Response from Director Alexandre O. Philippe to OPEN LETTER TO THE DIRECTOR OF THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS

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Response from Director Alexandre O. Philippe to OPEN LETTER TO THE DIRECTOR OF THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS
Yesterday afternoon ScreenAnarchy published an open letter to The People vs George Lucas director Alexandre Philippe regarding the payment schedule for the designer responsible for the film's keyart. What follows is Philippe's complete, unedited response. Twitch founder and editor Todd Brown has posted a response to this article here. The initial post has since been removed with the original letter posted below Philippe's response on this page for context.

Hi Dave,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to post my open response to your open letter, uncensored and unedited. It's what I call good and fair journalism.

I'd like to rise above the hearsay and the trolling, and stick to the facts, if it's all right with you. Then, I intend to address head-on the central theme of your letter: ethics. Pay close attention. This is important. I'm not just writing this to defend my reputation, which I take very seriously, and which has been damaged by a grossly misinformed spewing of biased, inaccurate, and catchy sound bites. I write this in defense of my producing team, of my beloved crew, of all the people who have contributed to the success of 'The People vs. George Lucas', and, most importantly, on behalf of every indie filmmaker out there struggling to make films and to make a living making films. Here goes...

FALSEHOOD #1: "I know it shouldn't take you long to scrape together the measly amount you agreed to pay this guy."

FACT #1: I have not made a single penny on this film yet, and neither have my producers. You can read that last sentence again, Dave. If you'd gone through the trouble of researching our film, you might have learned that the producers were, in fact, the investors; and that we set ourselves back tens of thousands of dollars just to make this film, on a hope and a prayer that we'd eventually get picked up for distribution and make that money back. Here's the kicker: when we do (meaning when we break even after our sales agent, distributors and collection agency have collected their dues), all of our deferred partners, including our friend Jason, will start making money BEFORE WE EVEN MAKE A DIME on this project. Let me say this again, so there are no lingering misunderstandings: if PvsG performs as effectively as we hope it will, every single person who signed a deferred contract with us will be paid in full BEFORE I or any of my producers can start collecting money on this film. Yes, this is absolutely contractual and verifiable. And yes, I believe it's perfectly ethical.

So why ask talented artists like Jason to work for us on a deferred payment basis, when we spent tens of thousands of dollars making this film in the first place, you might ask..? You know film, Dave. A feature documentary like PvsG costs a lot more money to make, and none of us here are sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars of disposable income to tell the stories we really want to tell. You're mighty quick to decry the "evil" of deferment, and to question the ethics of this necessary practice; but what you fail to understand is that without partnerships based on deferred payment agreements, small indie films like PvsG simply wouldn't get made, and you'd be stuck reviewing Hollywood films for the rest of your life. You sure can write about film, Dave; but it's unequivocally uncool to speculate about the inner workings of a particular production without due diligence--in this case, without taking the steps to acquire a sound understanding of the complex inner workings of said production in the first place. It's reckless. It's dangerous. And I hate to say this, because I'm a huge fan of Twitch; but it's the worst form of journalism, because it's designed to trigger visceral reactions from your readers, and from my fans, who don't possess all the facts necessary to form their own educated opinion. Well, I believe they deserve this much. Hence, this lengthy response.

For your edification, here's how most true indie films are structured: first, the filmmakers put their life savings into their film to get things started. Because they often can't afford to pay for the whole thing, they ask people whose talent they believe in to join the project on a deferred basis. Those people typically join the project because they believe in its potential, and because they want to be associated with it. They understand the risk. That's what artists do--they take risks. And I'll venture to say that the day they stop taking risks is the day they stop being true artists. Just as importantly, they certainly understand that the producers have incurred a greater risk by putting close to everything they own on the line. Asking someone to sign a deferred payment agreement means you're asking that person to contribute sweat equity to your project. Before deferred agreements can be honored, the original investment needs to be recouped. That's just common sense. You're probably thinking... PvsG is being released in the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand... Lionsgate picked up the film... Alexandre and his producers must have pockets full of cash. WRONG. Our sales agent takes a commission. They have expenses that need to be reimbursed. Our distributors have expenses as well. We also need to pay our international collection agency. Legal fees. Digital Cinema Prints. E&O insurance. You get the idea. This, Dave, is what it takes to give a small indie film a shot at international distribution. I personally had to juggle numerous client projects while working on this film to make ends meet, sometimes up to 18 hours a day, close to 7 days a week for 4 long years; and I'm still in the red. And so are my producers. A measly amount, you say..? Talk to my editors, who deferred $90,000 of services because they believed in the film. Did they call you to say how dissatisfied they are with the contract they signed, and how unethical I am..? Should I write them a check tomorrow as well..?

