Hollywood Accounting Screws Over Authors
Okay, so pretty much everyone knows that Hollywood doesn’t have much of an incentive to be kind to the authors whose work gives them the fuel for their movies, especially lately. But Josh Getlin’s new piece in the LA Times spotlights a particularly cruel version of “Hollywood Accounting” as it affected Deborah Gregory:
By all rights, Deborah Gregory should be sitting pretty: As a
first-time author, she wrote the Cheetah Girls novels, a bubbly,
16-book series that became hugely popular with American tweens and
teens. And she appeared to hit an even bigger jackpot when she sold the
dramatic rights to the Disney Channel.
street-smart tales of five girls chasing pop music careers were turned
into two hit television movies, and a third is now being filmed in
India. Cheetah Girls CDs and DVDs have sold in the millions, and
concert tours have hit more than 80 cities. Meanwhile, Disney’s fabled
merchandising machine flooded the market with Cheetah Girls shoes,
dolls, toothbrushes, video games, backpacks, note pads, pillows,
posters, T-shirts and the like.
Gregory expected to get a piece
of the action when she signed a 2001 contract promising her 4% of the
net from all of this activity. But like many other authors who have
signed away dramatic rights, she says she never got a penny of the
profits. Unlike screenwriters, who were backed by a strong union in
their recently ended strike, most literary writers are at a
disadvantage when negotiating with Hollywood. And it is difficult, if
not impossible, for them to crack the safe.
Gregory said she’s pocketed $125,000 over the last nine years in option
fees and payments for her title as co-producer of the movies. Although
she’s asked for them, she has never gotten “net profit participation
statements” from Disney, spelling out details of expenses and revenues.
If anyone is getting rich on this formidable franchise, Gregory noted,
it’s not the woman who created it.
“People think I must be
living in a palace, when they think of the success of the Cheetah
Girls,” she said, sitting quietly in the cramped studio apartment she
rents in Manhattan. “But look at this place. It’s a … dump.”
So repeat after me: you want the GROSS, not the NET, and even then it can be like pulling teeth to get what you’re supposed to be paid.