Back before the turn of the century, I went to a company in Houston that guaranteed they could train you to effectively market yourself in whatever field of occupation you were in. I made an appointment and went in for the first meeting. Here was where they explained what all they could do for me. It was a pretty good pitch, but I was still skeptical. At that time, I had never made more than $15 dollars an hour in my life. So, when they told me their six month training program would cost me four-thousand dollars, my heart sank. I didn't have it. When I told my wife about it, we both decided it was probably too good to be true and forgot about it. A few days later, a relative of mine allowed me to use four-thousand dollars of theirs to try it out. I went in with much skepticism, but adhered to what they taught me and then put it into action. My next job paid me $24 per hour, and I thought I was rich after the first paycheck. I had never seen one that large. After that, the next spot in the employment market paid me $30 an hour. At this writing, that's chicken feed compared to my salary now.
The one thing this company taught me that I consider, to this day, as invaluable to me, was to show no fear during the interview and salary negotiating process. Prior to this training, I had always gone into a job interview with my hat in hand, being all subservient and humble. I had the 'whipped puppy dog' look down to a 'T'. "Please, Mr. Big Boss Man, may I have a low paying job so I can work hard at starving to death until you decide to throw me a piece of a bone?" That was me.
I was amazed at how well the training worked in the real world. Not only amazed, but transfixed on how I might be able to better my skills at interviewing and negotiating. I can honestly tell you that every job I've had since that time has resulted in a better position, a higher salary, and other perks I didn't possess at my last place of employment. Gone are the days of working for a company for thirty years, getting a gold watch and walking away with a measly pension as 'thanks' for slaving away the best years of your life for a pittance.
In 2010, this company had been pursuing me for six weeks. They finally called and asked me to come in, advising they were ready to give me an offer to come to work for them. After I arrived and went into the conference room, we all met, shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and got some coffee. I then sat down with the three men sitting around the table. I will swear in court the first words spoken to me....about being hired...was "Well, how much do you want?" It was at that moment I knew I was dealing with amateurs and that I had won. That first question put all the leverage they may have had right into my lap. I responded by saying, and I'm telling the truth...."I want a million dollars a day." The three laughed and nodded and then the guy says, "No, really...how much do you want?" I said, "I want a million dollars a day. I know I won't get it, but you didn't ask me how much I thought I could get. You asked me how much I wanted." Before any of them could say anything, I continued. "You guys came to me. I have a good job with a good salary that I'm not particularly in a hurry to leave. I'm secure there. So, it's your responsibility to give me an offer and let me see if it passes my smell test. If I give you a number, then I'm either going to price myself out of a job or leave money on the table. You have already made up your mind that I could be valuable to your company. You already know what the pay scale is for the position, I don't." We discussed a few more things and they agreed to give me an offer. That afternoon, I received an e-mail from them, offering me forty-two thousand dollars more a year than I was already making. It was a no-brainer godfather offer for me. I don't go into interviews 'afraid' or hat in hand anymore. I walk in with confidence and consider myself equal to those I'm speaking with.
The reason I'm telling you all this is because some don't want me to go into negotiations with these film producers without an attorney by my side to do it for me. First, I don't want a lawyer...or a team of lawyers...walking into the negotiating room with me. It gives the appearance that I am not willing to speak with them in good faith and these vultures charge an hour when they text you. Why do I want to give away thousands of dollars before I even make thousands of dollars. As long as I don't sign anything, no harm no foul. I have already retained an attorney to review any documents they send to me. If we actually get to the bargaining table, I will be there with my agent and there will be no others on my side. We will talk and cuss and discuss. When they tender an offer, that's when I will politely tell them I will need about a week to confer with my agent and my family. And THAT'S when I will call an Entertainment Attorney. He or she will have two hours to review the contract and one hour to advise me on what it says....in layman's terms...and where we are getting screwed. I will expect the attorney to advise on how to proceed and I'll take it from there. I will repeat this process until we hammer out an agreement or until it becomes evident they aren't serious about filming the work.
Never walk into negotiations unless you are fully prepared to walk out...with nothing. The situation here is no different than with the company I told you about. The film producers have leverage with their money. I have leverage with the story THEY want. It will be a nice chess match to see who abandons their leverage first. In a way, they have come to me. Their responsibility is the same as the company. Tell me what you think it is worth, and I'll tell you if it passes my smell test. I know this...I will not sell my work for a song, even just for the opportunity to get in the door of this industry. Everyone else gets paid big in a movie...the director, the actors, the hundreds of people involved in the shoot...so why not the writer?
I doubt this time that I will be dealing with amateurs. This is unchartered waters I'm swimming in, and I'm quite sure there are more sharks circling than at a South African beach. As long as my signature isn't on paper...there isn't anything that can go wrong at this stage. I've done my research, I've done my due diligence, and I know what I want and how to get it. The key is what I learned for four-thousand dollars several years ago. Never...show fear. Even if you're scared to death.