Your assertions are reckless and dangerous, because they're misguided. I say "misguided", in this case, because I'm far from being the big fish you seem to think I am. That said, I do believe that your open letter comes from a good and genuine place. Like you, I absolutely believe that an artist should be paid his/her fair share when a studio or a big company commissions his/her work. This is precisely what agents are for. But the day artists stop contributing to worthwhile projects because the producers don't have enough money in their pockets to pay them what they're worth is the day that art dies, and capitalism wins the day.

FALSEHOOD #2: "The contract said payment could be deferred. But I just found out that he was recently told (after lots of back and forth) that payment might not happen for a couple of years."
FACT #2: Since Jason apparently doesn't mind sharing my personal messages with members of the media, I'm sure he won't mind me telling you about the email I sent to him on August 31st. For the record, I made it clear that we were close to recouping our original investment, and that we should be able to start honoring our deferred payments next quarter. Meaning January 2012. And I told the same thing to his agent on the phone. I'm nipping this in the bud, because if I don't, I imagine Donald Trump will ask me to produce my birth certificate next.

FALSEHOOD #3: "After all you're a big Hollywood type and all what with being so hard to reach and dealing with so many complex things."

FACT #3: I'll take your sarcasm at face value here. I think I've made the point that I'm the polar opposite of the Hollywood type. Clearly, I'm not so hard to reach. I believe I posted my comment on your thread less than an hour after your open letter was released. And yes, Dave, I am indeed dealing with many complex things. Like two major documentary projects (in which I already have $45,000 on the line with no guarantee of ever making my money back), five client works, a comic book, a move, a sick father, and now an inbox filled with hate mail because of your false assertions. You can talk about ethics all you want, Dave, but don't judge me. Don't fucking judge me. It's unbecoming of a website dedicated precisely to the types of films that people like myself put all of their passion and resources into, and completely inconsistent with Todd's vision.

FALSEHOOD #4: "[...] pay somebody next to nothing for artwork that has been used worldwide to promote a movie that was then picked up by a Hollywood major in no small part because it had become so branded by an artists image."

FACT #4: We currently have 7 excellent distribution companies working on the worldwide release of PvsG: Wrekin Hill Entertainment, Lionsgate, eOne Entertainment, BAC Films, Capelight, Kinosmith, and Fine Films. To date, every single one of them wanted to either replace Jason's poster, or substantially alter it. I fought as hard as I could to ensure that at least one of them would end up keeping his original poster on the DVD, and that's what Lionsgate did. Frankly, I'm very happy with the look of every single release so far. But if I hadn't fought as hard as I did, Jason's poster wouldn't be on a single DVD or Blu-Ray disc out there.

Hold on. I'm not done with you yet.

You made ethics the centerpiece of your argument. Fine. Let's talk about ethics. In particular, the ethics of your brand of journalism, which apparently consists of spreading falsehoods and biased misinformation about filmmakers like myself to their target audience and industry professionals. To people whose opinions matter a great deal to me. In case it didn't occur to you, this is how I make my living, Dave. Do you think I enjoy having to right the wrong you've done me, my producers and my company in front of the festival programmers and film buyers who have believed in my work, and the tens of thousands of filmgoers for whom I work so hard every single day? Do you think I enjoy being forced to write a quasi-manifesto in the middle of the night after a 14-hour shoot, instead of finishing the script I contractually have to deliver by noon tomorrow..? Should we talk about the ethics of making my personal email address public without my permission..? Or the odds that one of my clients might read your open letter and decide never to work with me again, because--apparently--I don't pay my crew..? How do you repair the damage you've done, Dave? Would Todd care to chime in on this..? The sad thing is, the ethical thing to do would have been the simplest thing in the world. Why didn't you just pick up the phone and call me? Why didn't you send me a personal email and ask me to explain myself before drafting your misinformed rant..? Now, THAT would have been good--and indeed ethical--journalism.

It's hard to make indie films, Dave. It's even harder to make unauthorized, objective indie docs about people or studios with deep pockets. And it's damn near impossible to make indie films when the very people who ought to be supporting and championing your selfless efforts (you) openly damage your reputation without all the facts in hand.

