First Time Negotiating With Network
I am a fairly regular poster to this forum under a different name. I have some questions regarding a contract negotiation that I am engaged in, and felt it was best to post this question under an alias. You have all been at this a lot longer than I have, and I know that there is a lot of great advice to be found here.
I was the co-director, co-producer, executive producer (funded the film entirely out of my pocket) writer, director of photography and editor on a feature length documentary that premiered in last year. Since then, things have been going very strong for us as we've screened the film at local venues. A few months after the premiere, we received an email from a very high-profile cable network stating that they were interested in the US broadcast rights to our movie. Fast forward to this spring and we have an actual offer on the table. The very modest offer was for about 1/3 the average price of a new car for 4 years of exclusive non-standard TV rights, with a "hold" on broadcast rights. So, we'll essentially be prevented from shopping the film to another TV outlet (broadcast, cable, satellite) for 4 years. The network sensed that their offer was too low and said the highest they could go was 1/2 the average price of a new car for the 4 years. The network is also looking to cut our film down to a broadcast hour (42 minutes), leaving over half of the film out of the broadcast. Despite the low offer, and the heavy editing for time, as young filmmakers, we felt that the power of the resume piece of having a nationally televised film would be beneficial. We also would still hold exclusive rights to Blu-Ray, DVD, and Internet On-Demand sales. We assumed we could attract buyers on those fronts, especially if they knew that there was still 45 minutes of the film they didn't see on TV. This week, after our sales agent and attorney worked out the ins and outs of the contract terms, we were ready to sign the deal. Yesterday, we found out (prior to signing), that the network also plans to change the title of our work. Their desire to change the title sent up red flags for me, and I am now very suspicious as to what their plans are for our film. The contract essentially gives them full creative control of the piece, and even gives the right to incorporate elements of our film into a multi-episode series of some sort. Time and time again, the network has assured us that their only plans are to rework our film into a broadcast hour, and that they have no plans of re-inventing the wheel. However, the language of the contract still allows them to do, essentially, anything they want with our film once we sign. The questions I have are as follows:
Are we getting screwed on the money end of this? Is the money their offering over 4 years for a 91 minute feature a lowball offer?
Is the network's plan to re-title the work a possible sign that their finished product will be a far cry from the original film?
As a young filmmaker should I sign this deal, take my lumps and hope that the next deal is a fair deal?
Thanks in advance for your advice!
I can understand why your are using an Alias for this.
Initially I would just say "NO!" and walk away from that deal. By the time they've done a hatched job on your film, there will be nothing left of it. However, they sound like they really want it, and you sound like that you need the exposure and money to get on to your next project - so put your "hard-balls" on and start negotiating:
1) Whilst they are holding on to the rights for your film, you are not able to make any money out of it. That is a considerable loss measured in opportunity costs by the production, and the client must find a way to adequately compensate you for this.
2) Whilst you may not be against the film being reformatted for the broadcaster as this is quite common; you are the creative on the project and it is your work that they want to change. Out of respect to yourself they have two options: a) Pay you to do the cut-down at an hourly rate at a professional facility (Think $250/working-hour for yourself) b) license your selected rushes (at the cost of two cars) and they cut their own programme from that.
3) There are currently NO financial incentive for you to change the title. And doing so would harm your business and career as a film maker, as in that anyone doing a search online and elsewhere will not find your film or you - and thereby not know that there are a full version to purchase. Unless they want to buy you a car, with a pent house flat and a yacht on the side, then this is not in your interest.
As much as commissioning editors and buyers at broadcasters like to put their own touch on things by suggesting "editorial changes", your situation sounds slightly extreme.
I've used capital NO a couple of times in this post. It is a good word to use, and if the said broadcaster is really interested in the project, they will find away to meet your needs whilst satisfying their own.
Bottom-line: No one else will respect your project, if you don't do it.
All the Best
@madsvid, London, UK
Check out my other hangouts:
Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to this post. I wasn't sure if this post would make it on to the Cow, but they were kind enough to let it through, even though I used an alias. And thanks for understanding why I did that.
