Working on the feeds [u]

So forgive any wonkiness for the next few minutes. I’m hunting for a single blank line.

UPDATE (2:03 PM): The problem was a single blank line at the start of the XML file, introduced by extra blank lines at the end of the (hacked) Live Comments Preview plug-in.

I took advantage of the downtime to move all the feeds over to Feedburner. Let me know if you have any issues.


Scrippets 1.0

There’s now an official Scrippets plug-in for WordPress, available here.

It’s been working well in the test sites we’ve seeded it to, but if any issues come up in its wider release, plug-in creator Nima Yousefi will be able to send out one-click upgrades. 1 So if you’re running a WordPress blog, by all means check it out.

There’s also now an official site at Scrippets.org, with forums for reporting bugs and tracking progress on other incarnations of Scrippets. Nima’s already whipped up a plug-in for bbPress, and Matt2000 has a version for Drupal in development. If you’re a coder with experience in one of the other blogging/forum platforms, consider this your call to adventure.2

This site uses a Live Comment Preview plug-in that has been hacked to approximate the final scrippet formatting. We’re checking with the original plug-in author to get his okay to distribute a scrippet-friendly version. A similar JavaScript-based solution may be the best option for sites like Blogger that don’t allow traditional plug-ins. Stay tuned.

  1. WP’s ability to keep plug-ins current is an underheralded godsend.
  2. You’ll definitely want to check out Nima’s scrippetize function, which does all the text transmogrifications through arcane-but-universal regular expressions.

Shouldn’t I get credit for the outline?

questionmarkI work for a small European film company. On one project-in-development (based on historical events and characters), my boss verbally outlined the story of the entire screenplay while I took notes. I then went away and wrote a 35 page detailed outline based on her verbal instructions and incorporating my own much more detailed descriptions, scene settings, character nuances and several ideas.

The treatment was written mostly out of office hours and on my own personal computer without overtime pay. My boss didn’t write a word. The treatment was always intended to be sent to a more experienced screenplay writer, and I was always happy with this. I never had a special contract for this project (nor do I have any contract with this company), doing the work in good faith and expecting at the very least my name would remain on the treatment.

However, the treatment is about to be sent to the screenplay writer and I’ve noticed today that my ‘treatment written by’ has been taken off the treatment and my boss has left her name only with ‘story by’. When I asked about this I was told that it was not my film. I spent a huge amount of time on this and am quite upset, mostly by the blatant disregard for my work.

In this situation do I have copyright in the project? Should I insist on having my name included on the treatment and should I get any credit on the eventual film?

— Marley
London, UK

Not only am I not a lawyer, I’m not a British lawyer specializing in copyright. So my advice here isn’t as counsel, and shouldn’t be considered as part of any legal claim whatsoever.

That said, don’t pursue it. As frustrating as this is right now, you have the opportunity to learn from it. And so do the people reading your question.

Let me break down your statement into smaller chunks:

  1. You’re employed by a film company in some sort of production executive or assistant role.
  2. Your company is developing a project based on historical (and presumably public domain) material.
  3. Your boss instructed you to take notes as she pitched the entire plot of the movie based on that material.
  4. You wrote up this pitch as an outline, embellished with your own details. (It’s unclear whether you were instructed to embellish, or if you did this on your own.)
  5. The result, a 35-page document, was sent to a screenwriter.
  6. As sent to the screenwriter, that document did not have your name on it.

Let’s start from the top. You’re employed by a film company. Depending on British laws, anything you write on behalf of the company may be their property, just as a spreadsheet an accountant creates for a paper company is owned by the company. Again, I don’t know the specifics of how it works in the U.K., but in the U.S., this would certainly be a factor in any copyright claim. Writing the outline after hours on your own computer is unlikely to matter, since you were writing it on behalf of the company.

Second, the property is based on public domain sources. If this were based on a novel the producer had optioned, I doubt you would be writing in with this question, because you would recognize that the story belongs to someone else. It’s partly because the source material is “out in the wild” that you feel ownership to your creation.

In this case, the story belongs to the producer. You say she verbally outlined the story of the entire screenplay. So I ask you: if she had tape-recorded her pitch and asked you to transcribe it verbatim, would you still feel the pangs of authorship? Probably not. You’d see yourself as a typist.

Which raises the question, At what point in the embellishment did the outline become “yours”?

That’s a tough question for you to answer, and even tougher for a judge or jury.

I have some sympathy for your boss upon being handed a 35-page outline. 1 Here is the movie she pitched you, but with changes she couldn’t have anticipated. It’s her story, but suddenly your name is on the cover, and it’s not at all clear whether the extra work is meant to impress her or grab credit from her.

To put it bluntly, are you a brown-noser or a back-stabber? An over-achiever or an underminer?

If I were in her place, I would sit you down and have an uncomfortable conversation about your job description and the difference between what you do and what a paid screenwriter does. Because imagine the scenario in which you suddenly came back with a 120-page screenplay. She would rightly be furious. You would have taken her story without permission.

Which leads us to the last point. The outline you wrote was sent to a screenwriter — for whom I also feel sympathy, because an outline at that level of detail feels like a straightjacket. But assuming the movie gets made (a big assumption), how would you hope to defend what pieces of the final product are “yours”? You wrote the outline following the instructions of your producer, so every element would come down to you-said, she-said.

Again, I’m only responding to the facts as you presented them. I understand why your feelings are hurt, but I think pursuing them further is a mistake legally and professionally. Writing up notes, outlines and beat sheets is part of a creative exec’s job description. And so is not getting credit when credit is due.

When I was in film school, the president of production for Warner Bros. came in to talk about his job. He said that his buddies back home would see his movies and always ask, “Why isn’t your name on it?”