Look, I bear no grudge. I'm even willing to shake hands with you on this if you are. And as much as I think that Jason's comments may have been out of line, I remain a big fan of his work, and I will continue to root for and believe in him. But please, man, don't do this to another filmmaker without knowing what you're talking about. Because some of them may not have the thick skin I've developed over the years. And instead of sticking up for the "little man", you'll end up unwittingly hurting the very people you've dedicated your career supporting. 

I'm not a Hollywood type, Dave. I'm not an evil corporation. I'm not even a big fish. I'm a hard-working, honest, passionate and dedicated indie filmmaker. I take risks because I believe in what I do and in the stories I choose to tell. I ask people to work with me because I believe in their talent. I absolutely adore the extraordinary medium that I'm so fortunate to work with every day. I value my industry partnerships and relationships. I'm thankful for my fans. And, yes, I'm quite fond of George Lucas.

Just as importantly, I'm grateful for sites like ScreenAnarchy. And I sincerely want to thank you and Todd for giving me the opportunity to present you and your readers with the facts. I remain a huge fan of your work, and whether you end up reviewing my film or not, whether you give it one star or five stars, whether you choose to publicly apologize or not... I hope you don't lose a single reader as a result of this unfortunate misstep.

Kind regards,
Alexandre O. Philippe
The People vs. George Lucas

[Original post follows.]

Hi Alexandre,

Dave here. I'm the DVD reviewer for ScreenAnarchy. I just got a copy of your movie from Lionsgate for review. Thanks for sending it. It's fun to get things for free. As a journalist it's one of the weird perks. You want people writing about your stuff, keeping it out there in the public eye, letting people know it's for sale, word of mouth, bleah, bleah. So I wind up with a free DVD and you wind up with a review and the fans wind up with an informed opinion and a reminder to pick up your movie from wherever. 

But there's a problem. I know the guy who did the artwork for your film. He's an amazingly talented guy, super nice. He did such a good job on the art for your film that it has been used on the DVD. It is also the poster for the theatrical version. It was turned into promotional stuff used all over the world. When The People vs. George Lucas is googled those images take up page upon page of space. In short, he, the artist I mean, created the image that made the movie famous. 

The problem...

You never paid my friend. 

I know....I know. The contract said payment could be deferred. But I just found out that he was recently told (after lots of back and forth) that payment might not happen for a couple of years. 

A couple MORE years. 

I'm not here to debate the legality of  this, just the ethics. 

Cuz, in my opinion, they suck.

He's called numerous times. His agent (which he didn't have at the time or he certainly wouldn't have signed such a ridiculous contract) has been in touch. 

How long has it been? 

Your only response was to send that nice reminder about the contract. 

Lionsgate also sent me a free DVD.

Here's what's gonna happen. 

I'm going to review it. I promise. No, really. I'll get around to it. Soon, soon. You understand right? I'm a nationally known writer, it keeps me busy. 

And of course I want people to buy this thing so you get money cuz then you might turn around and give my friend what any decent person would say he is owed (again talking ethically rather than legally).

Anyway have a great day. I know it shouldn't take you long to scrape together the  measly amount you agreed to pay this guy. After all you're a big Hollywood type and all what with being so hard to reach and dealing with so many complex things. 

Like how to pay somebody next to nothing for artwork that has been used worldwide to promote a movie that was then picked up by a Hollywood major in no small part because it had become so branded by an artists image. 

Dave Canfield


PS The DVD looks great.

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Ben UmsteadOctober 14, 2011 1:05 PM

Now this is class all around. I applaud Dave and Alexandre here for how a situation which escalated was then handled admirably by both parties.

SaltonerOctober 14, 2011 2:35 PM

Wow. Epic. Dave must be choking on the toe jam from the foot in his mouth. And his friend who did the art probably just ruined his career by acting like a baby. Oh artists.

OlafOctober 14, 2011 2:37 PM

Great response Alexandre, I know exactly where you're coming from. I'm also a great fan of Dave, this was highly uncharacteristic of Twitch to post this kind of rant without contacting you, I understand the possible damage it made on your reputation, your time - hope everything will work out for everybody around the film.

AdamOctober 14, 2011 2:59 PM

This is an unfortunate situation, one where I think everyone comes out looking less than stellar.

As someone who has worked both as an artist/illustrator as well as in independent film production, I understand the plight of both parties, here. I'm actually still waiting to get paid for my work on two films made over a decade and a half ago (!) ... but I'm not here to bitch about that.

