The Financial Problems of Johnny Depp: Mismanagement and a Crisis of the Hollywood Lifestyle

The Hollywood Reporter this week highlights the case of Johnny Depp, who has recently sued his agency for mismanagement as the source of his financial troubles. The article, which details Depp’s behavior and lifestyle on set, with testimony from Jerry Bruckheimer, Tracey Jacobs, his agent, and Joel Mandel, owner of The Management Group, the agency, claims that it is Depp’s lifestyle choices that have led him to his current financial situation. The details are many and complicated, but in terms of the lawsuit itself, here is what THR reports:

“The possible catalyst for the lawsuit was a multimillion-dollar bridge loan TMG made to Depp in 2012. The managers say they tossed their client a lifeline as he faced default on a $5 million loan.

In his own lawsuit, Depp says he was kept in the dark about his finances and it was his ex-managers who weren’t handling his money wisely. (Waldman [Depp’s attorney] maintains that it was Depp, not Mandel and Bloom, who called the October 2012 meeting.)

Among other charges, Depp alleges that TMG disbursed almost $10 million in “loans” to his sister and other parties close to the actor without his knowledge and took out loans for Depp…TMG says the loans were needed to keep Depp afloat and that the actor was fully aware of them.

In addition to the loans, two other matters are central to the lawsuits.

First, the Depp suit claims, TMG failed to pay Depp’s taxes on time, resulting in $8.3 million in interest and penalties over the years — a claim TMG also denies, arguing that it had no choice, because the funds to pay the taxes were never available in April.

Second, perhaps most incendiary, Waldman alleges the Mandels were acting as both lawyers and business managers. Because they offered legal assistance, he says, they were bound by a California law forbidding attorneys from taking a percentage of clients’ earnings unless they have a contract expressly allowing them to do so.

Waldman’s case hinges on the question of whether the Mandels did indeed serve as de facto lawyers. Both were trained as attorneys but say they never did anything for Depp that would constitute legal work. (The law does not apply to agents, Waldman notes, even those operating without a contract.)”

While ultimately the case remains unresolved, one thing is clear, something is going to change in Hollywood as a result. Here are some of my predictions of what will happen as a result of the case:

  • Break Johnny Depp’s career or propel him forward
  • Bring in other similar cases that actors have with their agents if Depp wins
  • Change the actor-agent relationship in Hollywood from a personal and legal standpoint
  • Hurt Depp’s franchise ability, the actor being labeled as a liability risk

The full article can be found here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/johnny-depp-a-star-crisis-insane-story-his-missing-millions-1001513

 

 

Welcome to Hollywood

Yesterday (May 9th), Scriptnotes did a live podcast with Rob McElhenney (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi), both writer-directors. Johnson, the director of Brick and Looper, talks about his career, in his 20’s doing commercial work for Disney on  “Bear in the Big Blue House”, the Jim Henson vehicle, before getting his break on Brick.

Craig Mazin, to Johnson- “There’s something about you though, a lot of people start out, they can’t quite get there…You get this big break to make your movie. But there are a couple of things you need to do, that maybe don’t feel right to you and you say: okay. You’ve always struck me as someone who would say: No I’ll just go back to the  Blue House.”

Johnson- “It’s not like I had written something that had huge commercial value…For a first time director it’s not like there are a lot of things that you are talking about”

This goes on for some time, but the basics of the conversation, and the reason why it is highlighted, is that success in Hollywood does not come from happenstance or following your dreams. It comes from skill and knowing the right people. No one cares about your dreams and what you want to do unless you find a way to make them care; and the only way you can make someone care is by being really good at what you do and finding the right promoters. There is a reason why the majority of people who are successful in the film industry are in their 30’s and 40’s because that’s when success starts to happen.

The last part of the podcast, the audience Q&A, is perhaps the most telling. Although McElhenney and Johnson are optimistic, Craig, possessing a certain degree of cynicism, and Dana Fox, a producer, director, and guest host of the live show, offer some realistic and practical advice for writers and creative people in general.

Craig, on dealing with rejection- “Where a lot of young writers go wrong is they cannot handle that emotional dissonance”

Dana- “If you have to have a job, like most people do when they are trying to get in this industry, save your good hours for writing”

Who we listen to in Hollywood in regards to the industry is important and different people, depending on their profession and personal beliefs, will tell different things that are “the keys to success”. The truth is there is no right or wrong way to do things, just as no outlook in regards to dreams and practical realism is bad. It all depends on how you go about doing things and the extremes that you take to get where you want to be.

