Friday, April 06, 2007

Would I be selling you writers out if...

...I took on this deal?

Here's the scoop. A production house has been offered a deal by a prominent station to produce a series on 3o minute twisted tales, pretty much like The Twilight Zone 
or Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories.

They came up with a lot of their own story concepts for episodes. Then they ran out of ideas and stumbled upon Dark City, which is perfect fodder for episode material.

So I'm called to negotiate.

The working title of the series is 'Dark City', but it appears the TV station would like something more Malay. They're taking 3 episodes from the book. And this is the deal they're offering me:

1. No money for rights. I'd be credited. The reason being is they said they're working on a very tight budget, and intellectual property in Malaysia is very hard to argue anyway.

2. They're asking me to write the scripts for the 3 episodes for RM 1100 each.

3. If I refuse, they'd drop these 3 episodes and go ahead with their own ideas.

I've been talking to several people. There appears to be 2 camps of thought.

Advice from the First camp (consisting of book writers, some editors, some scriptwriters) - "It's good exposure for you. Take it. You can put it in your resume and brand your book with it.
Imagine your book (and the sequels) being printed with 'Now on TV' on the front cover. Wouldn't it be wonderful branding?"

Advice from the Second camp (consisting of some scriptwriters, some CEOs of production houses)
- "Be careful. We've got stung before. They (meaning the industry) took our concepts and gave us very little for it. Then they sold the series all around the world, and we profited nothing from it. They even took our ideas and rehashed them a little, so we cannot claim intellectual property being stolen. We understand that you want branding. It's your first time. But we can help you get in touch with other production houses we've worked with, those we are sure of. We can help you pitch to them. If you want to be a scriptwriter, they're always looking for more too.
"People in the film industry have a lot of respect for published book authors, esepcially those with bestsellers. "

So, my deadline to reply is Monday. What should I do? Should I give up this opportunity and wait till other production houses get contacted and market the Dark City series in its own right? (This affects anyone who has contributed to the 2nd book as well. You may see your works on celluloid, and you would certainly want me to get a better deal for you.)

Or should I go with this opportunity, because I (and we) may never get another one again. And the other production houses might not be interested?


Jenn said...

Ask them to throw in your blog URL for good measure at the credits. I think this is a good plug.

Xeus said...

Hee hee, Jenn. On TV, I think it would scroll up too quickly.

Kak Teh said...

xeus, i always get calls from production houses asking me to do something and always ending the conversation with,"we are working on a tight budget" They are always pulling this fast one. The last phone call <" you wont be paid but you will be on tv!" whaaaat?
They shd pay you for yr ideas. yes, they have no qualms abt copying yr concept. I have been stung before.

Kenny Mah said...

Xeus, I'm with Kak Teh on that. Better to "lose" this "opportunity" than to get shortchanged or worse, swindled. No matter how well-established they may seem, let's not forget we're dealing with normal human beings here.

Do you know any intellectual property rights lawyers? Your IP may not be that easily dismissable after all. It may be just another thing they say to scare you into agreeing.

Bottom line is you should do it on terms you are comfortable with, and not get pressured/manhandled into a situation you have doubts about.

Lydia Teh said...

Xeus, though I was initially of Camp 1, but after hearing Kak Teh's experience, I'd go with camp 2. Moreover, these production houses CEOs are keen to help you pitch DC to others, so why not take them up on their offer?

amaruhizat said...

I think this article is most right for this ocassion, titled "Top 10 Lies told to Naive Artists and Designers" and I think this goes to writers as well.

amaruhizat said...

If their ideas is so good, they wouldn't be talking to you, now would they?

Kenny Mah said...

Amaruhizat's last statement is a good point la...

Xeus said...

Kak Teh, your story is exactly what a famous scriptwriter in Camp B told me happened to him. Although he's famous and very sought after today, his first experience left a bitter taste in his mouth to this day. He has engaged lawyers, but there was nothing they could do.

Kenny, I went over to my neighbour's yesterday - she's a lawyer - and she promised to introduce me to yet another neighbour down the road who is an IP lawyer.

Xeus said...

Lydia, good point. We must be patient. It's so easy to get excited our first time.

Amaruhizat, good article. I was told - by the production house - that it's quite difficult to come up with stories with twists. In editing Dark City 2, I find writers telling me this as well. Straightforward stories are easy...but to turn everything on its head, well, not many people can come up with those concepts easily. One or two will come easily to most folks, but continue it with a series...and you start running out of ideas.

In that case, since I have so many twisty concepts in my arsenal which just haven't been put down on paper, I might as well collect them and sell them as a package to a production house who is willing to give me a fair deal on them.

Kenny, have you seen Harry Potter's covers today in the Star? I think yours are a lot better!

UK publishing, here we come!

Argus Lou said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Argus Lou said...

Also, if you don't accept a deal, watch out to make sure they don't steal parts of your ideas, tweak them a bit to make them 'their own'; that way, they don't hafta pay you a single sen and only make use of their own in-house writers.
Like someone has said, they're only human -- and desperate for original ideas.

yvonne lee said...

Hi Xeus! Sorry...I'm late as usual:(

Well, I think all your commentators have very valid points and worries too. Think carefully, and remember, good opportunities do come again, especially so when your stuff is good stuff.

Please keep us updated and good luck!

Xeus said...

Argus, that's exactly what they do! And they admitted it too. That's how they survive, they said.

Yvonne, good points.

Anyway, I said no to them today in a very nice written email, and said we writers deserve to keep our rights and that Astro should pay us royalties everytime they sell our stuff outside Malaysia. (Which they do).

The TV production house actually called me back and said they would renegotiate.

So guys, I didn't see you all out after all, and we'll see what comes out of this. It's not about playing hardball, it's nurturing the creative talents like us so we all will not be taken advantage of.

Tunku Halim said...


There's no intellectual property (IP) in "ideas". Only IP in original material like your short story and the script you write for the episode.

Doesn't sound a bad deal as you'll get great publicity. I would also try to negotiate a small percentage of worldwide takings from the particular episode you're writing.

Pls don't rely on this advise but consult your lawyer. :)

Kenny Mah said...

UK Publishing? I can't wait! :)

So any updates on your TV deal?

The Great Swifty said...

I guess it's a yes? DARK CITY's showing every Wednesday 10:30 on Astro Ria. Know a couple of people who are actually directing the episodes.

Xeus said...

Swifty, I didn't say yes to anything! This is serious...

Satay Celup said...

Have you guys seen the movie "DOUBLE JEOPARDY"? I liked the one acted by Tommy Lee Jones & Ashley Judd. There is also another different movie of same title. So, what's the big deal? "Dark City" is a title of of a 1998 sci-fi movie and you "celuped" this name for your book title and claimed it's your original. So what's the fuss now if Astro wants to "celup" your "celuped" title?

There's nothing intellectual or original creation or ideas for a lousy title. Look at it this way, there are so many "satay celup" shops in town now and claiming they are the original Malacca's "satay-celup".