I often get requests from people to make posters or paintings for their projects, and weigh each situation according to their own merits. I've learned the hard way that the contract is everything; I've also learned that, sometimes, it's better just to turn the other cheek and roll with the punches. My best advice is to have a clear understanding of a project before going into it, and be as frank and honest with people as professionalism allows.

I do think the artist has a valid gripe against the filmmakers, though using such a public venue to air his grievances is hardly the best way to resolve the issue. But instead of trying to take the high ground, not only has the director stooped to the same level, but is more than happy to sling his share of mud in the other direction. (Posting that everyone wanted to either not use or change the artwork is a definite low blow; it's bad enough that the work isn't paid for, but is it really necessary to put down the art, too? It's not like the artist was putting down the quality of the film...)

Look, I've had issues with collaborators before, almost to the point of considering lawsuits. In the end, though, we not only managed to settle our differences amicably, but worked together again on other projects that went much, much more smoothly. Just try to be the better men, here. I wish you all luck.

AdamOctober 14, 2011 3:05 PM

Well spoken, Alexandre. As a writer who had the good fortune of covering PvGL in pre and post-production, doing multiple interviews with the director, I can say that Alexandre is an incredibly kind and honest individual who puts his money where his mouth is, literally. He's not a Hollywood bigwig.

In the future, it might be a good idea to deal with discrepancies behind closed doors instead of resorting to knee-jerk journalism. Dave is a talented writer but nobody benefits from write first, research subject later writing.

AlexandreOctober 14, 2011 3:14 PM

I appreciate the comment, Adam. For the record, I wasn't trying to put down the art. Quite the contrary. It's an extraordinary poster, and I lost sleep while attending a film festival in Amsterdam fighting for it. If this isn't the ultimate expression of my admiration for Jason, I don't know what is.

rondertakerOctober 14, 2011 3:37 PM

movie fandom has just collapsed in upon itself

JoshOctober 14, 2011 4:16 PM

As a fan of the film, and the painter in question and also someone that knows or has met ever person involved in this discussion, some of them very good friends, I'd like to be the first to say, "Dave, you just got your ass handed to you."
That being said, I wish nothing but the best to Alexandre and company as well as Jason Seiler. I look forward to this movie being a huge hit and that the message that most of us here truly want to spread to the rest of the world, about our love/hate relationship with Lucas, reaches millions.

AdamOctober 14, 2011 4:32 PM

Point taken, Alexandre. It was good of you to fight for the work, and it's certainly been a striking visual image for your film. I wish you all the best of luck with it!

When I get paid for illustrating a project (like some recent books covers, for example), I make it very clear to the authors/publishers at the start that if they decide to ultimately not use my work, I won't take it personally and won't be offended.

When I agree to do something for free, though, the exposure for use of the image is the reward. Again, it's a case-by-case basis, and I almost try to make it clear what I want and expect before tackling any project -- especially if it's for no pay.

Deferred payments, though, are a sticky subject. How much money, and when the money would become available (if ever), can be a bit ambiguous. Truth be told, I've usually considered deferred payments as no payments in the independent film world -- for reasons you very effectively described. While I've never been paid a dime for any deferred payment projects, I've never been resentful of it, either. I chalk it all up to learning and work experiences.

Long story short, I think this is a gray area, and I'm sympathetic to both sides of the argument. You're all extremely talented fellows, and hope that, in the end, you can put your resentments and difficulties behind you.

Take care, and best of luck.

JeeveOctober 14, 2011 4:33 PM

Hi guys, I did half the music, so I guess I'm the co-composer? Sounds funny;-) Anyway, I would like to vouch for Alexander here too. The last time we met in LA a few months ago, Alexander gave me an update an told me to expect payments to start coming-in next quarter. To be honest I was not expecting him to say this at all, and I was happily surprised, so I can can definitely agree that the "expect no money for at least the next two years" statement is completely untrue.
I worked on this project because 1. I believed in it, 2. Alexander is a dear friend and I trust him because I've worked with him before on projects that paid upfront, 3. My publishing administrator handled all the paperwork and they never told me this was crazy or an unusual deal. They've been doing this stuff for decades, and 4. So far I've done mostly ghost composing and I'm sick and tired of not having my name out there for all my hard work, so I was eager to get the credit.
Sure, it's never fun to work for free during rough times, but I never saw this as a cash project. During the time I worked on this movie I could afford it so money wasn't the issue. If at times my bills are too high, I just say no to spec work because I just can't physically do it no matter how much I would love to, it's that simple. As an artist you have to take risks every now and then, as long as some of them pay-off once in a while!

