Not about writing but about my other passion – acting.
I have just won a court judgement against a director for non payment of profit share. In some ways I feel cheated because it was largely a default judgement and in lots of ways I am sad that it ever got that far. Let me tell you the story so that others may know how to avoid this happening to them.
A friend of mine, let us call him Sean Fields, approached me, around eighteen months ago, about taking a good role in a well know stageplay. He ran a theatre company and a stage school and I had known him for about a year. I was thrilled to be asked and, after reading the part, loved the character – self made, control freak, pompous ass (the complete opposite of me).
Let me give you a little bit about Sean’s background. He is a committed Christian (this is important as I’m sure his actions go against many Christian beliefs and values). Sean has been in the industry for decades and has acted, directed and taught the craft all around the UK. He has established theatre schools for young people and has given many a young actor their first bunk up the ladder of performing arts.
Now, before anyone starts to make wild guesses as to who this is, he is not a well known director but has earned a bit of a reputation (not necessarily a good one) in the North West of England. I am choosing not to use his real name because I believe in fair play and the capacity for change in people. I am also not naming the stage play for two reasons – one reason is that it may identify the director and the other reason will become apparent.
Initially, I thought this was a contracted and paid role; however, I later found out that it was a profit share scheme, which I was uncertain about but I wanted to take on the role.
Sean had a little trouble casting all the roles (it is a seven character play) and I helped him making some suggestions and introducing him to some people. I now realise why he experienced difficulty.
Eventually we had a full cast and then came the first cast meeting and reading. At this meeting, the profit share was discussed; there were eight of us, including Sean, and we already had about twenty performances booked, including about seven schools. So, while none of us were going to be rich on the back of this, if all went according to plan we would probably get well over a thousand pounds after necessary expenses were taken out.
Over the course of the next ten days, the eight of us had an intense rehearsal schedule. Many of us were nearly off-script by the first rehearsal. Each day, a section of the script was blocked out. I realise now, that alarm bells should have been ringing on the second day when Sean berated us for not knowing our positions from the previous day. He didn’t know because this director doesn’t take notes – he expects the actors to take their own blocking notes!
After seven days, it was time to put the whole thing together for the first time. Now, experienced actors will know that the first time the whole play is run in rehearsal from beginning to end it is crap! There’s no other word for it. It is the time when everyone forgets everything they have learned – from lines to exactly how to drink a glass of port!
Sean had a tantrum! This is the only way to describe it – a tantrum. With three days to go to the opening performance at a sold out venue (yes, he allowed less than two weeks to rehearse), the director had a tantrum and stormed out, thus wasting the rest of the day’s rehearsal. How can a company of actors come back from that and carry on rehearsing on their own.
After about four hours, Sean returned. He had postponed the opening night! When we eventually returned to the theatre, it was about half capacity.
The next day, he was in a much better mood. Rehearsal went well. When we had a break, half way through, he went and sat in his office (he had a tendency to do that a lot). We resumed the rehearsals with the AD (who was also a cast member) and all went smoothly. When Sean eventually returned, he told us all to grab a cup of tea and bring it to the table.
While Sean was in his office, he’d received a phone call. With two days to our new opening night (another sell out) a major, international production company had been in touch and told him that he hadn’t got a licence to perform the play, that they owned the copyright and they were not going to allow him to go ahead!
More alarm bells that I didn’t hear.
Without going into too much detail, we went ahead anyway with some changes. Just one of the theatres pulled the plug but the others decided that they could not promote the production as they would otherwise and would have to rely on regular audiences finding out for themselves what was on. The schools were not an issue since they were closed performances with an educational element.
This was not our only set back. We suffered from motorway holdups, causing us to arrive over an hour late to one school; there were vehicle breakdowns; there was an accident on the motorway involving two of the cast, all the props and the company vehicle (more about that later) – resulting in the rest of the cast quickly devising a drama workshop in which we acted out crucial scenes with a teacher reading in and discussing the issues.
At each of the theatres the cast did one of two things – we counted heads in the audience and/or asked the box office about the sales and ticket prices.
At the end of the tour I calculated the approximate revenue based on the theatre sales and the number of school performances, which were fixed charge. I calculated a total income for the tour, taking into account the theatre charges or percentage split, at nearly nine thousand pounds. After deducting necessary expenses, we would get about eight hundred pounds each. A far cry from the original estimate but better than nothing.
