No love lost between screenwriter and film producer
Imagine you’re selling a car. To someone you trust. They give you their word and you give them the keys, which they promptly pass on to a third party who you don’t know and who won’t acknowledge you as the owner.
This is what happened to Jon Love, but it was a film script, not a car. The movie in question is ‘Det Grå Guld’, which was released by SF Film at cinemas across the country on March 27. The Scottish screenwriter claims that he has not been properly paid for his work, receiving just a third of the agreed £15,000 fee, but he concedes that the situation is complicated.
“At least morally, I am the owner of that script,” he told The Copenhagen Post.
Love, who lives and works in Glasgow, originally developed the script, entitled ‘Harvey and Joan’, through a script development programme run by the Danish Film Institute. He said he was introduced to Søren Juul Petersen, the owner of the Zeitgeist film company, during the programme, who offered to pick up the script.
“Petersen initially offered me £25,000, and the whole thing was wrapped up in a one-and-a-half page contract,” Love said.
Petersen then set about raising the necessary production funds while Love developed the script, he explained. The intent, he said, was to shoot the film in Scotland with Scottish actors under a Danish director.
But soon after, Petersen dropped the project, citing an inability to raise funds. Six months later, Love said, Petersen contacted him to say that the film could proceed – only if Love agreed to the film being translated into Danish, as well as an 80 percent pay cut.
“I wasn’t happy, but really wanted the film to be made, so I eventually agreed to a 40 percent cut,” Love said. “I was promised that the script wouldn’t change, except in as much as was necessary to take account of social and cultural differences.”
This time, however, his contract was a bit different.
“My new contract, unlike the previous one, was now many pages longer and full of strangulated legalese,” Love explained. “I suspect that by this point SF were already in the mix, probably as co-producers.”
The new contract stipulated that Love would receive a total of £15,000 in three instalments of £5,000, to be paid on the first day of shooting, the last day, and on completion of the edit. However, Love says he has only received £5,000, and that was only after relentless pestering.
“Still to this day, that’s been the only payment I have ever received for the nearly five years of work that I spent on the script,” he said.
On subsequent attempts to contact Petersen, Love said he was told that the production had been let down by an investor and that not only could Petersen not pay him, it was unlikely he and director Shaky Gonzalez would even be able to finish the picture.
It was then, Love explained, that Zeitgeist filed for bankruptcy. That way, it was explained to Love, SF could buy the film at a lower cost and apply for national funds to pay the Danish members of the production crew. Love said he was assured he would also be paid.
“This has now happened – Søren calling me and telling me a story about the delay, but how SF are ready and will be in touch shortly – roughly six times between November and now,” Love said.
Love’s recent attempts to get in touch with Petersen have been met with a non-committal attitude. He said it was only when he threatened legal action that he received any response from SF – and that even then, the production company claimed to have had no agreement with him.
When asked about Love’s claims, Michael Fleischer, the president of SF Films, claimed to have no financial responsibility.
“I find it strange that Love is pursuing this because I’ve corresponded with him and told him that SF isn’t responsible for the money,” Fleischer told The Copenhagen Post. “We didn’t buy the script from Zeitgeist – we bought it from [the bankruptcy estate trader] Konkursbo, and we’ve advised him to go to them.”
“If Love had seen the film, he would know that he is mentioned in the closing credits as the manuscript author,” Fleischer went on.
Also mentioned is Jacob Weinreich, who is credited with the translation. It is somebody who Love has never spoken to.
“Going by the trailers I’ve seen, and some of the reviews I’ve managed to read, Weinreich, Zeitgeist and SF turned what was a pretty dark comedy into something of a soap opera,” he said.
Love had no plans to launch official legal action, however.
“I don’t want to cause an uproar,” he said. “But of course, it would be nice to be properly paid, as well.”