Times Have Been Tough is a Worksystems Inc. PSA we created promoting Worksource Oregon. Furman Pictures played a leading production and post production role for this video production in Portland, Oregon.
Times Have Been Tough is a Worksystems Inc. PSA we created promoting Worksource Oregon. Furman Pictures played a leading production and post production role for this video production in Portland, Oregon.
I have been a producer for two nationally broadcast television series, one of which is currently airing out Outside television, and I’m working on developing a third. Through those experiences, I have learned that revealing the right information to the right people at the right time, while still protecting your creative idea, can be tricky.
It is a complicated process that takes into play personalities, who you know and current trends often more than the content of your idea; and usually means bring more to the table than just your idea… but that is a topic for another day.
Over the years, countless creative ideas have been stolen in the film and television industry. Many film companies and projects have gone under locked in legal battles. But there are ways to make the shady areas of negotiating more clear.
Monica Harris is an attorney who has worked in broadcast network and cable television and in the scripted and reality genres for nearly 20 years with companies like Viacom Media Networks, NBC-Universal Television and ABC/Walt Disney Television. I recently asked her to write an introduction on how to better protect creative content through the negotiating process.
Protecting Your Creative Content
Any successful writer or producer will tell you that coming up with a compelling concept for a series is really only half the battle; much of the heavy lifting occurs when the time comes to sell – or “pitch” – the concept. And therein lies the challenge, because the goal is not merely to persuade a prospective buyer to purchase your idea, but to also dissuade the buyer from using your idea without paying you for it.
Whether you are pitching an idea for an unscripted series or selling a script for a web series or sitcom, the fundamental rule of idea protection is the same: flesh out your idea on paper as much as possible, register your idea and make sure that you create a paper trail leading to anyone who has touched or seen your work.
Fleshing Out Your Concept:
If you’ve written a script for a film or TV series, this isn’t a problem. You’ve already completed this step by reducing your vision to a recognizable and protectable format that includes characters, an established environment, scenes and dialogue. Fleshing out concepts for unscripted projects in the form of “treatments” is a bit more challenging and actually takes some practice to master. Experienced producers can create these in batches at a time, as they are accustomed to pitching these formats to production companies, studios and networks, but for the newcomer the task of formulating a compelling and sales-worthy treatment is often challenging. There are many resources online and classes that can assist the aspiring writer/producer in developing treatments, but the important thing to keep in mind for purposes of this discussion is that mere ideas cannot be protected under copyright laws. Therefore, the more detailed the treatment, the easier it is to protect the ideas contained in them. For example, it is much easier to protect a concept for a competition/elimination show that involves young couples on an island who engage in physical and mental challenges each week, and after being voted off are replaced with another couple from the viewing audience than it is to make the case for a reality show about couples on an island. You get the idea.
Registering Your Work:
This task is actually fairly simple. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) offers a relatively affordable registration process for members and non-members which allows them to register any script. Even better, the WGA permits writers to register multiple drafts of the same script, which has the advantage of allowing an artist to protect any changes, whether incidental or material, to the underlying concept. A change could be something as significant as the addition of a character or as minor as changing the dialogue in a scene.
Writers can register their scripts with either the WGAW or the WGAE (there are two offices of the WGA, located in Los Angeles and New York):
The cost of registration is nominal ($20 for non-members with the WGAW and $25 for non-members with the WGAE) , and it provides an independent, objective third party verification of the content of your work at a particular point in time. Speaking of “work”, WGA registration is also extremely valuable because it protects a broad range of material including treatments, synopses, outlines, and written ideas specifically intended for radio, television and film, video cassettes/discs, or interactive media. The WGAW Registry also accepts stageplays, novels and other books, short stories, poems, commercials, strategic marketing campaign, lyrics, drawings, music and other media work. So whether you come up with an idea for the next great reality series or a detailed marketing campaign, you can protect your written concept by registering it.
