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Film Negotiations

This is probably a unique situation to this message board. This is a long post, feel free to change the channel if you do not have the time for it.


My business partner and I are filmmakers. We have formed an L.L.C. to support our current project. I'll briefly explain the project: we have created a character and we are going to play it like the character actually exists. The character is going to have his own MySpace page, Wikipedia page, and his own personal website. On the character's personal website there will be a blog, merchandise, forums, and the main component of his website will be a series of online(viral) videos. We have already finished the first video in the series and are planning on producing five more videos. My business partner and I have casted a very talented actor to play our character. My business partner and I have personally financed this project. We paid the actor $50 a day(two to eight hours of work). The actor worked a total of eight days on the project. Since we are going to act like this character really exists all of us agreed not to take credit for the film. The filmmakers(my business partner and I) and the actor are not going to take credit on the character's website or in the video.


The actor is not a member of the L.L.C. . In order to keep the actor attached to future episodes we offered him 3% of gross. He accepted the gross offer. His sticking point is that he wants a co-writing credit on all of the episodes. He also said that if we do not want to give him the co-writing credit we can negotiate. The actor did not write any of the first episode and it sounds like he wants credit for it. My business partner and I do not want the actor to be a co-writer. The biggest thing I took away from my negotiation research is that you want the other party to feel like they have won. That's why we started so low on the gross offer. Our highest offer would be 5% gross. If we deny him the co-writing credit and make a bigger offer of the gross I believe he will purposefully perform terribly as an actor in the future. As for the co-writing credit, we have not made him an offer, but we are willing to offer him the title of consulting producer. As a “consulting producer” the actor would have a brainstorming session with the writers and a rehearsal before shooting. The idea is that if we make these creative concessions our actor will feel like he has won.


The actor stalled for a couple of weeks after our initial meeting. He then wrote an e-mail stating that he would take the gross offer if he receives a co-writing credit on the future episodes. I played stupid to see what he was really after. I responded with, “As you know, we're not planning on publishing credits on the character's website or in the video. Could you explain what you mean by a co-writing credit?”. He then responded with, “I want the co-writing credit in the contract. I just want to be acknowledged for my idea creation if this project ever takes off.” . The actor has not has not done any writing so far. It looks like he is after a writer's percentage points if the company or the videos are bought by a corporation. I responded to his last e-mail with, “When we met up before I left town you mentioned that you would like more creative input. Could you explain what you had in mind for creative input and idea creation?”. That response was over three days ago and I have not heard anything since. It looks like he is stalling again.


Do you guys have any ideas to force the actor from stalling without making him defensive? Do you have any ideas for tactics/gambits to use to make the actor feel like he is winning while getting the terms the business partners desire? Thank you for reading this novel size post. Please let me know if I can clear anything up. Any input will be appreciated and thank you for your time. - by arthurbing
Interesting post and interesting questions, arthurbing.

I don't know that I have a great deal to offer, but here are a couple observations / questions:

1. It looks like you started the project without a full agreement as to the terms of relationship between you and your actor. You said you "paid" the actor (past tense), so I assume the filming for the first project is complete. On the other hand, you talk about a "sticking point." Although I have no expertise or experience in your area, it seems to me that you'd want all those details figured out before you start your project. i.e., wouldn't you want to figure out how the actor is "attached" to future episodes before you begin the first episode?

2. Are you in a position to meet face-to-face with your actor? It sounds like you're communicating via email or something, but i'd recommend a face-to-face session to try to iron out all the details.

3. At your face-to-face, review with him what your points of agreement are. Then, find out exactly what he's asking for and why. Isolate those issues ("If we were to agree to this, would we have an agreement?"). It's also sometimes helpful to ask, "If we don't agree to this, what would happen?" Make sure you're clear about what you're asking for, too. Clarity is key.

4. If some of his issues are agreeable to you, go ahead and agree to them. That will put the ball in his court. He'll feel obligated to give you what you want if you gave on one or two points to start.

Good luck with your situation; your post was a very interesting read. - by Skip Anderson
Cut your loses. Drop the guy. He is a controller. You will have nothing but grief in the future. Sorry to be blunt, but "been there, done that!" - by Jerry Bresser
Arthur,

Interesting situation. From the sounds of it, you are both operating at a fairly high level, without fully understanding each other's interests (needs, goals, concerns, fears, etc.). I would recommend a couple of things:

1. Try to ask genuine questions to better understand what the actor is trying to achieve. He's asking for things, but you may not fully know why. Be curious - he may surprise you.

2. Try to be transparent with him - why is what he's asking for not a good thing for you to provide? What of his requests is unreasonable?

3. Once you understand his interests (what he's trying to accomplish) while fully recognizing your own, try to propose a number of equal but different possibilities. Let him choose. If he doesn't like any of them, ask why not? What can be made better to make this a yessable proposition? If he does like one (or some) over others, this could give you insight into his priorities and his interests. I also agree with Skip - if his requests are reasonable, why not grant them (or find other ways to meet his needs)? This will help you be seen as a "partner" and will help you set the tone and set an example for him to follow.

4. Finally, also in agreement with Skip - good communication and clarity are key. Make sure you're as specific and explicit as you can possibly be about your agreement, once you've achieved one. Walk down all paths and discuss the "what ifs." It sounds like you don't want a vague agreement in this situation.

Unfortunately, most people can see through "tactics/gambits" and they don't like them. Hopefully, you can successfully meet his needs while meeting your own, rather than "tricking" him into accepting your proposal. To take it a step further, even if you are successful in "tricking" him, he'll realize he's been duped sooner than later, and will then be in a greater position to sabotage your project.

I hope this insight helps - it's not exactly what you asked for. Feel free to get in touch if you'd like to discuss more.

Best,
Stephen - by sfrenkel
Arthur,

Interesting situation. From the sounds of it, you are both operating at a fairly high level, without fully understanding each other's interests (needs, goals, concerns, fears, etc.). I would recommend a couple of things:

1. Try to ask genuine questions to better understand what the actor is trying to achieve. He's asking for things, but you may not fully know why. Be curious - he may surprise you.

2. Try to be transparent with him - why is what he's asking for not a good thing for you to provide? What of his requests is unreasonable?

3. Once you understand his interests.....
Extraordinary advice. It gets to the heart of the matter.

By this time, Arthur may have resolved the issue, but Stephen's counsel is timeless in its value.

At the beginning of the Paris Peace Talks over the war in Viet Nam, a conflict arose regarding the shape of the table. It stalled proceedings while many on both sides were dying. It took too much time to address the reasons behind what seemed a silly issue. In the end it was learned that one side wanted a shape that simply provided an equal setting, signifying equal stature. - by Ace Coldiron
It's a pity there's only one post by this author and we're unlikely to know how things resulted.

I'll refrain from repeating some of the previous points well made by earlier posters.

From my own perspective the person asking for advice would have considerably improved his situation by not making some very basic initial errors.

I'm left asking what he did by way of 'negotiation research' to begin with, and judging from his conclusions would have to suggest he has formed a very slanted and inappropriate model of negotiation. - by ThirdForceNegotiator
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