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.

Her breezy,

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.