So here I am. Looking at a trade announcement trumpeting a multi-million dollar deal for Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter’s three-and-a-half page treatment that, based on the one-line description, sounded eerily like the legal thriller I’d concocted, pitched, and sold a year earlier. Making matters more suspicious were the attached producers, Mr. Jellyfish and Mr. Euro, the same pair I’d dumped due to what eventually turned into a failed deal because of their tragically bad behavior.

Still, I had no proof. All I had as evidence were three long paragraphs in Variety and the hairs on the back of my neck.

“Listen,” said my lawyer. “Let’s not pull out the guns yet. You dig up your (WGA) registration and I’ll put in a call to the studio and inform them that they might have a problem.”

While my attorney attempted to throw a temporary chop-block on the dizzying spec sale, I dove into my funky filing system in search of my proof of copyright.

Then the phone rang. It was Mr. Jellyfish. And he sounded as if he’d just dropped a toaster in the bathtub.

“I’m gonna sue you!” he screamed at me. “You ever hear of a thing called tortuous interference? That’s when somebody purposefully fucks with somebody else’s contractual dealings.”

“I’m not looking to mess up anything,” I said.

“I’m gonna sue you until you’re nothing!” he continued.

“Calm down,” I said. “I don’t want a legal hassle. I just wanna make sure that wasn’t my story you and (Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter) sold for four mil.”

“It wasn’t. Okay? End of argument.”

“All I gotta see is the treatment. If it’s not close to my registered material I’ll be totally happy to stay outta your business.”

“That’s right. My business!” he screamed. “And just so you know, all I did was show (Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter) the same French film I showed you. Whatever he came up with was on his own.”

“You never showed me the film,” I corrected. “You gave me a thumbnail sketch of a comedy. I rejected adapting it. What I built was a whole new story that had nothing to do with the stupid French movie. So I’d find it hard to believe that some other screenwriter working with you could magically come up with the same story I invented then legally registered with the guild.”

“You got documents? Well so do I. Me and (Mr. Euro) wrote up our own story.”

“Did you register it?” I asked.

“No. But the date on it predates when you and I ever met.”

“Listen,” I said. “All I need to see is the treatment, okay? Send me what (Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter) sold to the studio. I’ll read it and we’ll go from there.”

“I’ll do you one better,” said Mr. Jellyfish. “I send you the whole fuckin’ file.”

“Fine. Great.”

Mr. Jellyfish hung up and, while I was relaying the details of the conversation to both my attorney and agent, my fax machine began to chug, spitting out pages of documents.

I assembled the pile of paper. Shuffled through a variety of memos concerning Mr. Euro and that old French comedy. There was also a strange, poorly sketched outline “written” by Mr. Jellyfish and Mr. Euro, supposedly based on the aforementioned film. The one page doc reeked of illicitness and was conveniently pre-dated before my ever having met the producing duo. My attorney assured me it would hold no legal water.

Finally, I landed on Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter’s golden treatment. Just as advertised, it was three-and-a-half pages long. Sadly, I didn’t have to read very far. The very first paragraph was nearly identical to my verbal pitch, even using the exact names of the movie stars I’d referenced for the thriller’s protagonist and antagonist. The rest of the treatment followed my story closely, veering away a bit in the second act, but completely aping my work in the finish.

My stomach twisted. This was no small infraction I’d stumbled on. And right in front of me was a document that stem to stern had completely ripped off my legally copyrighted property. There would be no pissing this problem away or writing the event off as showbiz collateral. This was going to be a dogfight. That’s because despite the sleazy actions of two producers, at the center of the action was a top-of-the-list celebrity screenwriter and his very public—not to mention record—multi-million dollar sale of a three-and-a-half page treatment. He would surely defend himself and truly test the legal boundaries of the WGA copyright.

Things were about to get bloody.

I was prepping to redial my lawyer when another document from the fax-pile caught my eye. It was typewritten on two pages of those Brand Name Managers’ letterhead.

The title of the document was called “DOUG’S PITCH.” And below was written “transcribed from audio recording.”

Jesus, I thought. They’d actually recorded me pitching my legal thriller?

That’s right sport fans. Without my knowledge, Mr. Jellyfish had secretly taped me pitching my own story and somewhere, somehow, some no-name assistant had been assigned the dirty task of transcribing the recording and stuffing it into a file.

Even more shameful was how close the transcription of my verbal pitch tracked with the multi-million-dollar three-point-five-page golden treatment penned by Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter.

Hell, I thought. I don’t even need to dig out my WGA registered legal thriller. It was all here in front of me—on letterhead—in my voice.

The smoking gun.

I dialed both my attorney and agent. Passed on my sterling discovery. My lawyer, practically giddy at the news, asked me to fax him the evidence. My other line rang. I picked it up. Guess who?

