When Hollywood Slips Into Your Email

Too good to be true?

On May 18, 2022, an individual filled out a contact form on my website, telling me that she was a Set-Decoration Buyer from an upcoming ABC pilot centered around a special investigative unit at the National Parks Service. I was the lucky artist that she had come across and she was wondering if I would be interested in selling one of my prints.

I had to read that email several times. A TV show that revolved around the National Parks? Umm, yes please! Having my work on a pilot for a major tv network? That was an opportunity of a lifetime.

I quickly began to search for “National Parks ABC Pilot.” Two articles came up: one published by Variety and one by Deadline. Both had been published that very same day and only 3 hours before the buyer emailed me.

With a healthy dose of skepticism and curiosity, I replied to the email. I asked which prints they had in mind and to please send any paperwork my way for review. I immediately started looking for an attorney.

An email was waiting the next morning. The reply was not robotic as it read like an actual person. Early on, I was not sure if this was an elaborate scam or a real proposal. I was informed that the designer had not made up their mind regarding which artwork they wanted to use but they were leaning towards black and white images to purchase.

We exchanged some more emails. The buyer kept repeating that they were interested in high resolution images and they would then print them as posters for the set.

A few more days passed, and I got another email from the buyer. This time she expressed how she was waiting for a final confirmation from the producer’s lawyers to draft release paperwork. However, I needed to sign the release first before compensation was negotiated. They needed this “for when we were ready to pull the trigger.”

Red flags went up! She was implying I needed to sign paperwork before the purchase was agreed. I made a few phone calls to some experts with this who recommended me to their lawyers. All urged me not to sign anything.

I was still not sure if this was all a scam or not. I went back to the internet and looked on IMDb, and sure enough, there was already an entire profile dedicated to this upcoming pilot. I learned that this unnamed show is being produced by 20th Television, A+E Studios, Anthony Hemingway Productions and Territory Pictures Entertainment. It will be distributed by the American Broadcasting Company. My idea of it being a scam was dissipating. Could it be legitimate? Why the rough start to this business deal?

I asked what the timeline was since I wanted to review the documents before signing. Her response to that email pushed me over the edge with her “and/or subsequently purchase then have you send hi- def photos to me for us to print.”

Hi-def photos. Really? No time to spell out high-definition photos? She still needed to get in the ear of the lawyer? It had been over a week and the legal team at 20th Television had not drafted a purchase and licensing contract? I have a blank licensing contract saved on my desktop. You are telling me I'm better prepared?

Skeptical and slightly annoyed, I decided to call the number the buyer had included in her email signature. A woman answered the phone within the first two rings by identifying herself as the buyer. So, what was going on? Was this real?

Oh, it was real.

On May 25th, 2022, I received another email from an attorney with Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson, LLP. I immediately went to the California State Bar website and checked if he was registered with the state. He was.

I read this specific attorney’s profile and learned he specializes in Entertainment & Sports. Upon further research, I dug-up he had worked for Walt Disney Television and ABC Studios.

It was a bucket of cold water.

I had to take a second for it to sink in. I actually flushed thinking about it. The excitement and pride washed over when I opened and read the release form.

The initial “we will buy one or two pieces” turned into a request for seven (7) pieces. They requested ownership of almost all my Yosemite-themed work.

The release stipulated I would be granting the 20th Television:

“Right to incorporate the Material, and any portions or images contained therein, in whole or in part in dialogue, as props and/or set decoration in the Project in any manner and in any and all media, in any and all versions, whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, throughout the universe, in any and all languages, including advertising, publicity, promotion, and recap of the Project.”

“Producer has the right to alter or modify the Material in any manner. I understand that the Producer cannot accord us credit.”

“I represent that I have the right to grant to the Producer the right to use the Material without the necessity of making payments to or obtaining the consent of any third person or entity.”

“I acknowledge that, in the event of any breach of this Agreement by Producer or any third party, the damage, if any, caused me thereby will not be irreparable or otherwise sufficient to entitle me to seek injunctive or other equitable relief.”

“...nor the right to enjoin the production, exhibition, or other exploitation of the Project or any other television program, motion picture or otherwise, or any subsidiary or allied rights with respect thereto, nor will I have the right to terminate my obligations hereunder by reason of such breach.”

I did not need an attorney to know how to answer this release form. Regardless, when speaking to one, he explained to me what this all meant. We were both on the same page about what to do.

“A prop on set.”

Although I am extremely flattered to have been considered for this project, my artwork it’s not a prop. It's hundreds of hours of research, long nights carving, and community building. My artwork is an extension of myself and it is something I created, as corny as it sounds, with love and dedication.

I also understand that 20th Television set forth those terms to best protect them and were looking out for their self interests. Yet, signing away all rights to it, without the right to be credited for my work, and the ability to ever break free from such an agreement was asking for too much.

Did I forget to mention I would not be able to request payment from the producer until signing afterwards either? In the scenario the pilot actually made it to a full series and in the scenario my piece was lucky to be captured on screen, would I only be left with bragging rights and whatever they decided to pay me?

The original pitch had been for ‘one or two images to be printed as posters.’ Never was it mentioned, as it did on the Release Forms their use, ‘in part in dialogue, as props and/or set decoration…including advertising, publicity, promotion, and recap.

Ownership Matters

This situation taught me a lot. I’ve learned about the importance of reading all the words in a contract and hiring legal advice. It also taught me there is nothing wrong in asking what you are worth on fair terms. Exposure will not pay the bills. Do not be afraid to say no to a project - especially when the deal is not fair and/or it does not align with your values. Do not compromise your vision for a few seconds of fame.

I am extremely grateful for 20th Television consideration but it wasn't the right fit for me and that's ok.

Being an artist is f@*%& hard. No questions asked. But, if you love it, keep working to achieve your dreams.