract I’ve seen has an expense cap. Why theirs didn’t, who knows, but the sales agent didn’t do anything wrong from a legal standpoint.
That said, when you do meet someone who is knowingly screwing people for their own gain and laughs about it over a drink, do the world a favor and at least chastise the prick for us.