Temple, or, why I don’t know what that project is any more than you do.
So this post is basically of interest to very few people, but in the past week I’ve been contacted by a few actor pals who were excited to tell me they were auditioning for a film I wrote called Temple, and were then disappointed to hear I had basically no idea what they were talking about. This also hopefully will serve as somewhat of a cautionary tale for young/broke filmmakers, but other than that, it has very little relevance to anything and probably isn’t worth reading if you don’t already know what I’m talking about.
In late 2010, the talented filmmaker JT Petty, who has been my friend for many years, emailed me about writing a draft of a project for him that he called Temple. He had the story and characters all figured out in great detail, which is his style, but he was too busy to write it himself, and also if the film got made, it was to be a very low budget production. I wasn’t yet in the WGA, so he asked me if I’d like to collaborate with him on the project, with him directing. At the time, we had the same agent, who was excited about us teaming up on something. I met with the producers, and they offered to pay me $2,500 total for a treatment, screenplay draft and a rewrite.
I liked the idea of working with JT, who’s always doing cool shit (if you haven’t seen his film The Burrowers or read his graphic novel Bloody Chester, both are masterpieces) and I thought of it essentially as doing a good deed for a friend and learning a bit about how to write a story that wasn’t my own. Plus I was broke enough then that the $2,500 sum was nothing to shake a stick at, the equivalent of two weeks of income at the day job I held at the time. I’m usually a fast writer by most standards, and since JT had the film already thoroughly plotted out, I also knew it would take me very little time, so I signed my contract and was like, cool.
The attached producers quickly began calling me for progress reports, but everything was amicable. I delivered my draft in 2011, then did a quick polish on it based on JT’s notes, which my email indicates I delivered in February 2012. I never heard anything from the producers after that. They’d only paid me $1,500 and still contractually owed me $1,000 for delivering the script, an amount that I never did get paid.
JT and I were like, well, okay, whatever. We figured the financing had fallen through and no one told us based on the ego blow or something. It sucked and I thought it was weird that no one replied to us about it, but hey, it happens, and I wrote off the loss as a learning experience, one of many I was going through at that time. And secretly I felt a little bad, wondering if I’d delivered a lousy draft that had torpedoed JT’s indie movie. It was my first time writing based on someone else’s specific ideas, and the producers had talked about potentially bringing someone on later to rewrite it (which was fine by me), so I wasn’t sure about my work. But I also had a lot of bigger projects in development by then and You’re Next had just sold to Lionsgate, so I wasn’t, like, too worried about it.
I therefore forgot about Temple entirely until 2015, when, much to my surprise, the project was announced in the trades with my name attached as the only writer. It’s now apparently being directed by directors who are not JT Petty, but with the same producers reportedly attached. I’m told the script solely bears my name and a June 2015 draft date, which, if so, is erroneous by well over three years. (I imagine the WGA will be contacting me and my lawyers about that one soon, yay.) To which I say the following:
1) I don’t know anything about this project at this stage, or what this shooting script they have even is, or whether I was rewritten (I assume I was). I don’t know the budget or the directors or anything like that.
2) I don’t bear the project any ill will; JT’s original concept was a cool one, even if his name’s no longer on it, so the film could be great. I’ve never interacted with the directors or any crew attached, so, you know, they’re probably all nice people. But the producers know all the stuff I just said here, which is I’m sure why they haven’t communicated with me about this; they must know I wouldn’t be too enthused about this new project, whatever it is, and that I wouldn’t want my name on it, which I don’t. I also don’t want to raise the profile of the project with this post, but enough people are contacting me about this that I felt the need to clarify my lack of involvement.
So, that’s it. If you’re an actor like the few who have contacted me this week, excited about the prospect of potentially working with me on a new independent film called Temple, I’m sorry, but you know more about it than I do. And if you’re a broke filmmaker trying to make a living in the entertainment industry, know that you will run into no shortage of people who will ask you to write scripts or work on films for them for little or no money, and my only advice is to be cautious and trust your instincts; sometimes it could be a cool opportunity, but most times it will go nowhere, and sometimes it will lead to some dang annoyance years later that forces you to post a verbose clarification online.