Copyright Laws and Stupidity: The Kung Fu Panda Dreamworks Fraud

Deadline last week proved that if you’re going to scam someone, make sure that you’re smart about it; especially if that someone is Dreamworks, one of the fastest growing animation companies in the world behind Disney and their affiliates (PIXAR).

The story goes that in 2011 Jamye Gordon had claimed to have had an influence in creating the Kung Fu Panda franchise, producing drawings and various sketches of pandas. In truth, Gordon’s efforts bared little resemble to the Dreamworks vehicle as Deadline points out, citing the US Attorney’s office:

““He made these revisions as part of his scheme so that his work would appear to be more similar to the DreamWorks pandas he had seen in the movie trailer””

It was revealed, rather embarrassingly, that Gordon had taken some of his drawings from a coloring book, which makes the idea, and his asking price, sound even more stupid than it already was. Copyright and copyright infringement does not work that way, just because you have drawings does not mean that you helped create anything, in fact, the only thing that it is grounds for is creative coincidence.

Gordon filed a copyright infringement suit against Dreamworks, ultimately proposing a settlement for $12 million; the proposal was rejected. In December of 2015 Gordon was indicted, in November of that year he was convicted of fraud and perjury. The sentence was carried out last Wednesday May 3rd.

This story, while interesting in itself, does reveal several aspects of the law surrounding copyright and creative control. According to the United States Copyright Office, there are two basic principles of claiming copyright, the first deals with ownership:

“Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected work does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright.”

On the specifics of transferring copyright rights:

“Any or all of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights or any subdivision of those rights may be transferred, but the transfer of exclusive rights is not valid unless that transfer is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent.”

So, it was rather obvious from the get-go that Gordon was going to lose. Had he brushed up on copyright law, he may have found a different way to get his $12 million, like actually making something that would be worth that much, but let’s be honest here, criminals don’t think in terms of law, contracts, and order. They see opportunity and when opportunity knocks, sometimes logic goes out the window.

The Treatment: “The Lost City of Z”

KCRW’s The Treatment hosted by Elvis Mitchell, talks with James Gray, the director of “The Lost City of Z” a biographical adventure film that tells the story of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who searches for a lost city in the jungles of Brazil. Most of the talk deals with Gray dealing with the subject matter of “The Lost City of Z”, a book by David Grann, specifically with Fawcett’s personality.

“He describes Fawcett in a wonderful way, enigmatic, not able to navigate, as he puts it, the messy maze of race as he was both progressive but also deeply prejudiced. And I found those contradictions very interesting because it gets to the core of what we might call a person’s identity and their sense of self”

He goes on to say that this kind of conflict is what makes for good movie-watching; and he is right. The question then is, given these circumstances, specifically with the main character being both a “progressive” and a “prejudiced bigot”, how will the film perform in the box office?

First and foremost, The Lost City of Z is an adventure film, a genre that almost invariably does well provided that the acting and story are on par, and the visual effect,s when applicable, are decent; so it should not have a problem with most people. However, there are always going to be certain individuals who turn immediately (and often times unnecessarily) to politics with films of this nature, especially when the main character is a white Englishmen who is a prejudiced in Brazil. Some appropriate context of course, is required, for the people who will be potentially rise eyebrows at this, will not bother to read the book or even listen to James Gray’s intentions. If it sounds like a cynical statement, it is, and for good reason- because it happens all the time.

James Gray goes on, here are some of the highlights of his point.

“A lot of things go into making us who we are as a culture…ours would be the idea that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and all that…so if you are expressing the idea that is essentially the opposite of that, that the ability to change who you are and your destiny is very limited, it’s a terrifying idea…It is a very European idea.”

In a way, this is about perspective, for in all honesty, people outside of the United States do not care, at least as much, about such issues, and welcome the idea of predetermined destiny as a concept they are willing to accept, not because it is a form of indentured servitude, as some would believe, but because their ideas about the world and the way it works are different from America.

The Lost City of Z premieres on Friday, April 14th. The full podcast can be found at KCRW.com

Screenwriting and Psychology

On March 28th, last Tuesday, John August and Craig Mazin of Scriptnotes dug through the archives and granted us with one of their most requested podcast episodes: Psychotherapy with Dennis Palumbo. The episode discusses many issues that screenwriters often have- writer’s block, procrastination, dealing with partnerships- in a way that is both personal and telling in regards to what it takes to become from the mental perspective.

Palumbo: “What I find very quickly in working with a patient who is struggling with writer’s block is that the issues are bound up in their personal lives”

“I think writer’s block is very similar to the development steps we go through as people…I think when you’re blocked, you’re about to make a growth spurt in your work.”

