Thursday, September 11, 2014

I've been meaning to do this for a long time...

I've been meaning to do this for a long time

By Alistair A. Vogan


I have a secret.

This book was an exorcism of sorts. Fourteen years ago I was working with some of North America's top comedic talent, including The Kids in the Hall and Adam McKay, former Saturday Night Live staff writer, writer director of several Will Ferrell feature films. Things looked up. I was doing exactly what I loved, what I'd dreamed I'd do some day. I was growing comfortable speaking and working with fancy celebrities and executives from independent film companies such as Broadway Video and top agents and studio. I was developing my craft, and receiving praise my work from people I admired tremendously, people whose opinion I truly respected. I was, in short, very happy about where I was at that point, and super optimistic about the future.

I didn't know the end was near.

At this time I had written a screenplay that was receiving a lot of praise in the film industry. Consequently I 'shopped' the screenplay around. I bypassed agencies and doorkeepers, spoke directly to top executives at the most powerful independent film companies, and at 'the studios'. One production company headed by an actor and director-producer-celebrity I admired showed great interest in the script. I sent a draft of the screenplay and told them I would work on it more, that I had ideas for making it even better. Their enthusiasm was so strong that I sent multiple drafts. Three in total. And then I waited.

The following summer I received phone calls from a film editor in Toronto who had been invited to watch the 'dailies' of the feature being filmed locally. (Dailies are the raw footage that is shot of a feature film, before it is edited into the form you see in movie theaters.) After a few minutes of watching these dailies she was very concerned. What she was watching looked like my screenplay. It looked like my film. She contacted me and shared her thoughts; but I was skeptical. I felt that, despite her good intentions, the likelihood was low and that she was probably overreacting. After some research over the Internet I discovered that the same company I have been speaking with, that is, the same company I had pitched the story to and who had received multiple drafts, had redrafted my screenplay and sold it to Warner Bros. For my screenplay, Warner Bros. had paid $650,000. Friends and colleagues who were working on the film set were able to acquire the budget for the film (from the accountant) and multiple drafts of the new screenplay. After reading through their multiple drafts I confirmed that it was my screenplay, beyond a doubt. To my astonishment the story I had written was being shot in the city I lived in, with a budget of $100, 000, 000. It was being directed by the same celebrity actor director who headed the independent film company with whom I had been speaking. They had even followed my suggestion and hired the same A-list actor I had recommended for the lead role.

I spoke to members of the press. I researched suitable lawyers. An executive producer who had worked with Francis Ford Coppola numerous times read both screenplays ('theirs' and mine) and said he was confident that copyright infringement had occurred. A litigator with a track record for winning high profile copyright infringement cases in Hollywood agreed also. In the end, although the latter would've been willing to represent me pro bono, he had to decline. Having the screenplay registered with the Writers Guild of America, he said, was not enough. He would only have able to represent me if I had registered the work with the Library of Congress in Washington.

Not deterred I hired a team of lawyers from the copyright division of a respected international law firm. Meetings were arranged and strategies were conceived. Letters were drafted, emails and faxes were exchanged, lengthily phone calls were made... And this went on for weeks and months. Despite knowing I'd been wronged it was clear as the bills mounted that a successful litigation would not be possible. Why? My finances were limited; whereas, Warner Bros. pockets were bottomless.
I had to admit defeat.

In the days and months that followed I felt as though I had lost everything. I had not only spent all my money, I had borrowed large sums and had gone thousands of dollars in debt. And to add to things, colleagues were no longer taking my calls; to my surprise doors were no longer open. I realized, I had been banished.

Don't expect to find work (ever again) if you sue a studio.

It was the end of the world as I had come to know it.

I couldn't find work. I was penniless. I had been deserted. I had a growing feeling that I'd become homeless.

Something inside me had broken...
. . .
Ten years later I discovered an early draft of the screenplay in a tattered envelope in a forgotten folder on a shelf under a bunch of books. I removed it from the envelope and read it, in one sitting. I loved the story, despite the all the pain associated with it it made me laugh.

I couldn't let it go. I decided I wouldn't.

In the years that followed I rewrote it, filling it this time with a decade of loss and the irony that things as they are are not as they should be, that the past does not dictate the future, and, finally, a growing optimism that there are second chances, for everyone.

The writing of this book was an exorcism. I am stronger for writing it.

Whatever is that is troubling you, you will grow stronger to transcend it.

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