This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
The only time you really, truly know that you've made a sale in Hollywood – that the studio bought the script, that the network bought the pitch – is when they call your agent to get your social security or tax ID number.
Because that means that someone whose job it is to print out paychecks is about to print one out with your name on it. Getting to that point, though, takes a certain amount of patience.
I was rude enough, and tacky enough, I guess, not to long ago, to wonder where, exactly, my money was. A certain major media company in town owed me a certain sum -- they had been paying me in weekly installments -- and suddenly, they stopped doing that. A month or two went by -- cause, you know, I'm not ruled by money -- and I felt a call was in order.
"Where's my money?"
"Oh, yeah. Yeah. See, we're doing it a little bit differently this year. We're doing it by milestones, you know? Milestones. Not weeks."
"Milestones?" I asked.
"Yeah, yeah. Like, when you sign the deal memo, we cut a check. When you sign the long form of the contract, we cut a check. That sort of thing."
Now, the odd thing here is that I've been working for almost 18 years, and I've had loads of contracts, but I've rarely signed any of them. I've never been asked to sign a deal memo -- which is, essentially, a one- or two-page summary of the terms of the contract -- much less the Long Form -- which is a multi-page document, what the deal memo summarizes. And, especially, I've never been told that I needed to sign them just to get paid. My feeling is, if I'm showing up, assume that you owe me money.
So I call my agent and get the deal memo faxed, which I sign and fax back, and then I call business affairs to get a copy of the long form.
That's what they call that department at the studio -- business affairs. It sounds just vague enough to encompass anything they want it to, but what it really is is the place where all of the lawyers sit, negotiating contracts, generating deal memos, issuing new guidlelines to keep me from getting my money.
In the entertainment industry, you see, the goal is to isolate and outsource as much conflict as possible. Executives, after all, have to work with each other again and again, so it's inefficient and counter-productive to have them wrangling with each other and agents all over town. And also: executives like to think of themselves as creative – "I didn't get into this business to fight over the legal terms of a contract," an executive once said to me, neglecting to add that as a former art history major and ski instructor, he wasn't qualified to do that, anyway. So the ominously named "business affairs" department of any studio or network is where the real shouting gets done. That's where the really qualified people do the hard work of convincing agents and their clients that the final offer is the final offer, that we don't really need to hire your client, that there isn't any more money in the budget, that this is the way we're doing it for everyone.
A few weeks after my call, the Long Form arrived. It was, as you might expect, long. It required a lot of signatures and initials and contained all sorts of provisions for acts of God, acts of foreign enemy, force majeure. What it didn't contain was any place for me to put down my social security of tax id number. So I scrawled it on every page, just to make sure.
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll go on strike. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.