o qualify for feature film financing I legally optioned the best screenplay I’d ever written to The Canadian Producer (TCP). A man I later discovered was – among other things – test subject to numerous human drug trials, a possible narcoleptic and a genuine street hustler. He was none the less an accredited producer by the standards set by Canadian film financing agencies. Though our written agreement made him owner of my script, we had a gentlemen’s agreement to be fifty fifty co-producers.
(Continued from part 1 of 3)
With the rewrite behind us, it was time to make our application for production financing. TCP and I had always shared a desire for increased forward momentum. We wanted to shoot this thing. Build on it. And the script was getting great reviews from everybody who read it. We were a shoe in for continued support. Until–
TCP surprised me one day by announcing he didn’t think the script was to his liking yet. A 180 turn. He said we need to do another rewrite. Didn’t really have any notes. Nothing specific he wanted fixed. Said he didn’t think the dialogue was terribly strong. All in all, he just thought it’d be best if we went another round of development financing with the government agencies.
Ah. I get it. The human guinea pig without a dollar to his name who swindles tourists on the street got a taste of the socialist teat. Development financing is strictly for writers. But as he’d learned through our fraud the first time around, he could make some easy money off it himself.
Make a movie. Build on our success; a career. Out the window. Rewriting was the new name of the game. Except, I wasn’t into it. I know too many writers up here who themselves run this exact scam. Do halfassed rewrite after rewrite just to keep the development checks coming in. Films that will never get made.
I didn’t want that. I had a great script. Was signed on to direct this thing. I wanted to shoot.
I called his bluff. Told him I’d do his rewrite. But that we didn’t have to apply for financing – I’d do it for free. That way we didn’t have to wait on deadlines. Could just get it right and move on to production as soon as possible.
So I did a polish. Pretty sure I could have just given him back the same exact script and he wouldn’t have noticed. He took ages to read it. Came back again saying it wasn’t ready. We needed to get more financing. This time he had a slew of notes.
I knew something was up. The notes were too coherent. Wrong and subjective but thoughtful. More than he was capable of. Then I discovered a note within the notes. A note for him not me. He’d neglected to delete it from the marked copy that he’d returned to me. A third party. Worse yet, he accidentally sent me a synopsis that I’d written for our earlier application which had been completely rewritten by some hack for some reason. I asked him what was going on. He said that he had been consulting with some friends. That the notes were theirs, not his.
I started to wonder if he was even literate.
I told him I was done rewriting. As the director, I was ready to go. I reminded him that the plan was always to get this movie made. Not collect filmmaker welfare. His response was that three more drafts should do it. The number was oddly precise. In retrospect, it was the number of rounds of development financing we could go after before we’d sucked that teat dry.
We were on the phone. I was packed for a weekend in the country. One foot out the door when he called. Up against the application deadline for the next round of financing. The conversation came to a standstill. I reminded him that we had a gentlemen’s agreement. He would handle the applications. Leave the creative decisions to me.
He reminded me that he had an option agreement making him the de facto owner of the project. Told me that if I wouldn’t submit to another round of development financing, another rewrite, then he’d find another writer.
Remain calm. Keep your composure.
I reminded him that we had a director’s agreement. And I would never shoot someone else’s draft of the script.
He said he’d just have to find another director too.
I told him he was no longer my producer. We hung up. I remember my hand was trembling.
I hit a raccoon on my drive to the country. It caused a very loud thump. Senseless death affects me emotionally. One of very few things that does. Especially if the death involves me and a defenceless animal. Running down that raccoon would have ruined my weekend under any circumstance. But on that particular drive – that particular weekend – I didn’t feel anything. Killing that raccoon didn’t lower my spirits. They couldn’t get any lower. They were already below the raccoon killing level.
My relationship with TCP was over. That wasn’t what was bothering me. What had me distraught was that TCP had my script. An option agreement with my signature on it. Not due to expire for another 18 months. He could do a lot of damage in 18 months.
I knew the agreement itself was a piece of crap. We’d downloaded it off the internet. Tweaked it ourselves. Made a mess of it. What did I care? At the time I’d figured the more hackneyed this document the more worthless it would be in this exact scenario. To my favour. But the government financing agency had approved it. They’d decided it was legal enough. Neither of us had ever consulted a lawyer. We were both on the phone with one by Monday morning. Turns out even an agreement penned on the back of a napkin is enough to really screw you.
Next came the war for public opinion.
We both had our side of the story to tell and tell it we did. We told it to friends, family, other filmmakers. He decided to bring the government agency into the mix. Decided to CC the entire organization on a spastic email ending our relationship and condemning me as a misbehaving subordinate. Defamation. Character assassination. From a well-liked, charismatic guy. And I was no one. No longstanding links to the local film community.
A friend told me that TCP was overheard at a party talking about his plans for my script. Musing about shooting it in 3D. It would have been laughable if it wasn’t so enraging.
It was like hearing the details of someone molesting your dog.
The worst was yet to come. What I didn’t know was that TCP had gone ahead with his plan to bilk more development financing from the government agency. Was going after another fraudulent pay day. Some scab writer. My script. He’d submitted an application.
And it was accepted.
(To be continued in part 3 of 3)