ClemOctober 14, 2011 4:34 PM

Pour Journalism. Even more pour is that your friend was clearly told he would be paid soon and I assume did not let you know. It just took a simple phone call to get your questions answered. From what I know Alexandre has been willing to interview with almost everyone!

Wish the film best of luck! Dave got a free copy, maybe he should buy a few now, so his friend will get paid. (I know, this is mean)

If you have not seen it. BUY IT, well worth it.

chinofiveOctober 14, 2011 4:40 PM

I wrote it on Dave's post yesterday, that was the most ugly power trip thing I've seen in all my professional life.
What a come back Alexandre! Dave should be ashamed, twitch have to get his ass fired for the damage he has caused you, I'm not sure that he has any clue what he has done

AlexandreOctober 14, 2011 4:51 PM

Thanks, Adam! No resentments, I promise you. And I want to be clear on this... our deferred partners WILL start getting compensated next quarter.

TimoOctober 15, 2011 2:38 AM

An excellent reply, Alexandre. Sorry about you having to spend ages after a shoot to respond to the original "open letter", I know it can be demotivating. Best of luck with the rest of the shoot and try to shrug this off your shoulders.

AlexandreOctober 15, 2011 10:08 AM

Hey Timo! Thanks, man! Don't worry--I'm used to this kind of b.s., unfortunately. It's part of what we do. I can't wait to see your film, btw! Send me an email sometime. I'd love to catch up.

Agent OrangeOctober 15, 2011 1:41 PM

"For your edification, here's how most true indie films are structured: first, the filmmakers put their life savings into their film to get things started..."

Exactly what I expected. That's your burden. Why beg that others do the same when they won't see the same exposure and career advancement in the future? Independent producers need to pay writers and artists and crews for their work.

Also, this response is not quite as revealing as everyone seems to think. And printing it does not equal "good journalism." Dave is doing Alexandre a favour by printing it at all.

AndyOctober 15, 2011 2:27 PM

This open letter debacle could have been avoided with a better proofing/editorial system in place, but this has since been addressed by Todd in a follow-up article. I knew when I read the open letter yesterday there was something wrong going on. It is simply baffling why some people can't communicate directly with each other over an issue like this but choose to post (in this case apparently misinformed) open letters on popular websites. As bad as Dave did, he shouldn't be fired or anything because there should be checks and balances in place to prevent him from making this mistake. All the best to Alexandre and the artists involved with the film.

IanOctober 15, 2011 6:06 PM

'Why beg that others do the same when they won't see the same exposure and career advancement in the future?'

You mean like having your artwork adorn posters and dvd releases of a movie released in various territories worldwide?

Did you even read what Alexandre wrote? Have you thought the huge importance of networking in such an industry and why shit like this will do the original artist no favours at all whereas in contrast he would surely have benefited?

Working for deferred payment is certainly open to abuse and one should be cautious but people chiming in when they have no idea what they're talking about isn't exactly cool either.

AlexandreOctober 15, 2011 7:02 PM

You're absolutely right--it is indeed the indie filmmaker's burden. That's why many of us put most of what we own into projects that we believe in. It's important for you to understand, however, that there's no begging involved. I run a successful film production company. I always pay my subcontractors on time, and I pay them good rates. Certain projects, however, cannot be sold on spec, and require deferred and/or partnership agreements. Just ask George Lucas how he managed to pull off Star Wars in the first place. A deferred agreement is a contract. It involves two willing parties. One signatory incurs a financial risk. The other signatory agrees to invest sweat equity with no guarantee of a return. It's as clear cut as it gets. And it doesn't only happen in the world of film. Any successful venture or business starts with individuals investing their time and energy into what they believe in. Steve Jobs never had any guarantee that his company would become as successful as it is now. I imagine that he and his colleagues put in more than a handful of unpaid work days. If you're inferring that people should stop believing in other people's visions unless they can be guaranteed payment, then you and I have a very different vision of what art is all about. And that's fine, of course. As for Dave, he'll be the first to tell you that he didn't do me, himself, Twitch, or the world of indie filmmaking a "favor". He sent me a very nice, warm and classy apology this morning, and I look forward to reading many more of his DVD reviews on Twitch.

CatherineOctober 16, 2011 6:05 PM

Well, Sir, Alexandre, you've certainly demonstrated the gift of gab here. And while I have zero desire to read Dave's letter, yours has won Twitch a new reader.

Oh. I will go and buy your film.

AlexandreOctober 16, 2011 10:28 PM

Very kind of you, Catherine. I hope you enjoy the film. :)