This kind of thinking, which is discussed in the first fifteen minutes of the podcast, is important to understand because it looks at the actual process of screenwriting from the standpoint not of a writer, but as a person who coincidentally writes. John, Craig, and Palumbo go on to define the difference between writer’s block and procrastination, signifying writer’s block as related to a full on stop of work brought on by a generalizing fear of failure,  rejection, and the thought of being completely unable to write. Procrastination on the other hand, is related to a specific project, in which the writer is stuck but is able to move on and approach the problem differently, rather than complete paralysis from the craft altogether.

Understanding the human mind is just as important as understanding how to write a screenplay for a scriptwriter, for if writers are unable to take care of themselves than nothing will ever get done, no ideas will ever emerge and everything in film and television will remain the same. The full discussion can be viewed at the Scriptnotes podcast website, it is highly recommended for everyone, regardless of profession.

 

The Heir to the Disney Kingdom

The Hollywood Reporter this week details the account of Bob Iger, the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, and his retirement announcement in two years time; bringing up once again the question of succession for one of the Big Six studios. Unlike the Paramount situation, Disney is a thriving company with several franchises, and thus, is able to survive a transition of power, given the right person takes the job. THR provides the setup:

“ronically, the CEO is trapped in the same vise as his predecessor, Michael Eisner, who named Michael Ovitz his No. 2 in 1995, only to fire him a little more than a year later, with a subsequent settlement of more than $140 million”

On potential candidates:

“But by Wall Street consensus, no internal candidate has emerged as a clear heir apparent since Disney jettisoned Iger’s first pick, Tom Staggs, in 2015. While Ben Sherwood, who serves as co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television, oversees a key profit center, it’s unclear whether Iger favors him. Bob Chapek, who chairs Disney’s parks and resorts, has broad experience and also appears to have Iger’s trust; James Pitaro, the head of consumer products and interactive media, has digital experience, having served as head of Yahoo Media; and CFO Christine McCarthy has been working closely with Iger but lacks operational experience”

On a personal level, Iger needs to pick someone he trusts and understands the needs of the company; which on some level is all of them; from this then Bob Chapek and Christine McCarthy seem to be the best bets for CEO, Chapek because of his park experience and Iger’s trust; and McCarthy because of her close work with Iger. Regardless, the success of a company is not based on the strengths and weaknesses of one individual; it is a collaborative effort one that requires, in the case of Disney, the support of its Board of Directors and the various department heads. It is unlikely that Disney will falter during the transition process, given the company’s history with corporate synergy and their business model, but what happens after 2019 will remain somewhat ambiguous; but it is perhaps an ambiguity that is worth it, for it presents opportunity and new potential directions, including exploring some old avenues worth a second pass.

 

The New Paramount Decision: Michael De Luca

Variety this week reports that Michael De Luca, a producer at Universal, has turned down Paramount’s offer to be the studio’s 2nd after the new CEO, presumably Jim Ginaopulos. If one considers De Luca’s record, it makes sense as to why Paramount would want him on board:

“He is considered one of the most prolific and respected producers working with the studio, guiding key projects like the “Fifty Shades of Grey” films. Universal was particularly intent on keep De Luca in the fold because another key producer, Scott Stuber, is reportedly mulling an opportunity to run the feature film unit at Netflix”

Paramount, which has been consistently ranked last place among the major studios for the past five years, seeks to hire Ginapulous, in the hopes of revitalizing the company. Deadline reports:

“The development ratchets up the importance of finding a way to make things work with Gianopulos. He had a stellar track record at Fox, but his expertise isn’t as a creative executive as much as in areas like global distribution”

Ginaopulos’ experience in global distribution is not a bad thing for Paramount if he accepts the position for it allows the company to tap into the international market and gain international arbitrage through business deals (eventually, for Paramount, in its current state, is in no position to make such deals). Of course, if the opposite occurs Paramount will be back at square one and without Michael De Luca or Ginaopulos, they will be hard-pressed to find anyone capable of fixing and turning around the company’s hardships.

 

 

 

Scriptwriters and Social Media: Etiquette

Scriptnotes John August and Craig Mazin this week discuss whether or not screenwriters should use social media and how they should use it effectively. Craig makes the point that:

“On Twitter, people have to follow you. They have to choose to follow you.”

Craig goes on to give advice, tailored to writers, about how to use Twitter effectively. Some of his main points are:

  • Be clever
  • Be positively passionate
  • Promote sparingly and avoid “the walking billboard syndrome”. Craig notes that: “it is the worst way to use Twitter”
  • Don’t re-tweet other people’s promotions or praise.

