Phantom Projects

In an earlier post I mentioned phantom jobs, where producers/directors get in touch once about working together only to disappear into the ether. Although I still stand by that observation as a generalisation, when I wrote that post my voice-mail wasn’t working and my emails were bouncing.

Which doesn’t really help.

I think it’s all working now, but I do live in fear of the emails I’m not receiving.

Another curious phenomenon is the phantom projects scenario.  Producers/directors get in touch about a script; sometimes they’ve read a sample from my website, sometimes I’ve sent it to them in response to an ad they’ve posted. They love this script, they want to make it.


We discuss terms, contracts are signed, I get an option fee. Actors are approached, they sign letters of intent. If it’s a director, I get endless emails concerning the technical aspects of shooting it; how they’re going to do certain effects, the locations they have in mind; and then…


And I mean, absolutely nothing. No emails, no phone calls. I email them, no reply; or the email address no longer exists. I phone them, they’re never in. Absolutely nothing.

Now, I could understand if they emailed and explained they couldn’t get funding; or they changed their minds and didn’t want to make the script any more; or they were getting paid more to do something else first; or they couldn’t really give up their day jobs after all; but to have absolutely no contact whatsoever is weird.

Isn’t it?

Maybe they’ve all decided to get out of the film industry and just don’t want to talk about it? Maybe they’ve realised they were fooling themselves and went back to being a supermarket manager? Maybe they died? I have no idea.

It’s happened a couple of times with feature scripts; with short scripts it seems to be standard behaviour. Every short I’ve written has been “in production” at one time or another. Some still are, most have fallen by the way side. In some cases, they’ve been snapped up and dropped several times.

There isn’t much money in short films, I don’t really expect to get paid for them. Some people offer a small option fee, and that’s great – I appreciate the gesture; but for the most part it’s an amateur world. No money, sometimes no contract, just a promise of a job done well, a credit and a possible festival entry at the end. Since I see short films primarily as a calling card, a way to get your talents noticed, then this is all well and good.

Unless the short never actually materialises.

Looking back through my emails, one of my short scripts has been “in production” seven times. Since I’ve never heard back from five of those people, there could potentially be five versions of it knocking around.

I’m waiting on an option on another short to expire next month; I haven’t heard from the director since December last year, when the actresses were getting together for a read through. What happened? Did it get made? The director’s website has gone, her email bounces and her phone’s been disconnected. Surely it would be easier just to drop me a line and tell me she didn’t want to do it? I may even have given her the money back.

Okay, I wouldn’t; but that’s only because I’d spent it within minutes.

At least with the optioned projects, I can wait out the option period and send it out again when it expires. If someone’s going down the funding application route, then contracts are usually necessary to secure the money. Again, if there’s a contract, there’s a time limit.

But if you’ve just spoken to someone who’s got the friends and equipment, but no experience and just wants to film something; then it gets a bit harder. I could insist on a contract with everyone; but it’s a more awkward situation when you’re dealing with people who have no resources or experience. In fact, they’re sometimes not in touch long enough to even discuss contracts.

Why would I entrust one of my precious scripts to someone with no resources or experience?

Because I’m not that precious about my own work. I just want someone to make it; then, I just want someone to see it. More work produced means more credits, which means people look more favourably on you when it comes to paid projects. These aren’t feature scripts I’ve worked on for months, these are short scripts which take a short period of time to write. Their only real value is as a finished product which people might actually see. If someone wants to make my script their first project, who am I to get snotty about it?

Besides, The Evolved was made by a group of guys as their first project and that’s now available on DVD. You can’t really tell by email who will and who won’t follow a project through to completion.

Basically, it’s all a lottery. I don’t mind entering the lottery and I don’t mind not winning because I knew the odds; but it would be nice to find out when I’ve lost.

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