“Did you get it?” barked Mr. Jellyfish, still hot but reduced to a low boil.

“I did,” I said. “Thanks.”

“And?”

“And I read Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter’s treatment. I gotta be frank. It’s my story. You guys have a problem.”

“But you also received the document I wrote with (Mr. Euro.) It predates our meeting. Proof it’s not your story.”

“C’mon. We both know you wrote it after the fact and just typed a different date on it—”

“You can’t prove it didn’t pre-date you!” He was back to screaming again.

“It’s not a legal document,” I argued. “My registered material—”

“Your registered stuff doesn’t mean shit! I going to argue that you stole from me! I’m gonna sue you and when I’m done you’re going to have no fuckin’ career—”

“May I read to you from another document you faxed me? It’s on letterhead and titled ‘Doug’s Pitch… transcribed from audio recording.’”

The phone line went dead silent. Mr. Jellyfish, a man known for his gift of gab, was at an immediate loss for dialogue. So he did what most clowns do when the laughs stop. He hung up and exited stage right.

What followed was a carpet-bombing of phone calls. Hard nosed negotiating. A studio, their lawyers, and Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter’s super agent all wondering why the hell I was so hellbent on a precept called principle.

“(Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter) had no clue whatsoever that it was somebody else’s story,” argued the super agent. “He was of the understanding that it was (Mr. Jellyfish’s) story to give away.”

“For almost four million dollars?” I asked. “Please.”

“Why you gotta be an asshole about this?” shouted the super agent. “Don’t you know there’s a negotiated deal already in place? And it’s based entirely on my client’s cache. Not your stupid-assed story.”

“I’d watch who you’re calling an asshole,” I cautioned. “That’s my intellectual property that your client was caught selling.”

“And you and I know my client didn’t steal it! Those dirtbag producers did!”

In the end, I had to agree. Hollywood’s a pretty small town. The only black mark on Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter’s was his arrogant rep. There was nothing on his rap sheet that led me to believe he was a story thief.

“There’s a first time for everybody,” said my lawyer. “Sure you want to let him slide on the thievery deal?”

Once again, I tried to be pragmatic. I had the power to completely torpedo the high profile deal and sully the rep of a big time scribe. But an act that rash would gain me nothing and, when the dust finally settled, nobody in town would be brave enough to touch me or my legal thriller for fear of a lawsuit or reprisal from Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter and his super agent.

Or I could compromise. Negotiate some kind of bargain.

But could anything I ever work out of such a mess end up in the same zip code as fair? I found myself hanging the horns of one helluva dilemma. Blow it all up? Or deal?

I promise there’s so much more that you will not believe. Stay tuned for Part 3 of THE SMOKING GUN.

Read my new thriller, THE SAFETY EXPERT. Available in trade paperback and ebook at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

Doug Richardson
Doug Richardson
Author and screenwriter. Books: THE LUCKY DEY THRILLERS: BLOOD MONEY, 99 PERCENT KILL, AND REAPER, THE SAFETY EXPERT, AND THE SMOKING GUN. Movies: HOSTAGE, BAD BOYS, DIE HARD 2.
  • Rob E

    on. edge. of . seat.
    C’mon Part 3!

  • paul

    Yowza. Just keeps getting better!

    • Okay. So I set the bar kinda high. I hope not too high. But thanks Paul.

  • Pat Pinkston

    Based on all you have written, I will assume you tried to negotiate, but it’s hard to negotiate with a shark in the water.

    • Cue John Williams Jaws theme. Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum tweedledeeeeeee.

  • pete

    Damn you, just post the entire thing I can’t take the wait.

    P.S. you’re my favorite blogger.

    • Wish I could. But glad I land high in your blog category. Thanks Pete.

  • Guinea Pig

    I literally have no words. What an absolute farce.

    What I would really like to know is, are Mister Jellyfish and Mister Euro still working in Hollywood today?

    Or did you actually tie them to the train tracks and let the 4:35 pm commuter train run over them?

    • Hmmm. I might have to pen a postmortem. A sort of where are they now. Thanks Lyd.

  • Great stuff Doug, can’t wait to see how it goes. Of course, the whole time I’m reading it I keep thinking ‘man, at least he has these problems!’ Can’t wait until I’m having those problems (hopefully with your kind of success first).

  • Em_Boogie

    Great story, as per Doug.

    @ Justin… Quality problem? May sound like it, but as any writer, who has been ripped off/screwed over can attest, it’s a gut-wrenching, horrendous feeling when it happens.

    It’s criminal how screenwriters are treated in this game, without those words on pages, nobody works in this business, yet certain individuals feel they can steal and do it with a sense of entitlement that beggars belief.

