Thursday, 26 March 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #257: What The Mob Can Teach Marvel

According to Nikki Finke the burgeoning Marvel Media empire is starting a new program for developing screenwriters. First step is a binding non-disclosure agreement, then a 70 page non-negotiable contract, and if you survive all that, you then work for Marvel for a year, and everything you write during that year becomes the property of Marvel forevermore and a day, and they also get first look/last refusal rights on everything you write for 2 years after that.

Personally, this is what happens when you l
et lawyers make business decisions. There's a hell of a lot of thought put into how to screw over young desperate writers, (which is the only result that can come from a 70 page non-negotiable contract) but no thought at all was put into how to get those young desperate writers to do their best for the company.

Oh people will take up the offer, a chance at a real professional credit is still a chance, but I get the feeling that very few of those who get in will put in the sort passion necessary to produce good work. Because why would they give their all when they know that even if it succeeds, they will probably get next to nothing in return? What's the point?

Now I can understand wanting to retain ownership of screenplays that use characters from their comics properties, that's only good sense. But wholly original work should revert to the writer if they pass on producing it after a certain period of time, and the first look/last refusal clause really acts as more territorial pissing than sensible business, because if they treat this program right, people will go to them first naturally.

And this is where they can learn something from the Mob.

Back when the Mob ran Las Vegas they had a system for dealing with the entertainers that worked their show-rooms, lounges, and nightclubs. Everything was kept simple, and many times deals were made on a handshake over a written contract. The performer got their fees, a room, with meals, and even drinks included (though they couldn't perform drunk, unless that was their act).

Now the key to this system was that they didn't rip people off. The performers got paid, on time, and in full. Acts that stank were paid off, and told to go home.

But the essence of this was that they didn't use 70+ page contracts, dictating every aspect of their lives for one year, and then most of their lives for the next two. They made simple agreements, lived up to them, and didn't screw them over, because even though they were mobsters,
they believed that everyone in a business deal should walk away happy. (Because happy people didn't get the police, FBI, or the dreaded IRS involved)

Marvel's plan only ensures that their lawyers will be the only ones walking away happy from this deal. The writer's will only show up for a paycheck, and won't invest much of themselves in the project, and that's only if they allow themselves to fall into Marvel's pit of last refusal
*, Marvel itself will get bland, passionless material, and wonder why it doesn't win the hearts of audiences.

So Marvel might be better off to learn a thing or two from the Mob.

It's just plain better business.

* Last refusal is essentially a trap to keep writers from negotiating with other companies. It's the opposite of "First Refusal" which gives Marvel the option of matching or bettering the best offer of another company. Last refusal forces the writer to sell to Marvel for the value of any offer made by another company. So if you have a script that two companies wants, Company A will pay $1 million, and Company B will pay $10,000, Marvel can force you to let them buy it for $10,000. Ouch.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Joe Quesada's general business strategy has plenty in common with that of a pimp, so I guess it all makes sense.