Submitting Your Work:
Now that you’ve fleshed out your idea and registered it, you’re ready to start knocking on doors and making phone calls to prospective buyers. The best way to pitch your idea is with the aid of an entertainment lawyer or an agent who has established contacts with potential buyers and has a better chance of getting your material in front of a decision-maker. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done, as the best-connected lawyers and agents don’t have much spare time on their hands and won’t consider “shopping” material unless they believe they have a good shot at selling it. If you’re lucky enough to be invited in to pitch your work without being represented by a lawyer or an agent, then it is more likely than not that you will be asked to sign a submission release. In essence, this is a document that is designed to protect the prospective buyer form the very type of claim (idea theft) that you are likely to bring against the them if they produce a project that is substantially similar to yours.
Submission releases range in length from one page to several pages, and some are scarier than others. But the general idea is always the same: by submitting your work, you are acknowledging if the buyer happens to have a project in development that is similar to something that you are sending to them, you will not sue them. So you’re probably wondering at this point why anyone would ever sign a submission release. The short answer is this: if a buyer has no prior experience with you, and if you are not approaching them via a representative (a lawyer or an agent) with whom they have had prior dealings, then they will not consider your work unless you sign a release. Moreover, although many writers think that they are the only ones who have ever come up with a brilliant concept, the truth is that very few ideas are truly unique. As the old adage goes, there are really only 13 basic story archetypes in literature, and everything is derivative – in some way, shape or form – of those archetypes. What this means is that somewhere out there another writer has likely come up with a similar idea and has pitched it to a buyer, and perhaps even the same buyer that you are approaching. As a former head of a network business and legal affairs department for many years, I can confirm that my creative execs routinely received the same pitches independently from different producers multiple times.
Having said that, a submission release should not deter you from submitting your material to legitimate producers or other buyers, especially if you have registered your work. Why? Because signing a submission release doesn’t mean that a buyer can steal your idea; it just means that you will have to make a strong case that (a) you submitted the idea to them first and (b) the project that they produced is substantially-similar to the idea that you submitted to them.
Which brings us to the paper trail. Regardless of whether you submit your work for consideration through a representative or with a submission release, it is important for you to keep your own personal, written record of the people who have seen your work, i.e. evidence of the date, time, name and title of the person who received the submission. Email provides an ideal method for creating a written record of the content submitted. It is never a good idea to simply walk into a room, leave your written material, shake hands and wait by the phone. Make a point of sending written material before your face-to-face meeting. And if you don’t have the opportunity to submit your material before a meeting? Then simply follow-up with an email with your material attached, thanking the buyer for taking the time to meet with you and generally re-capping the essence of your pitch in broad strokes. It doesn’t have to be heavy-handed; just enough to let the person you met with know that you appreciated their time and remind them why your project is a special one. If you are required to sign a submission release, be sure to attach your material to the signed release so that a written record is created.
While the steps set forth above by no means guarantee that your valuable intellectual property will never be appropriated without your consent, they will aid you in protecting yourself from theft to the greatest extent possible and will make prospective buyers think twice about producing projects that are uncomfortably similar to yours.
Harris can be reached by calling (424) 280-0630 or by email at email@example.com.
Beyond Adventure is a television series that I am the Associate Producer of. It is a spin off of another show I developed for Blue Mountain Television called Escape, which aired nationally on iLife and some other smaller networks.
In addition to the role of Associate Producer for Beyond Adventure, I also held the roles of Episode Producer and Primary Camera Operator for 7 of the 13 episodes.
Brian Belleau, Beyond Adventure Producer, really headed the funding and organization for AMP Studios. It was really great working with him on the project. (Don’t tell anyone, but Brian and I actually had our differences at first, but developed a mutual respect and worked through, or at least around, the rough spots).
Since I probably won’t win any red carpet awards, even thought it’s an excellent show, I’m going to say some of my thank you’s now. Thanks to all the cast, crew, board members, supporters, etc. for your part in making Beyond Adventure happen, and Escape as well. They both took an army… and a few minor injuries, burnt clothes and damaged cameras. If anyone finds a bullet cam at the bottom of Yosemite Falls, please send it to my address and I’ll make sure it get’s back to its rightful owner.