“I’m the shield,” he would reply, referring to the Warner Bros. logo.

And that’s where you’re at, Marley. Your credit is the production company billing on the movie. If that’s not enough, take it as incentive to write or produce your own movies that will carry your name.

  1. I’m using “outline” and “treatment” interchangeably. Treatments tend to be longer than outlines, but at this length, either term makes sense.

Scrippets are go

Thanks to the hard work of Nima Yousefi, Will Carlough and Andy Maloney, we have a Scrippets plugin that seems to be working pretty reliably. It’s installed at this site now, and we’ll be seeding it out to a few other screenwriting-oriented websites over the next few days to make sure it plays well with others.

Like most programming projects, getting to 90% was easy. Within hours after my original call to coders, there were three plugins that could get the job done.

That last 10% was tricky, however, because it meant looking for situations that would fail: different WordPress themes, competing plugins, and unexpected user input. For example, my original Ruby code couldn’t distinguish between an all-caps slugline and a character name, and the way I was doing it, it would have been very hard to add that capability.1

In terms of plugins, Markdown is the devil. Rarely have I loved and loathed something so thoroughly. Almost any time you’d see a scrippet break in the middle, it was because of Markdown.

While I think the plug-in is working well, I suspect there will be a few more iterations before we let it out into the wild. So test it out in the comments. As a reminder, the syntax is…

[scrippet]
EXT. HOUSE – DAY

Max is checking his mail when he spots neighbor FRANK crossing the street, heading his way.

Shaking his head…

MAX
I thought we talked about this, Frank.

FRANK
(drunk)
I was born naked and I’m not changing now.
[/scrippet]

which becomes…

EXT. HOUSE – DAY

Max is checking his mail when he spots neighbor FRANK crossing the street, heading his way.

Shaking his head...

MAX

I thought we talked about this, Frank.

FRANK

(drunk)

I was born naked and I’m not changing now.

  1. The final plugin by Nima Yousefi uses regular expressions.

What do you do when the buzz fades?

questionmarkI’m in a new situation that I’m trying to navigate, and I was hoping you could help for my benefit and the benefit of those who read your column and blog and might find themselves in a similar situation.

I recently wrote and directed a low-budget feature that played at a film festival in Los Angeles. A producer was at the screening, loved the movie, and subsequently got me in touch with several large distributors and top-five agencies who then proceeded to blow my phone up for the next couple of days. She suggested I send out screeners to them, which I did. I even dropped off a screener to an agency I was set to have a meeting with, only to have them cancel the next morning “unexpectedly.” Then I started getting passes, which has snowballed.

It has been a couple of weeks now and it doesn’t look like I was able to strike while the iron was hot. I feel like I’m back to square one. My goals for this movie are to get a small distribution deal with DVD and maybe VOD with a mid-size company that knows how to deal with low-budget movies. My goals for my career are to write and direct my own projects, while supplementing that work with rewrite and punch-up jobs.

Based on the information I gave you, can you tell me: a) what I did wrong so that, should I be in this situation again, I can do better next time, and b) what I should do now to accomplish those goals?

— James
writer/diector, Eastern College

You really didn’t do anything wrong, other than let your expectations get built up too high by one guy. Believe me, I understand how it happens: it’s great when people like your work. It’s exciting when they describe a possible future with meetings and projects and enough money to stop living like a college student.

Enthusiasm is a sugar rush. You really feel it when it’s over.

My friend Aaron Lindenthaler had a film at the same festival (Dances with Films), and while I haven’t gotten the full post-mortem on his experience, I suspect he found a lot of the same reactions. A good response at a festival is gratifying, but it doesn’t translate particularly well to the larger business.

Looking at your trailer, the movie feels like a scrappy college comedy, not unlike Box Elder, the film Todd Sklar wrote about a couple of weeks ago. It’s absolutely valid terrain for a movie, and no one’s allowed to say that there are too many of them. But there are enough scrappy indie college movies that it’s hard to stand out from the pack, and harder still to convince an agency or distributor that you’re worth the investment.

I don’t know how many meetings you had, or how they went, but you were probably meeting with people in their 30’s or 40’s, whereas you’re likely early 20’s, still fresh from the college experience. Your peers are working in agency mailrooms. And they’re who you really want to see your film, because in two years they’ll be junior agents, and you’ll be one of their clients. So if you have any more meetings, try to talk with the guys getting you your Diet Coke. They’re as hungry to make it as you are.

In terms of distribution, I don’t know how realistic it is to be making money off of it. Don’t let that stop you from going after distributors who specialize in indie DVDs and/or VOD — but don’t pin all your hopes on it.

The better goal is to get it in front of as many eyes as possible in your target audience. Todd Sklar and crew are traveling around the country like an indie band, which sounds exhausting. But maybe you can piggyback on someone else’s travel. Does the music in your movie come from a popular local band? Then give away DVDs at their shows. And I wouldn’t panic about it leaking online. Much worse things could happen. In fact, at a certain point you might just want to keep a link to the torrent on your film’s site. 1

Based on its current trajectory, your movie probably won’t end up in Blockbuster. That’s okay. You can likely get it carried by Netflix, which is better in the long tail world.

And beyond that, focus on what’s next. Don’t dwell on what-mighta-beens. The iron was never that hot, and while you’re at square one, you didn’t get sent any further back. You made a movie. Get the most you can out of it, then get cracking on doing the next project.

  1. Another option: I’d be tempted to find some prolific and well-regarded torrenter and anonymously tip him to where he could find a Quicktime file sitting unguarded on a server. You’ll get better exposure if it comes from someone with pirate cred.