I wrote the poem "Something Wicked Dwells" in 1998 and the Copyright was established in 1999 when I self-published it into my first book, "All-American Texan: A Book of Poetry."
Based on actor's responses to the poem throughout the years, I knew I had written a great literary piece and monologue. After a bit of nudging from fellow thespians, I decided to write the short screenplay and radio play back-to-back to expand on the poem. That was in 2010. Both were Copyrighted and Registered directly following completion. The synopsis was quite simple; the quintessential experience in a haunted house.
If you didn't already know, the public loves haunted houses!
In 2006 I met Jane Doe (Not her real name) when we worked together as actors in the play, "The House of Bernarda Alba." The play had a significant run at Steve Helgoth's Underground Theatre in Hollywood.
Jane impressed me. She memorized lines and cues quickly, was a great multitasker and came across as an Artist who was very knowledgeable and experienced about the 'industry.'
I decided to ask her if she would be interested in being my Producing partner for the short screenplay of "Something Wicked Dwells." I would contract and credit her to be Producer and Executive Producer along side of me. I would Direct.
When I spoke to her, she was ecstatic, and immediately said, "Yes!"
I was confident that I had made a great decision on a producing partner and had found someone who I could one hundred percent trust and watch my back.
Once I had her affirmative, we wasted no time. I got my SAG Clearance for the film and we both worked together to submit the package to the Independent Filmmaker Project/IFP. The film was approved for Fiscal Sponsorship within two weeks.
On all documents/contracts, I was Owner/Sole Owner/Director of the Project. Jane Doe was always referred to as a 'second contact' or Producer.
During the casting phase, we set up a temporary small office in Universal City on Barham Blvd. I was impressed by the actors that came to audition. The poem itself was used as the script/monologue. It turned out that we were blessed by some of the best unknown actors in Hollywood. That 'second tier level actor' that just hadn't quite found that magic role yet... but, he was exceptional!
"Something Wicked Dwells"; four male roles; all roles require full nudity.
CJ Brady Photo by Jay R. Lawton
None of these brilliant actors questioned the requirements. They just did what was necessary.
Complete professionalism. In the end phase of the audition, the caliber of actor that was attracted to the roles was phenomenal. Their training, focus and concentration was that of the Advanced Actor.
You may be familiar with some of these names:
Johnny Giordano, Corey Rieger, Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau, Paul J. Lange, Brad Koszo, Sam Brittan, Michael Mercurio, Jake Wesley Stewart, Edward Gusts, Ron Geren, Brant Black, Sergei Nazarenko, Bill Oberst, Jr., Troy Mittleider, Fabian Alomar and CJ Brady.
The decision was rough. These guys knew how to act. And, I could only cast five. One would be a Stand In/Understudy/Extra.
1) Jake Wesley Stewart
2) Bill Oberst, Jr.
3) Troy Mittleider
4) Fabian Alomar
5) CJ Brady
The Actors were thrilled. I was just as thrilled...
Troy Mittleider Photo by: Jay R. Lawton
I hired award-winning Studio City Production Designer Aaron Glazer to design the picture.
Jane Doe brought in the Director of Photography, who I interviewed and agreed to use. Let's call him John Doe. John would also bring in his Team; a Camera Assistant and Lighting Tech. We'll call them John Doe 2 and John Doe 3.
I had my 'above-the-line' crew and we were ready to shoot.
Bill Oberst, Jr. Photo by: Jay R. Lawton
On the morning of the first day of shooting, March 12, 2011, actor Jake Wesley Stewart was literally in route from NYC to L.A. and scheduled to be on set to begin work. He was running late, understandably; traffic in L.A. is a bitch, you know. But, he would be there.
Jane Doe voiced her disapproval that actors should never be late for work.
Because I have a soft spoken voice, it was not carrying to the 20 plus crew members that were prepping to begin shooting once Mr. Stewart arrived.
I pulled Jane aside and said, "Jane, would you please take over the call of 'action' and 'cut' because my voice just isn't reaching?"
"Sure," she said. And walked off.
Once Jake arrived, he was a bit flustered and tired from his long journey.
Jane was having none of it. She was demanding he do the monologue before we began the shoot. Because she was my acting Producer, and I trusted her, I agreed to do this.
Jake was simply jet lagged.
In privacy, Jake began the monologue...
This is where I should have stopped everything and told Jane to either 'shut up' or 'ship out.' But, I didn't, because I truly trusted her methods and I thought she was watching my back. Maybe she saw something that I didn't.
In all honesty, Jake did stumble throughout the 're-audition.' But, I understood the pressure he was under and the exhaustion he was fighting from the time zones.
Jane reacted with absolute hostility.
She said, "... that was NO Academy Award-winning performance." She went on to degrade, insult, defame and slander Jake's art, acting, training and human character.
You might ask, why didn't I stop her? Good question. I should have. It is one of those moments that I truly wish I could turn the clock back and clean up. I take full responsibility for my inaction.
Unfortunately, I will always have to live with this bitter memory.
Jake was fired; Jane insisted on it before she would continue with the project.
I was suddenly in the position of immediate rewrites...
Let's fast forward to the day of the wrap. We finished shooting on March 16. That evening I asked Jane if there was anything left that I needed to do, because I was going to go home and 'crash.' (I'm allowed to do that, I'm the Owner/Director)
She said, "No. Go ahead and go. I have everything in hand."
