Burn, Hollywood, Burn

Hey, remember that I, Robot movie? Yeah, neither do I.

Somehow the legal team from the studio found out about a student project, in a small private college in the Midwest, with no budget, being shot in a warehouse basement, and decided to issue a cease and desist order. Basically, what that means, is that the studio's lawyers said to us, "You're using our property. Stop, or we'll sue you into the stone age." I responded by sending them the consent form from the Asimov estate, and explained that it was a student project, not a commercial venture worth litigating. I turned over our script, our shooting notes, our shot list, copies of our tapes and even the concept art drawings.

Instead of the letter recognizing our valiant efforts as students that I expected, I found myself on the tail end of a phone call that changed my life. I was contacted directly by the lead of the studio's legal team, who explained my situation to me very clearly. He told me that I was technically in my legal right to use Isaac Asimov's material. However, if I chose to proceed, they would file multiple lawsuits totaling over 2 million dollars against me. In the end, I might win, but it would take hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees just to fight it, but would cost them nothing more than the salaries they already pay their lawyers. It would be 10 years before any type of verdict could be levied, and by then it wouldn't matter what the outcome was, since their film would be long since released.

I was 22. I was working 2 jobs, making about $9 an hour, in addition to attending school. I had taken out every student loan I could get to finance my film, which totaled about $10,000 in debt. I had spent my last dollar to buy breakfast for the crew on the last day of shooting. I was properly fucked. I caved.

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13 Responses:

  1. mike s says:

    That's criminal. I would definitely watch a low-budget indie version of I, Robot.

  2. Otto says:

    Any more direct interpretation would be better than that shitty Will Smith abomination.

  3. DaveL says:

    I dunno. With student debts and essentially zero assets, what has he got to lose? I'd go for it.

    • Andrew says:

      Other than immediate bankruptcy?

      • spoonyfork says:

        Enrolling at university isn't already immediate bankruptcy?

        • Andrew says:

          This guy seems to have had hopes of getting into The System, which would have paid off his debts. Fighting off an expensive legal battle, where he likely would have had a hard time finding lawyers who were willing to sign up without upfront cash regardless of how sound the case was, and in the process branding himself as A Troublemaker in the very industry he is trying to enter without any prior resume to speak of (and his take on I Robot likely could not be used while the case was ongoing), isn't what I would describe as a cunning plan.

          If your take on university is immediate bankruptcy, maybe you're doing it wrong.

          • Jason Heilig says:

            Have you seen the costs behind art schools?

            I'm not saying it's immediate bankruptcy, but it's not unheard of to see people graduating from the film school at the Academy in San Francisco with over 100k in debt.

            Otherwise I mostly agree with you.

        • pavel_lishin says:

          It's actually worse. Student loans aren't forgiven when you declare bankrupcy.

  4. I wish I'd come up with the "being sued by a multinational corporation for millions" excuse for not handing in my final project.

  5. phuzz says:

    Should have recorded that phone conversation I guess.

  6. Edouard says:

    Pretty vile.

    But it is useful to understand the relative costs of a threatening letter/phone call vs actually suing someone; the later costs a fortune, whereas the former cost almost nothing and works about 90% of the time.

    I've received letters from lawyers threatening grievous bodily litigation, and when I ignored them, nothing happened. Even if papers had been filed in court, I could have gone "alright, I give in" at the first opportunity for no cost to myself.

    From the lawyers perspective, why wouldn't they do something that costs them almost nothing and works most of the time?

    And from my perspective, why wouldn't I ignore them until they prove to me that they actually meant it?


  7. Jason Heilig says:

    I'm reminded of the "Kind of Bloop" situation that happened a little while back. Essentially the person with more money to throw behind lawyers won without anything going to court, because it was too expensive to go to court.

    The system is entirely flawed when you can essentially extort people through your own power/money/influence and they have no recourse. If only we could afford public defenders for these sorts of lawsuits... I dunno, dumb idea.

    The incident in question: http://waxy.org/2011/06/kind_of_screwed/