Screenplay Title Change

May 17, 2015

I wrote a play a while back that was very well received. So well, in fact, that a friend of mine wanted to film it as a short movie. I was thrilled, so I adapted it into a screenplay, we cast the actors together and we filmed it. After that, the friend more or less disappeared off the face of the earth for close to a year, along with the footage.

I asked him several times how it was looking, if he needed any help editing, etc. I kept getting the same reply: "I got this. Don't worry about it." (This should have been a red flag). The actors in the film asked me numerous times if I knew anything. All I could tell them was that the director kept assuring me that he "got this." Four days ago, he sent out a rough cut of the footage to everyone on his email list (he didn't even send it to the cast and crew for review first, as is custom on short films like this). Some of the edits looked really good - which was exciting. But he changed the title, which I didn't expect, and the change was not a positive one. He also made some editing choices which I felt interrupted the flow of the action. But most upsetting to me was the title change - mainly because we had numerous discussions about the script and he never once discussed a possible title change. If he had, I would have fought him on it tooth and nail.

I sent him a very long email describing my concerns about the rough edit - both positive and negative comments, with most of my concerns revolving around the title change, since it violated our contract. 24 hours later, he had not replied to me at all, but he sent out a mass email to his email group: "Thank you very much for your emails. Your kind words regarding the film are greatly appreciated. And yes, to the request I heard from many of you, you can provide a link to the film even though this is what those folks in the software industry call a “soft launch”. Kind Regards, --------------"

My response to this email: "I have to be honest, ____. You never once suggested that you might change the title. Not in any of our discussions, or even in the contract does it suggest that you were considering changing the title. I take it as a serious slap in the face that you would even think about changing the title without discussing it with me first. I am angry and I feel betrayed. When you and I spent several hours discussing this project, I thought "Man, this guy really gets it." I told my wife that I finally found a director I could trust. But I was wrong. I fully expect that if I ever sell a script for thousands of dollars to Hollywood, they'll have the right to change whatever they like. But I didn't sell this to you for a dime. I gave it to you freely because I believed in you and I thought you would bring my vision to life. But I'll never make that mistake again. At this point, I'm so disgusted I don't even want my name associated with this project. Please remove it. Thank you. --------------"

His reply: "I'm sorry you're taking this so hard. I never imagined this would be your reaction to the title change. To take your name off would be dishonest. --------------"

My reply: "Why did you change the title? And why did you never think to discuss it with me? I made zero dollars off of this. I gave you my script for free, out of respect and out of trust. Didn't you think that I might be a little bit upset by a major change of this nature? Why keep it such a secret from me? Did you not trust me? Did you not respect me? I feel absolutely betrayed. And the fact that you're sharing it publicly AFTER I shared my feelings about it tells me that you don't give a fuck how I feel. If you told me in advance that you wanted to change the title, I would have refused. And I think you knew that, which is why you waited until now to just surprise me with it. Well, color me fucking surprised, man. But even more than the title change is the lack of common courtesy to even tell me about it. That's the part that stings. You didn't buy this script from me. I GAVE it to you. And the only thing I asked in return was a little bit of respect. You fucking failed in that department, man. I'm angry. Really angry. It case it wasn't clear. -----------"

His reply: "Let's revisit the reality of the financials, I funded the entire project. There's never been an expectation of earnings coming out of this, so I'm operating at a loss -- but I have no complaints. -----------"

My reply: "Well I have a big complaint. Please remove my name from the project. Thank you." Then I followed with: "You can put "Alan Smithee" in there if you like. But I want nothing to do with it." Then I followed with: "Plus, I offered to pay half. You turned me down every time I offered. So please don't act like you have some financial foothold over me. I'll be happy to reimburse any and all costs right now if it would sway you to change the title back. Just let me know. ---------------"

24 Hours later, the video was still up on YouTube with my name on it, and he had not replied. So, I sent him this: "I have requested three times now that my name be removed from this project. My next "request" will be in the form of legal action. You have altered my script beyond recognition and beyond the scope of our agreement. Furthermore, you have treated our friendship and collaboration with utter disregard and contempt. I appreciate and encourage creative differences between collaborators but lies, disrespect, and outright breaches of contract will not be tolerated. Remove my name or be prepared for an unpleasant legal battle. You have 24 hours to comply."

Within 6 hours, the video was removed. I hate that it went down like this, and I'm still sick to my stomach over it, but at least I know he's reading my emails.