After finding out that they intend to change the title, I am increasingly suspicious of what their true intentions are for our film. Cutting down our 91 minute feature to a broadcast hour is going to require a lot of re-tooling. They want us to give them the 91 minute feature, and they will do the cutting. Once their cut is finished, they are supposed to send it to us for critique and input. However, as the contract states, they are not obligated to take our advice and suggestions, and all final decisions about the edits come from the network.
The whole contract, and the terms of the contract, are so heavily stacked in the favor of the network, it makes me sick. It's hard not to let my personal feelings get in the way of a business negotiation, but when you've spent thousands of hours working on a film, personal feelings are bound to creep in.
Thanks again. And best regards,
You are welcome. And your feelings are understandable.
Keep in mind that the contract is likely to be made by their legal team in their jargon.
My suggestion is for you to start negotiating. For starters, as they are making demands outside that of just showing your film as is, this is no ordinary contract.
Cross out what you don't like in the contract.
Rewrite what you think is close enough for you to agree on.
Return it to them as a counter-offer. Maybe add in your cover letter about how their added demands are creating serious complications on a creative and marketing level of the original product, and that you may have to hire a lawyer to read through their contract. And this will add financial implications which must be covered upfront by the buyer.
But remember: negotiate, negotiate and negotiate - make sure to give them a small victory at the end, so they felt like they also won - although they won't be able to change the title or have third parties re-edit the film.
Go get 'em!
All the Best
@madsvid, London, UK
Check out my other hangouts:
Dennis, they already made a documentary about the negotiations for your project:
While Mads is giving you good advice, my own take on your situation is that you may be a little too dazzled by the perceived value of attaching the network's name to your work. The money is not great, considering all they want you to give away.
Follow your heart, but my gut tells me you could actually do better in the long run by self-distributing your program, YOUR way, thru Amazon or other venues. You not only keep more of each sale, all the I.P. and the publicity stays with you.
It might be better to be the big fish in a small pond, you know?
Mads is giving great advice here. Take it.
I'd caution you though not to attach TOO much gloom-and-doom to the name change issue. That happens ALL the time.
You may think your film has a great title... but it may not. Writers are fairly well known to often (not always, but often) give their work titles that, well, aren't that great. Or more importantly in these situations, aren't that marketable... they are too close to a project to be able to objectively judge what's a good title and what isn't. I remember numerous critics saying how much they loved "The Hudsucker Proxy," and it was a shame that the such a clunky and obtuse title at least partially helped kill it at the box office. The Coen brothers resisted (successfully) any attempts to change the name, and the film tanked. Which is a crying shame, it's a GREAT movie.
I have a friend here in town, Homer Hickam, who embarked on a mid-life second career as a writer. He wrote an autobiographical novel about his childhood and building working model rockets with his friends in 1957. The novel was called Rocket Boys (and it's great... pick it up). Universal optioned the book and wanted to change the title, thinking Rocket Boys sounded more "Disneyesque" and people might think it more of a kids' movie... so they retitled it October Sky (also a good movie and pretty faithful to the book... starring Jake Gyllenhaal as my friend Homer, and Chris Cooper as his dad... a good movie). After the movie came out subsequent re-printings of his book were also re-titled October Sky (although you can still get it as Rocket Boys).
Anywho... I don't think Homer was crazy about his book's title being changed. I'm sure he thought (and I agree) that Rocket Boys was a better title than the obscure October Sky. But... he got over it. And cashed the check. And now he drives pretty nice cars and owns a swanky vacation home on the island of St. John in the Virgin Islands. I don't think he regrets not fighting for the name.
This happens with books ALL the time (those are the ones that we can readily find out about), but it happens with movies with great frequency, too.
DON'T take a bad deal, get a good deal (the most obvious advice ever since "Buy low, sell high")... but don't put too much weight or importance on the title. If that's the only thing standing in the way of a good deal, change it.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
October Sky referes to the surprise launch of Sputnik in that month.
But Hickam got his title in anyway, since October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys.
P.S. You have cool friends!
[Mark Suszko] "October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys."
Yes, and it's one of those fun facts that Homer mentions EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. ...that the subject of the name comes up.
