Five Lessons I Learned From the Breakdown of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Tales From the Crypt”

TNT purchased my pilot script for the brand’s proposed reinvention. One day, the full story will be told. For now, I’ll share what I can.

Joel Eisenberg
Sep 14, 2020 · 5 min read
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HBO’s The Cryptkeeper, voiced by John Kassir, Copyright Warner Media

I’m a writer and I’m a teacher. I share my experiences so others in my business can learn from them.

M. Night Shyamalan’s proposed “Tales From the Crypt” reinvention could have been huge. All systems were a go, and the property was rife with potential.

When the then-president of TNT a few years ago, however, expressed the project died due to complicated rights issues, he was only half-right.

I’ve wanted to discuss what had really happened to the project ever since, to share what I believe is a valuable cautionary tale based on my insider’s account as the writer of a “Crypt” pilot script and bible purchased by TNT, and attachment as one of the project’s executive producers.

Alas, legal issues prevent me — and anyone on the team — from saying too much.

The best I can do for now is give you some glimpses into its troubled production via giving you some advice as to what to look for should you find yourself in similar circumstances, with the stated intent of one day writing a book on this high-profile misfire.

The original “Tales From the Crypt” series aired from 1989–1996 on HBO, based on the notorious 1950’s EC brand of comics.

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The HBO series was inspired by the company’s collective horror titles, including “Haunt of Fear,” “Crypt of Terror,” “Vault of Horror” and, predominantly, “Tales From the Crypt” itself.

The show was followed by several feature films, and preceded by a 1972 Amicus film.

In an interview with Deadline, published July 27, 2017, then-TNT President Kevin Reilly said the following:

“It’s been fun with lawyers, it’s been really fun. We did not know from the get-go or else we would not have announced it and made a big deal out of it. But in fact, there were rights. It is among the most, if not the most, complicated rights structure I’ve ever seen in my career, and we had no idea as we got into it. It became a nightmare. So we said, ‘Fine.’ If and when this gets cleaned up, we’ll revisit.”

As the interview progressed, Kevin explained further:

“That one got really caught up in a complete legal mess unfortunately with a very complicated underlying rights structure. We lost so much time, so I said, ‘Look, I’m not waiting around four years for this thing’. Maybe that will come back around…”

As I said, the new “Tales From the Crypt” could have been — and should have been — huge.

As I signed an agreement with TNT that precludes me from discussing certain issues related to the project, I will share with you these 5 lessons I learned from that 2015 experience:

  1. Choose the right production partners. We dealt with internal strife from the get-go. Most involved were terrific, and we were on the same page. However, it only takes one to sour any worthwhile endeavor. When you interview possible production partners, I cannot encourage you enough to ask them what their goals are. If their participation is only for the money, you may want to look elsewhere.
  2. Be aware of and fully investigate any potential chain of title claims on your IP (Intellectual Property; the brand your are optioning or purchasing). I optioned the material, which was of course once utilized by another team who produced the HBO show. I asked for and received legal opinions from three attorneys and a separate prominent law firm, as well as the legal department of what was soon to be my agency, CAA. The firm did notice a possible contractual stickling point based on interpretation of the original clause, which ownership parties believed had been overcome.
  3. Be certain the IP owners are on the same page as you are. In your agreement with them, negotiate who has final decision-making powers.
  4. Be certain your selected attachments cannot hold up a project over personal interests.
  5. Most importantly, move forward if the project crashes. This may be the most difficult piece of advice to follow of all. But really, what choice do you have? Whatever you need to do to convince yourself of the value of moving forward (within legal means, of course), please do so. You never know what’s around the corner.

I hope this helps. The entertainment business is very tough. A thick-skin and dogged perseverance is key to your success.

Thank you for reading …

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Joel Eisenberg

Written by

Joel Eisenberg is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and producer. The Oscar in the profile pic isn’t his but he’s scheming. WGA and Pen America member.

Writing For Your Life

Honest, practical advice on the writer’s life for both aspiring and experienced authors and screenwriters, and an uncensored forum for provocative thought.

Joel Eisenberg

Written by

Joel Eisenberg is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and producer. The Oscar in the profile pic isn’t his but he’s scheming. WGA and Pen America member.

Writing For Your Life

Honest, practical advice on the writer’s life for both aspiring and experienced authors and screenwriters, and an uncensored forum for provocative thought.

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