Thursday, May 9, 2019

"Is Anyone Really Surprised?"

Three issues converge to elicit this post.  Boy, am I ready.  (It may not be good, but I’m ready.)

1)  I am listening to Eric Idle’s amusing memoir Always Look on the Bright Side of Life on CD.  He tells the story of Universal Studio’s explaining that, although their film Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) cost six million dollars to make and took in twenty-five million at the box office, it was nevertheless still not “in profit”, and as a result, the profit participants – amongst them, the Pythons themselves – have no monies from those accumulated earnings coming to them.  (I love that word “monies!”)

By 1991, Idle continues, DVD’s had been invented.  Since contractual issues related to DVD’s did not appear in their original contract – because DVD’s did not yet exist and there was no included clause, saying “…and anything else that has not been invented yet”, although there, perhaps, should have been – Universal approached the Pythons, asking permission to distribute The Meaning of Life on DVD.  The Pythons replied, “We can’t do that.  The movie still isn’t ‘in profit.’”

The next day, they get a call from Universal, announcing that Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life was suddenly in profit.

That story apparently happened.  The question is,

Is anyone really surprised?

2)  I have just received my annual statement, updating the syndicated progress of Major Dad (1989-1993), whose four seasons of episodes continue to sell  internationally, faring particularly well in Germany and Bulgaria.  (“Danke”, and whatever “Thank you” is in Bulgarian.)


According to –  wow, Universal Studios, again – Business Affair Department, Major Dad remains three million, seven hundred and fifty-eight thousand, two hundred and eleven dollars away from its “Break-Even” point, after which, I, among others, share in the subsequent profits. 

(Sadly, there are no “DVD incentives”, saving the day.)

For those of you scoring at home, this updated tally nudges me (marginally) closer to the “Coveted Objective”, so I am, at least, creeping in a fortuitous direction.  Still, I will not hold my breath, expecting that, per studio-mandated guidelines, Major Dad will ever, at least in my lifetime, become “profitable.”  

So that happened.  Reprising the question,

Is anyone really surprised?

3)  This one – the writers-agents dispute – has nothing to do with me, as I am no longer actively working – meaning, working for money – and my agent retired years ago.  (Showing how wealthy he got.)

This current dispute, which, unlike disputes between writers and production entities will not disrupt available programming – Did somebody say “Farce”? – concerns the industry’s large talent agencies, evolving beyond just representing their clients into program “packaging” –which they have been doing for decades – and now forming independent production companies, both of which generate conflicts of interest deleterious to the writers.  (Otherwise, why are they complaining?)

Forget the specifics here, because… who cares?  To explain the motivating issue, think, instead:  “Passover Seder Song.”

Only backwards.

The song is question is called “Dayenu”, which, translated to English means “It would have been enough for us.”

In the Passover narrative, a bunch of stuff happened benefiting the slaves liberated from Egypt, although, the song says, if just one of those things happened…

“It would have been enough for us.”

This is exactly the opposite of that.

From the perspective of the agents, the reworked version of the song would go,

“If we were permitted to collect our ten percent commissions but not allowed to receive program “packaging” fees,

“…it wouldn’t have been enough for us.”


“If we were permitted to receive program “packaging” fees but were not allowed to form independent production companies,

“… it wouldn’t have been enough for us.”


“If we were permitted to form independent production companies but were not allowed to do the next thing that would astronomically expand our net worth…”

You get the idea, right?

The thing does not stop.


Because there is a prevailing principle involved.  Defined in one word, the prevailing principle” is,

“More!”  (Yelped with a voracious growl.)

Business is business.  And in business, you want – and are, in fact, culturally instructed, to procure

“More!”  (Growl, again.)

That is simply the way it is.

So when the big agencies – like the big banks that became stock brokerages – try to make more by restructuring their “business models”,

Is anyone really surprised?


The thing is – abrupt, sonorous “wrap-up” –

When we stop being surprised,

They win.


1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

For this sort of reason, authors' societies conduct audits of publishers on behalf of their members. They can't audit everyone, but members submit requests, and the societies pick a few each year (if I remember correctly). These audits seem to always produce results in the form of royalties to authors who would not otherwise have received them. It seems like it's long past time for something like this to exist in Hollywood. I realize the big agencies are horribly compromised (hence the current dispute), but surely *some* organization - the various screenwriters and actors' guilds, perhaps? - could be pressed into performing such a service. If they already do, maybe you should get them to investigate your case.

The SPINAL TAP folks finally got fed up with being told they were still owed nothing from the movie and sued for $400 million. The suit is still ongoing.