There was actually more name changing. Originally it was a short story in Air & Space magazine called "The Big Creek Missile Agency" and I'm guessing a publisher suggested a change to "Rocket Boys" for the novel... and then on to "October Sky" for the movie.
[Mark Suszko] "You have cool friends!"
Well I know plenty of dorks, too. But yes, Homer is a good guy. I know lots of showbiz types who are in the "I'm not anybody...yet" category, and a few who are rich and famous... but Homer's the only one I think that I've known through both ends of that spectrum. Rich definitely seems better. He's really a great writer though, and I heartily recommend his books (there are scads of them now).
But the point being... he was never married to the title, and I think that was definitely the right choice.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Threadjack over, I seem to be the minority opinion on this, but the way I look at the deal he's being offered, the program will be played a few times and then spit out, like everything else those networks tend to do... not getting any more recognition or income. They want to put his entire show in a blender, change the name, bump him out of ANY editorial or creative supervision of the property... and how great of a boost to his reputation is it, really, after all that?
It's the difference between: "I built Brad Pitt a car" and "I sold off some custom parts that someone else made into Brad pitt's car".
I think you'd see a smaller initial payback, but a much longer-term income stream, and much more control over the property - if self-published thru Amazon or a similar service.
But I must be the minority opinion this time.
It is very difficult for someone to negotiate for their first time with a party who has done this many dozens of times for a living. Perhaps my advice is for your next documentary since it seems you have almost finished with the negotiations on this one, but here's my .02¢.
I'm mainly a DP and have done many feature length docs so I have worked for lots of different types of producers and picked up tid bits about that arcane distribution end of the biz, which is the realm of lawyers. Many producers who I have worked for self financed, which I think is dangerous if you are not wealthy so they are at the end of their tether and need financial pay back. One thing the astute ones had in common was that they had a pro between themselves and the network, someone who does this for a living and knows the ropes. Also, they didn't post their doc until they received some feedback from these intermediary pros who have done it many times before. Issues such as length, closed captioning, rights clearance, etc. I have also worked on great projects that got no traction because they merely submitted to festivals and didn't use a pro.
One woman who comes to mind who distributed an award winning doc I shot is:
She specializes and has done for many years what you are trying to do yourself, it's very complex, maybe next time talk with someone like her first? Perhaps she can phone consult for an hourly fee? Also, there's a great resource called the IDA for filmmakers like yourself who are trying to get the widest exposure and hopefully your investment back:
Lastly, this org is a good place for you although they are more series centric rather than one offs like yours:
Thanks so much for all of the great feedback. I just realized I committed my own pet peeve by using the wrong "they're" in my original post. I promise, I'm not that stupid :)
We voiced our concerns to the network and we are waiting a response. The title change thing still bugs the crap out of me, even if it is common practice. I am too closely tied to this project to look at it objectively.
Congratulations on getting the attention of a cable broadcaster. You are in a great position. You are obviously talented and dedicated to your creative profession. Now, as a business person I have a few suggestions, thoughts for you.
I know you are invested ($$ and brains) in the current deal - changing the title, cutting major portions of the program and rights releases are big issues for you...they should be because its "your" program. But, its not all about this current deal. You should be working on the next deal with this cable network. Use the current deal as leverage to get a second, third program. Do you want to make another movie/program? Do you have other topics/subjects you want to offer to the viewing public?
Use what you know now about the network to structure a deal that you want on the NEXT program. Link the current program and a second program. Make it a two for one deal to the network.
How long should the next program be? Better to create original content and cut it yourself to fit what the network wants. (BTW, it will most likely be cut anyway - scenes need to be trimmed, etc...just like an editor/publisher works with an author)
Get funding guarantees based on clear milestones like rough-cuts.
Negotiate the rights for U.S. release or English speaking countries (name the countries in your contract). Pitch German, French, Chinese, Spanish rights as a different release, etc...
You have a great opportunity to turn your hard work into more money/opportunity/progress for the narratives you care about. Your past matters, but do not live in the past...you already made a great program...move on to the next thing, move forward and give us the chance to see your next film, not the re-cut, re-titled, watered-down program the network is requesting.
Turn this into a future win for you and what you care about. Best of luck to you and congratulations again.