Most of it comes down to online etiquette, basic rules of conduct that are normally used in every day life applied to the digital world; and this is worth mentioning for good reason. People, despite what others may think, do not respond to overt promotion, it is annoying and generally seen as a waste of time. This explains why so many people who talk to the industry  professionals tend to get shut out in given circumstances. The best way to get to know someone professionally, in some cases, is to know them personally. Does this work for everyone? Of course not. People are individuals and respond differently to content that is presented to them, so naturally the results, in theory, will be different each time.

Craig and John continue, talking about how to convey emotions through text.

Craig: “The things that I think tend to work well are honest expressions…If you are honest, and you are authentic, in the long run…you will be viewed positively. The worst of it is the lying. Humble bragging is not bad because it’s bragging, it’s bad because it’s false, because it’s manipulative”

“The counterpart to that is bravery complaining, it goes something like this: Some people clearly want me to believe that I’m not capable of telling this story but I am; I’m a writer. And I won’t be ignored….I don’t know anything other than this, that tweet was designed for people to say: we are behind you, you are amazing, don’t let anyone get you down…it helps no one but yourself.”

The issue that Craig presents is one that is all too common in the attitude of both the film industry and those currently studying film. So what does this ultimately mean for screenwriters who use technology? Be humble. Be clever. Talk to people as if they are people. If you do these things your online presence will improve and eventually start to grow.

 

 

Why the Oscars Mattered

The 89th Academy Awards, the biggest night in Hollywood, will undoubtedly draw a crowd, and that crowd will mostly be people looking to see who won Best Picture. However, the Best Picture nominee is not the only thing that is interesting about the Oscars; if it was, the multi-million dollar production would be over with in five minutes. So, the question is, why, on the most basic of levels, do the Oscars matter? Here’s a hint: it has absolutely nothing to do with film-making and everything to do with people.

On Saturday February 25th, Bill Paxton, after complications with a heart surgery, died. The Hollywood Reporter, taking a break from the Oscar hype, decided to report Ron Howard’s tribute to the late actor:

“Bill was playful — yet dutiful — in his work as an actor, and likewise capable of being a strong and serious leader when directing a challenging scene on a movie set.

He loved adventure, and no one was happier than Bill when we were filming our zero-G scenes for Apollo 13 out over the Gulf of Mexico in NASA’s KC-135, nicknamed The Vomit Comet. For the record, Bill never lost his lunch through all those weightless scenes.”

The tribute, which can be viewed in its entirety on THR’s website, makes an important and often overlooked piece of the Oscars and the movie-making experience in general; one that now is only ever recognized in the In Memoriam section- the people who make films in the first place. Today, it is difficult to find a celebrity who doesn’t voice their political opinions for the entire world to see, and politics, frankly, are exhausting and incredibly divisive, especially when from an ideological standpoint Hollywood alienates half of its viewing audience every single year whenever politics are brought into the Oscars.

The day that the Academy rediscovers the reason behind the Oscars, will be a day that Hollywood will be forced to take a long look at itself and its values.

An Actor’s Perspective: Tom Wilson on Back to the Future

The podcast I Was There Too, hosted by Matt Gourley, recently had Tom Wilson, who played Biff and the various iterations in the Back to the Future trilogyIn the show, Tom talks about  his personal experience post- Future, and how he deals with the constant questions he is asked:

“The first thing that I did was write a song, called Biff’s Question Song…and really, when I meet people now…they’re not meeting a person; they’re meeting a pop culture icon that they have a series of questions for.”

This kind of response is admirable and unique to most actors, most of whom shut down their fans. If it sounds cynical, it’s because it is, because it’s true. Most actors don’t like talking about their work, they like, as Wilson points out, to be asked how their day was, to be treated like a person. Wilson goes on to talk about the things that he finds interesting about the films, in particularly giving praise to Crispin Glover, who played George McFly.

This is important to note because it is very telling about the culture of Hollywood and the dangers of typecasting. It is also telling of popular culture, specifically popular culture fans, and while it may be slightly demonizing, this is far from Wilson’s attitude, who actually enjoys answering questions, as long as “it is in an artistic way”. Wilson’s comments on Glover also reveal a desire for people to look at Back to the Future as a series of moving parts, each one independent of all the others, yet with one piece missing, the whole thing falls apart. A good example of this is Glover himself, who is notably absent from Back to the Future II and III, as Wilson notes:

“His story is really the movie in a sense. But his son,  the star of the movie, is helping his dad to get the guts to stand on his two feet and start his future”.