Work last week including shooting for Zebra Media at the Nike retail lab. Boyd Anderson at Zebra Media brought me on board to shoot behind the scenes footage for Zebra’s project with Nike. It was a fun project and an enjoyable crew.
I’ve also been working with AMP Studios on writing eight 2 to 5 minute length dramatic scripts for a client’s new website. I’ve been asked to direct the first five scripts which will be filmed in the Portland area. I love writing and these stories have been satisfying to develop. I feel honored and enthusiastic about being able to direct them as well and I’m looking forward to bring work to some actors I’ve had my eye on here in Portland. Scripts are in the final stages of revision and production should take place mid March.
Also, in the next week or two, I’m told a short post production project should be coming down the line from another international shoe and sportswear company I’ve worked with in the past.
Oh, yes. Season One of Beyond Adventure will begin airing soon on a new, but well know outdoor network. I was the Associate Producer for the series and Episode Producer and Lead Camera Operator for about half the episodes. I hope to post more information on that soon.
… and happy Valentine’s Day!
I’m working on shooting two documentary shorts in Kodiak, Alaska this week for AMP Studios. The first is on what life is like in a small coastal Alaskan town and the second is on the fishing industry in Alaska. Kodiak is one of the the largest fishing ports in the world. One processing plant I took footage at employs over 300 employees and processes over a 500,000 pounds of fish each day. It’s a town where bald eagles circle like vultures, scruffy men say “Hello, gentlemen,” as they pass you in the harbor and people know as much about the history of a boat as they do the owner.
I’ve been trying for a couple months to line up a trip to get footage on one of the commercial fishing vessels. Boats are changing fisheries so fast that it’s difficult to pin someone down. I was told the best thing to do was to just show up and walk the docks. So that’s what I did- and I found someone willing to take me aboard. A storm front hit and virtually everyone is staying in. That’s unfortunate because to stick within the budget and timeline, I only have this week. Fishing trips are a minimum of three to five days at sea. On the other hand, I have enough footage to make the stories work well and I’ve been able to get some more challenging image sequences, such as the Aurora Borealis over Kodiak.
7 degrees. Across the frozen tundra and lakes via snow go in search of Inupiaq fishing for shee fish. Inupiaq. “Real people”. Eskimos. One lone caribou. Selawik lake looks small on maps, but from the frozen surface seems vast. Black specs on the horizon turn into a heard of caribou racing south over the frozen lake. Land and sky are vague. We spot the real people. They have a pile of about 30 shee fish and pike, landing several while I’m there. A smack from a club crushes a pike’s head and drops of bloody juices land on the monitor of my camera, freezing within moments and falling off. The nearest roads, cars and trucks are more than a hundred miles away. I’m so grateful to Paul and Brian for the gig.
Levi’s released a marketing campaign in august called “Levi’s Legacy”. Among other things, it depicts a young man facing off with riot police. The ad is inspiring to some and alienating to others, and worthy of note to business owners, marketers and humans in general.
“Legacy” is one of a string of “Go Fourth”ads, developed by Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Oregon, that uses words from poets such as Whitman and Braddock. “Legacy” borrows from Charles Bukowski’s poem, The Laughing Heart.
“Your life is your life, don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission…”
The less soulful will not like the ad. If that is you, skip these musings and look up “Bukowski ad parody” on Youtube.
According to Levi’s “Legacy” was released exclusively on Facebook and then later on TV and movie screens- the first ever world release. The ad was delayed in the UK because of the riots there this summer.
What’s the message in the ad? Hope. The ad is filled with vivid images of emotional moments- the ocean, wind, a peaceful protest, sunset, party, sex, music, celebration- spirituality really.
In a brilliant move, it starts out with a first person perspective, which it uses as a theme, intermixed with close personal shots of people, many of which are wearing their product. In the background, a voice of wisdom tells us that we may not win all the battles, but we should seize the moments of joy as they are provided by “the gods”.
There are several components that definitely alienate great segments of society. The use of the word “gods” will offend a great many Christians, Islamists, atheists and other monotheists. Others may not like the themes of party, music and celebration. Still others will point out that this is just another marketing campaign by a major corporation.
