The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, August 14, 2008

If You Don't Respect Yourself...

The industry won't, either. I've recently turned in a script for a company that seems badly mismanaged. Their contracts and payments are late, and it seems that honesty is not their highest value. I knew none of these things when I started working for them, but over the months it became increasingly clear that they didn't have their act together. There were two other writers working on the project, and if I read between the lines, they were not treated well. And they wouldn't have treated me well, either, except that I didn't need their money, and could afford to tell them "No. You will absolutely not treat me in a manner you yourself would not want to be treated. Period. End of story." Because of that, I got everything I wanted in our negotiations: I had the script they wanted, and until I got what I was promised.

Things weren't always like that. Whenever people have a power position over you, they will be tempted to take advantage. It's just the nature of the beast--nothing personal. How can you combat this? How can you hold your head up when the television or film studio holds all the cards?

By realizing that they don't. By remembering that your sweat and work has value, and that they actually need your product more than you need their job. Regardless of the fact that they have the office and the millions, you have a unique vision of the world, filtered through your unique experiences, and your unique preparation. By remembering that there never was, and never will be, another artist quite like you.


Michelle said...

Thank you for those words. I'm currently struggling with another company that owes me money. Despite writer's strikes, no one seems to get that without writers there are no stories.

I've never understood why writers are treated as the most expendable part of the process.

Josh Jasper said...

Independent contractors get the short shrift in situations like this frequently - there's seldom any collective bargaining power.

The Science Fiction Writers Of America has a grievance comity for issues like this, but nothing can force you to use them if you're being bullied.

I agree, respecting yourself is vitally important in standing up to bullying.

On the other hand, avoiding being a bully? I've always just avoided job situations in which bullying gets you promoted, though I've worked for companies in which it was. Never for long though.

Sean said...

inspiring as usual...

its all about attitude and intent. They dont hold all the cards, they just spend a lot of energy and equity to make most folks think they do. Like any bully, they will pick on all the little kids in the room until one stand up to him. Unlike the movies, in real life the bullies move on to other kids - so do these "creative companies"

If they can jerk Joss Whedon around with Firefly after all the $$$ he made them with Buffy and Angel, its in their best interests to keep up the program... there are so few (like you) who work the game as opposed to playing along it isnt worth it to change.

Michael Canfield said...

Thank you. The last two paragraphs are carry-in-my-wallet worthy advice.