I had a business coach once who told me, “You will continue to experience the same problem and suffer the same pain until the lesson is learned.”
This year’s problem?
Trust no one.
Now this sounds rather cynical, but if you know me, you know I’m a very trusting person. So much so, that I used to leave my keys in the ignition of my car because I lived in the middle of nowhere and, really, who was gonna steal my car? It was a shitbox on wheels. But sure enough, someone stole it. And before I punched into work the next morning at the donut shop, I was approached by a cop who told me my car was part of a police chase the night before.
“Four guys, Miss DesRosiers. We lost them, but we traced the car to you.”
Wonderful. Sixteen years old and I was about to be arrested for something I didn’t do. And all because of trust. I burst into tears, already fearing the pain of my facial teardrop tattoo and living the rest of my days in an orange jumper.
I thrust my wrists in front of him so he could cuff with me his non-existent handcuffs. He touched me gently on the shoulder and said, “We know it wasn’t you. We just wanted you to know someone took your car for a joyride. Any idea how they got your keys?”
What a nice fella. I avoided the question and gave him a free donut, instead.
Anywhoo, this post has nothing to do with cars or cops or donuts. It has everything to do with money, trust, and integrity. And I don’t care how much integrity you think someone has, don’t trust that person unless money is exchanged and you have everything in writing.
I won’t dive into details, because it’s pretty much the same story as anyone else who’s put their trust in a verbal agreement that was supposed to lead to a signed agreement. Instead, I’m going to share what I learned and how getting screwed by someone I believed had integrity, actually opened up the creative space before me for bigger, better things. So instead of whining about my misfortune (because believe me, I did. Ask my dogs), I’m going to share the benefits of what happened instead.
1) I Have a Solid Agreement for the Future
I paid a wad of cash for my entertainment attorney to draw up an agreement for me to help develop and write an idea for someone. The agreement had all the bells and whistles. I really like my entertainment attorney. She doesn’t miss a beat. My current agreement lacks lots of backend percentage lingo and blah, blah, blah, so it was time for an upgrade. And while the agreement was never signed by the other party, I now have a solid contract for the future that I can reference and feel confident in using.
2) I Have a Really Great Attorney
I’ve never had to utilize an entertainment attorney before. For this agreement, I did. Thanks to a great panel at ITVFest last October, I met one and we clicked. So now, for all matters moving forward, I don’t have to seek out an attorney. I have one.
3) I’ve Officially Upleveled
Writing books and blog posts is far different than writing scripts, especially when it comes to possible options and back end percentages. The mere fact that I had to take things to the next level tells me that I’m indeed growing as a scriptwriter. My talents are recognized now at this level, and that’s f*cking awesome.
4) I Understand the Universe is Boss
I firmly believe that the Universe is in control. Yes, I am in control, I’m no fool to that, and I take actions everyday because I’m in control. But when a fallout like this happens, I feel that it’s the Universe’s way of moving something that won’t serve me out of the way so there’s more space for something that will serve me. Plus, there were lessons learned during this adventure. Including, but not limited to:
- Don’t move a muscle or spend a dime until there’s money on the table. Ever.
- Don’t give ideas away until there’s money on the table. Ever.
- Don’t hold time or space for anyone until there’s money on the table. Ever, ever.
- Don’t trust someone’s word, no matter how kind or integrous they seem, ever.
5) I am Free to Focus on My Production
This coming June, I am producing and co-directing an original pilot that I wrote, right here in the tiny little village of Pulaski where I live. I have an incredible crew behind me, some serious kick-ass actors, and friends who have agreed to give up there life for 5 days so I can shoot in their homes to “get ‘er done.”
Without the pressure of penning a script under contract, I can focus on the production. For those of you who have ever produced a SAG production, hats off to you. Holy lots-to-learn. All good, but holy lots-to-learn. (With any production, right?)
6) I am Free to Rework a Second Script
I have a comedy feature that needs to get out there into the world. I’ve been reworking it all week and it will be ready to greet the world by the end of next week. It’s funny. Do you know what a “Water Mom” is? No? No idea? You will soon enough, my friends. You will soon enough. #bandparentsunite
7) I Had the Money to Spend
I spent a fair amount of cash on this agreement. But here’s the thing; I had it to spend. I’m not in debt because of it. I feel blessed that it was my bank account and I was able to transfer it with ease to my attorney. Having money to spend is better than not having it to spend. Would I have liked to spend it elsewhere, like on my production? Of course. (Duh.) But there mere fact that I had it is pretty awesome.
My story is not new. You may have secretly experienced something like this. Or maybe not so secretly. The thing is, I consider myself a fairly sharp-shooter. So why on earth would I allow myself to get screwed based on verbal discussions? Why would I sit and wait for a contract to be signed and spend money upfront as I waited?
Because I believe the world is filled with good people with good intentions. I believe most have integrity because I do. (Look, I gave the cop a free donut, didn’t I?)
But the truth us, not everyone sees the world through the same lens as I do. Not everyone thinks like me and acts like me and works like me.
And so, to the person I won’t be working with, I wish you the best. For real. You have a great idea and it deserves to be born. Don’t give up and don’t think it’s pointless if one person tells you no. As Stage 32 CEO Richard Botto says, this is a long-game. Enjoy the journey, even through rough spots like this one, and never give up.
To the rest of you? I promise, from now on (scouts honor), I will never move a muscle until there’s a contract signed and money on the table. Because I value myself and my work that much.
Thank you for letting me share the good in my experience. Please check your inbox for your free donut.
Joleene Moody is a ghostwriter, screenwriter, and actor based in Syracuse, N.Y. Learn more at www.joleenemoody.com