On the other hand, this ad offers something that is in short supply right now- hope. Politicians, corporations, religious organizations all talk about what this generation is losing- jobs, health care, housing, security, family. This generation is told that it will just have to do without health care, just have to do without retirement, just have to do with less freedom. All this while the cost of food, gas, education and living in general continues to rise, as does the salary of many corporate executives. Many have a hard time believing in even themselves when they can’t work. All this after a rough decade following 9-11, and terrorist acts and wars around the world.
Here’s is the strength of Levi’s ad. It calls for individuals to look for the positive now, to look for a destiny beyond one’s self- the gods, the greater good, humanity, love. At the same time it sticks with it’s branding of being true to yourself. That’s a message we all connect with on some level.
The irony is that it is a corporate brand message (Levi’s) being distributed on a corporate network (Facebook) where many real, personal relationships are maintained and formed. So where does the corporate branding end and authenticity begin?
Perhaps it’s a matter of understanding their customer, making friends really. Levi’s understands the emotions that a great many of it’s potential customers are feeling. It’s being relevant.
To top it all off, part of the campaign supports Water.org, which helps needy communities get clean drinking water. It’s hard to get much more authentic than that.
Here’s what Becca Van Dyck, global chief marketing officer of the Levi’s®brand had to say: “Now, more than ever, the world needs inspiration. The world needs people with a pioneering spirit who still believe that anything is possible. Our 60-second ‘Go Forth’ film and digital engagement program recognize people around the globe who are stepping forward to transform the world. Through Facebook, we hope to inspire people to join us in supporting the important work of today’s pioneers.”
This article isn’t a call to idolize a jeans company or ad. It is an appeal to those of us who are both human and business professionals to be relevant, to ask ourselves: in the world of the almighty corporate dollar and ever consuming people, which side are we on, or can we co-exist? Are we relevant? Can we be friends?
I recently updated my cinematography demo reel, which was a real challenge. It’s difficult to narrow it down to just the best shots and in only 60 seconds. There are so many I really like. One also has to make the choice between showing the full movement of a shot or just giving a snap shot for the sake of variety. For the most part, I chose the latter. Some clips, as was pointed out to me, may not be as appealing to others as they are to me. As a result, many of you may never see that amazingly simple rusty sink shot.
It was also hard to leave behind some of the standard definition shots from yesteryear. Some of those beautifully composed shots that took so much time to set up just don’t have the same shine as 16×9.
Take a look at my reel and leave a comment if you like. Are there any compositions you particular like or dislike? If your a DP, tell me about your favorite shot in your reel and feel free to leave a link.
There are several project video clips added to the Furman Pictures website, including projects for Adidas, a trailer the short film Butterflies, a clip from the television series Beyond Adventure and a book trailer Author Sandy Zaugg. You can find these and other clips under the Story link at furmanpictures.com. Additional movies clips from recent projects are to be added soon.
I went sledding with some friends this last weekend up at Mount Hood. Great times- watched my wife take a spectacular sledding wipe-out. She did a double cartwheel followed by a head-plant in the snow. Fortunately she came out of it unscathed.
On the way back, we began talking about life, families, careers. In a creative job, or any job for that matter, it’s easy to get caught up in paying the bills, lining up jobs that pay well more than the one’s that are true to one’s creative interests. Don’t get me wrong, I like my current and past clients. I believe in what they are doing and that my work really benefits them. I try to choose them as much as they choose me. I take a certain pride in that. However, I can choose which direction my ship sails.
The reason I started my company was so that I would have the creative and financial freedom to work on dramatic projects- narrative films, my own and other’s. While I continue to work on the independent film projects of other’s, I’ve neglected my own.
I guess I’m going through one of those natural transitional periods. I’m updated the software and hardware in my editing suite, getting my paper work up to date, clearing off and backing up projects. I’m thinking about the future. I need to finish that short film that’s been in editing too long. I need to finish the script for the next short I want to shoot and get that sucker done. And I need to finish the script for the feature film I started writing and begin the leg work for that. Life’s so short. It’s easy to let dreams and passions slip by one day at a time, but the best views usually come after a hard climb.