    • Yes. It is morally reprehensible. And happens all too often. BUT I agree with Justin where he appreciates the position which I’m very blessed to have. In other words, inside the morass of Lalaland I’ve had more good luck than bad.

      • I didn’t mean to play down the level of suckiness this kind of situation involves, I hope I wasn’t taken this way. It sounds horrible and all I meant was that when I tried to put myself in Doug’s shoes the first thing I thought was ‘this sucks’ and the second thing I thought was ‘yeah, but I’m awesome’ – that’s all.

        I am about to read part 3 (I think it’s up?) – looking forward to it!

  • Fred Bluhm

    You may not see the connection, Doug, but I wasn’t a minute into your story, when “The Player” came to mind. Personally, I think your story would have made a great side bar to the film – and we haven’t read all of it, yet. Who knows, maybe it could have been worked so that Mr. Jellyfish is the one who gets nabbed in the dark alley. Maybe Tim Robbins could be Mr. Euro? Anyway, just a thought. By the way, you putting together enough of these stories to write, “The Diary of A Hollywood Screenwriter.” 🙂

    • I didn’t think of the player so much when reliving it through the blog. Though I have been surprised that, to date, there hasn’t been some sad bit of workplace violence against a studio or producer.

  • A fascinating piece of inside baseball. For me, the tip-off that the producers felt themselves on shaky ground was how quickly they played their lawsuit card. [Which makes me wonder how often that sort of naked intimidation works].

    • Sadly, it does. There are a lot of afraid writers and artists out here. It’s a business that rewards bullies are long as they make good box office.

  • Jack

    At least tell us this: does it end with Part 3, or will we have to wait weeks to see how it turns out?

    • There is indeed a part 3 and 4. Both worth it, though. Sorry for the tease, Jack. I just try to keep my blogs to under 1500 words.

  • Clive

    I didn’t think you could top part one, but you did.I can’t remember reading anything that was as short and engrossing as this.

    • Hope the next part isn’t a let down. But you know how sequels gooooooooooo…..

  • Tim O’Connell

    Talk about high drama. Kind of breathtaking. It was nice to see that Mr. Jellyfish was foolish enough to tape you illegally then send you a transcript of it, basically proving your point for you. Gotta love stupid AND arrogant in the same package.

    • Can’t say I “love” that stupid, arrogant boob. Actually, calling him a boob is too nice. He’s pretty evil.

  • I was advised to take a recorder to meetings, say it was so I wouldn’t miss or forget anything important and place it on the table. But it’s amazing how many people don’t read their own notes…or forget about that little scribe in the background who transposes things. I hope this one didn’t catch it for doing the job too well.

  • VBG

    OH MY GOOOOOOOD!! The hamster in my little lawyer brain is running full speed!! I actually yelled “HA!!” when I read the part where they labeled it “DOUG’S PITCH.” More more moooooore!!!

  • This is like a movie script in itself! Like Get Shorty or The Player. Gripping stuff.

    • … without John Travolta and Tim Robbins. Guarantee you that none of the actual players are that cool or attractive.

  • Just caught up with parts 1 & 2. Waiting patiently for parts 3 & 4. Hurry up and write, already!!!

    ps. If I promise to do your laundry for a year, can you PM me the true identities of Mr. Jellyfish, Mr. Euro and Mr. Celebrity Screenwriter?

    • Clean laundry is enticing. But gotta dance with the girl I came with.

  • JP

    Just finished reading part 3, you pretty much wrote the screenplay you should get paid for your hard work.

    • I should, yes. But no. I hadn’t yet written the screenplay nor anything close to it. Just built the story.

  • John

    How did JP read part 3? I don’t see it up.

    This is why writers make great bloggers. I’m hooked on this story.

    Seriously you have to stop breaking the stories up, I almost threw my iPad across the room when I got to the end.

    • Nobody but the War Department has read Part 3. And please don’t bust a perfectly good iPad on my account. I try to keep my blogs to 1500 words. If a tale takes more time, I break it up. In this case, it’s clearly a bit of an epic. I apologize if it reads too much like a tease.

  • James Hornsby

    Now that I’m caught up, I am budding with anticipation for part 3. Question is how do people like this continue to get deals and deal with Studios, and the Studios now have no choice (?) but to side with them instead of the true author?

    • The studios generally don’t care if they’re dealing with thieves. Only that the thieves or anybody else they’re in business with can deliver a product.

  • Regina

    This exact scenario happened to my friend- unfortunately although she also had substantial proof- her lawyer couldn’t make a dent, so she was screwed. Happens all.the.time. Just never thought it would happen to someone I know 🙁

    • Sorry to hear that, Regina. I hope your friend didn’t let it deter her. The reason people steal story is because they lack their own. That gives writers with an imagination a long run advantage.