We eagerly awaited Sean’s final calculations, which were delayed by the some of the theatres not being as efficient as they might have been. In the meantime, Sean sent an email to all the cast suggesting that we might like to pay for the damage to his car out of the profits; you might be able to imagine our response. Alarm bell three!
Finally the breakdown arrived with a request to supply our bank details for payment. Each of us would receive three-hundred-and-five pounds! Less than half of my calculations.
How did he arrive at his figure, which was so wildly different to ours?
Firstly, there was the revenue. Sean’s figure for the total revenue from the venues came to less than seven thousand pounds. After checking, every figure from the theatres was low; some were shown as less than half of my calculation. The schools revenue was just shown as one sum that was seven hundred pounds lower than mine.
Next came expenses. A “venue hire” charge was shown for one theatre, while the revenue from that theatre had already taken it into account; There was a charge of nearly five hundred pounds for the use of Sean’s own building (shown as “running costs”); then he managed to deduct 23% “tax” from the total revenue.
The real shocker was the number of shares. Suddenly, we seem to have had a ninth member of the company – Sean’s business and life partner. At no time were we ever informed that she was to get an equal share; she was employed by the theatre company and so, her costs would have come under the room hire, etc.
My response was to send an email querying all the figures and asking for a detailed breakdown of the revenues. This he refused to do. He claimed that there were confidentiality issues and that he was not prepared to discuss the detailed accounts. When I pointed out that profit share without transparency was unheard of, he said he would not discuss this any further, we had our figure and that was the end of it. I also pointed out that we were self employed and that he did not have the authority to deduct tax since he was asking us to supply an invoice.
Because this was near Christmas, some of the cast accepted his figures so that they could get some money before the holidays. Some of us did not.
My next step was to contact the venues. Since the schools were public bodies they had to provide the information under the Freedom of Information Act. Some of the theatres were not so obliging but supplied enough information to allow me to make proper calculations.
I finally sent Sean and invoice five months after the end of the tour. He was not happy (I knew people that were working with him who described his behaviour on receiving this). He ignored the invoice and covering letter. The remaining few of us had been paid the amount that he had calculated without us requesting it.
Eventually, I began court proceedings against Sean. This is made very easy these days as you can do it online at a cost of just thirty-five pounds. He responded to the application with a draft defence that pretty well threatened to counter claim against me for loss of earnings as it had been a result of my “inability to meet deadlines during rehearsals” (remember the tantrum I mentioned and the licence mess?) that had caused us to postpone and cancel performances. He suggested that the rest of the cast agreed with him. Did he not think that we are still in contact?
I sent detailed particulars of claim back to the court and received an email from Sean a couple of weeks later. In this, he suggested that, since we would both want to settle the matter amicably, he was prepared to offer fifty percent of my claim; this would avoid the case being protracted due to conclusive evidence having to be gathered. He also reiterated his threat of a counter claim.
My response to his email was to state that I could accept no less than the full amount of the claim since I already had all the evidence in my possession and was more than willing to share it with him should the matter go to court. I also stated that, since his “counter claim” had nothing to do with my claim, I would not waste time discussing it except to ask him do desist from these unfounded and potentially libellous remarks.
He offered no detailed defence and, a couple of weeks later; I applied to have judgement entered in my favour; this was granted. After a further email to Sean, I eventually received my money plus court costs and interest.
The worst thing about this whole case was that I considered Sean a friend. The whole cast considered him as a friend and he stole from his friends. He might not see it as stealing but that is what bit was.
Another sad thing is that he is a good (albeit a little volatile) director. We all liked his vision and his interpretations of the script. It is just a shame that he can no longer be trusted. I have since discovered that he is earning a reputation for defrauding his cast out of money owed, although this is unsubstantiated by firsthand accounts.
While I have not, and will not, publish his name in the public arena that is the internet, I am more than willing to tell anyone privately via a PM on Facebook or a DM on Twitter (follow me, @ message me and I will DM back) so that you may be as informed as possible if you ever encounter him on a professional level.
In another blog, I shall tell you how to make sure that you don’t get caught out by profit share scams.