This page contains my personal opinion based on commissioning film production services from Tricia Cooklin (Smokey Blue Media) and Malcolm Needs (The Movie Works) in 2007.
Review score: 1 out of 100.
In May 2007 ‘An Inconvenient Truth 2’ was almost ready for release. I’d used £5k of my personal savings, a whole lot of goodwill from the people we filmed in Sweden, and a team of creative unpaid collaborators. The result was a watchable, entertaining, 90-minute film.
Everyone who’d contributed took climate change seriously, and wanted to do something to help. It’s thanks to that kind of effort, made for the common good, that we’ve seen a massive change in public and political opinion over the last decade. Climate change is now taken seriously and action is being made around the world to solve the problem. Yesterday’s historic climate summit in Paris was the culmination of the efforts of millions of people, including the Inconvenient Truth 2 team.
Involving Tricia Cooklin, Malcolm Needs and Smokey Blue Media
In May 2007 ‘An Inconvenient Truth 2’ was shown to a private investor and finance raised to distribute the film to a mainstream audience. The investor liked the film and backed it financially, both as an investment and as a way of doing something about climate change.
So, I advertised through Shootingpeople.com for a professional, experienced, Film Producer to join our team. Tricia Cooklin approached me with her CV. Based on her industry experience and connection to Director Malcolm Needs I selected her above the other 5 candidates.
Because of the personal integrity of all who had worked on the project up to this point, I was confident I could trust Tricia Cooklin and didn’t even think to draw up a written contract for the work she was paid to do. I agreed things with her verbally and paid the financial price she asked for upfront, without any quibbling. It was a mistaken belief in old-fashioned business values, that the nature of the project would ensure nobody would exploit it for personal gain.
My company, Jack Guest Productions LTD was formed and over 15 weeks we paid the bulk of our investment capital – £49,579 – to Tricia Cooklin (trading as a sole trader, Smokey Blue Media’). She in turn commissioned director Malcolm Needs to ‘re-edit’ An Inconvenient Truth 2 from scratch, to make it more professional and accessible to a wider audience. Although I never met Malcolm Needs, I was assured of his credentials by Tricia and that in turn assured my investors that commissioning Tricia and Malcolm was the right move.
An expensive 15 weeks
In November 2015 Tricia presented the new edit of the film to existing and potential investors in a private London screening. Malcolm had re-edited the film from scratch, re-working my original footage into a new narrative. It was better presented than the original film, and arguably the narrative was more meaningful and accessible.
The cost of the job, £49,579, was more than we’d expected to pay as during the 15 weeks’ production the cost was raised by Tricia a couple of times. I went back to my original investor and brought in new investors to pay the extra.
The hope we’d been sold by Tricia was that once complete, the job would pay for itself. It wasn’t a finished film but it was enough to approach distributors and sales agents who might pledge more funds to polish the product and deliver it to market.
A couple of weeks after the screening that hope faded. There was no interest from the distributors, sales agents or film financiers that Tricia approached. My investors rightly decided not to put more money into the film themselves. I realised I’d made an expensive mistake and was truly gutted.
As it was her first time personally leading a project of this magnitude I imagine Tricia was also pretty dissapointed at this point. However I’d later find out that she’d paid herself very handsomely for her 15 week’s time. So I’m sure that she didn’t lose as much sleep as the rest of us.
Make the best of a bad situation
At this point I reflected on the money I’d spent on Tricia’s services and what it had actually produced. And I smelled a rat. Wondering what to do next took me to a conference on the burgeoning ‘online distribution’ market.
Listening to speakers at that conference I decided that all I could do was cut my losses and release the new ‘semi-finished’ film online. At least it would have an audience and Sweden’s ‘climate change solutions’ would be out there for the world to see.
I called Tricia, told her my plan, and asked her to deliver the film to me. Tricia refused, and from that moment on refused to speak to me via any medium- to this day.
Worse, she sent me a bill for £15,000 for her ‘unpaid wages’, an amount she insisted by letter to one of my investors that I’d previously agreed to pay her (I hadn’t). She retained both physical and intellectual hold of the film (i.e. copyrights for the work she and Malcolm had done) along with all of my original footage (50 x 1-hour tapes shot in Sweden) and demanded £15,000 to return them.
Bring in the lawyers
Years later, five to be precise, I found it in me to fight back and try and put the situation right. I sued Tricia in the High Court, facing-off against her Barrister as a ‘litigant in person’ and winning a decision from the judge that the matter should go to trial.
That was enough to force Tricia to settle, and both the film and my original materials were rightly returned to me, along with all intellectual copyrights. Although the settlement meant I surrendered my case for damages, and any chance of getting my £49,579 back, it was the best result I could have hoped for. Not having my contract with Tricia in writing was too much of a hurdle to get past, once the damage had been done.
For my own piece of mind I wanted to understand how the £49,579 had been spent. I managed to get hold of the bank statements for the edit suite that Tricia had commissioned, as that was the only significant expenditure she incurred. The edit suite had gone bankrupt so getting their bank statements was straight-forward. They showed Tricia had paid them £16,281 total. That meant the remaining £33,279 from the amount I paid must have been split between Tricia and Malcolm in wages. There simply weren’t any other costs the production incurred.
How that money was split between the two of them i’ll never know – but it makes a mockery of Tricia’s claim that she was owed £15,000 in unpaid wages.
£33,279 of a £49,579 production budget being spent on wages was not what I signed up for. It was not what I was led to believe would happen, and it was not fitting for the ethos of the project- people doing their bit for the common cause of preventing catastrophic climate change.
Tricia’s retention of the film I paid her to make, along with my original materials, delayed the release of ‘An Inconvenient Truth 2’ by five years, and exacted a big emotional cost on those who had invested, personally and financially, in the film.
The new version of the film, edited by Malcolm Needs, was completely unsuccessful. It attracted no interest from film festivals or distributors and sits on Youtube with around 600 views at a cost of £49,579- despite a massive effort to get it out to a wide audience.
The same effort spent on An Inconvenient Truth 2, however, has resulted in 12,000 views, 2 cinema showings and 3 TV-channel releases world-wide. This is essentially the same film that was ready to go in May 2007, a film produced on just £5k and a lot of goodwill.
I believe that if Tricia Cooklin and Malcolm Needs had shown the same integrity that the collaborators and investors in An Inconvenient Truth 2 did, then there would be much, much more than 600 youtube views to show for the £49,579 that was spent on their ‘professional’ film services.
So, of course, I would not use their film services again, nor recommend them to others. And I’d recommend any first-time filmmakers make sure they get proper written contracts in place when dealing with ‘film professionals’.