So, I left.
It is at this point where everything gets sticky. Four days passed and I had not spoken to her. I sent her an email informing her of the film festivals I was submitting to. The following is the actual email chain conversation we had:
Who did u list as the director, you or me?
You do it. YOU DO IT
Do u not remember your words or am I suppose to do it and you get the credit????
I did everything else. So why not this too???? You may think no one noticed but everyone did.
I'm not sure where your going with this...
Everyone noticed how you were into everyone's 'traffic.'
You were doing everyone's job. But, your credit is Producer and Executive Producer. That's what you wanted. That's what I'm giving you.
And, I did do it... on three other films.
Now, let's stick to what was agreed upon and continue. OK?
She did not reply immediately.
At this point I knew something was horribly wrong. Red flags went up everywhere. I knew based on so many horror stories I'd heard within the industry, when it comes to 'intellectual property,' people do stupid things. Like steal.
I received a short email from Jane requesting a meeting between the two of us. We met at a coffee shop on Robertson and Beverly. She also brought a witness to oversee. Jane simply said, "Waide, I directed Something Wicked Dwells."
It all came crashing down. It didn't take a genius; I knew exactly what had happened.
I wasted no time. I got out of there. As soon as I could, I emailed my SAG Rep and IFP Rep and requested Jane's name and title to be removed and deleted from ALL documents and contracts. Remember, I was the Owner/Director. I could that.
I called the Editor (John Doe 4; who Jane had also brought on board) and requested the film's hard drive be given to me as soon as possible. It is customary that the Editor keep the film till the editing process begins.
It took several days for John Doe 4 to reply. When he did, he explained he was not in possession of the hard drive, that Jane had requested he give it to her at the end of wrap night. And he did.
Jane had never informed me of this, nor had she asked permission to do this.
Soon after I received this email from Jane. Her RESOLUTION:
In spite of irrefutable evidence to the contrary I sense from your last email you still desire to miss credit the film. Such misrepresentation constitutes fraud for which I do not want to be a part of and quite frankly I do not think fair to put the actors, crew or any participants in such a project, thus, I am proposing the following option as a way to resolve the matter at hand.
We each get a copy of the raw footage.
- We each would have to sign off and agree to forfeit any rights and monetary compensation to the other's project.
- I believe in the best interest to us both we each be omitted as a producer on the other's project.
So we can both move on, let me know your thoughts no later than June 3, 2011.
I retained legal counsel from Jennifer Hughes in Beverly Hills.
Jane Doe retained legal counsel from Leigh Leshner in Van Nuys.
Ms. Hughes, in my opinion, was excellent counsel. Tough, to the point and real.
To her credit, I will compliment Ms. Leshner as a genius at 'strategically stalling' the case, which broke my bank many times over. That was her job and she did it well.
Jane Doe's demands were clear:
*She wanted Director's credit
*My DBA papers for Green Ghost Productions
*Forever confidentiality clause
As Owner/Director of the Property, this was a joke. But, I wasn't laughing.
In Beverly Hills Court, it was known as Case #112020875/Waide Riddle vs. Jane Doe.
Having her served by a deputy sheriff of Los Angeles, she falsely identified herself.
When it came time for the Civil Court date, she was a 'no-show.' BUT, that did not mean I won. On the contrary, the judge overseeing the case believed because the 'intellectual property' was Copyrighted, then it was "too big" for Civil Court, and suggested Federal.
This took months of meetings with Hollywood detectives, Los Angeles District Attorney, FBI and many law enforcement agencies. The Los Angeles District Attorney finally handed over the decision that though Jane had possession of 'the film elements,' she had not crossed into Federal territory.
SAG was not involved because it was not in their legal jurisdiction.
IFP was not involved because it was not in their legal jurisdiction.
They were only aware of the case and its updates.
Of course, Donors and contributors of the project had to be briefed. Those were not easy calls to make. Over $25,000.00 lost/stolen to a thief.
John Doe 1, 2 & 3 submitted witness statements against me on behalf of Jane Doe. All in similarity. That I 'did NOT manage my ship.'
OK. Maybe I'm a bad Director. Maybe I suck at Directing. But, that does not affect Ownership.
None of the John Does voiced their dislike towards me on set nor did they voice any negative concerns at all.
Each of the John Does were paid a salary from my business account at Wells Fargo that I, yes, Owned.
Jane Doe put in over $10,000.00
My family contributed over $11,000.00
Based on SAG and IFP Contracts, Directors and Producers know fully well that any money contributed to productions cannot be refunded. Nor be considered 'an investment.'
In 2012, after a great deal of counsel from entertainment professionals and lawyers, it was highly recommended that based on the circumstances of the case, that I choose to do what is known as 'leave her holding the baby.' From counsel's position, I didn't do anything wrong. In fact, I did everything correctly. I Copyrighted and Registered all of my work the way I should. That in itself saved me.
Jane could go no further with it, and she knew it. So did Ms. Leshner.
In order to pursue her in court and have her surrender my Property, it would/could cost me up to $50,000 to $75,000. That was out of the question because I was already tapped out.
So, I chose to 'leave her holding the baby.' She would have possession of something she could never use.
Since that decision in 2012, Jane has admitted in writing that she did cut the film and distribute it to film festivals and has won four awards.
In one of the last emails to be received from Jane regarding the case in 2014, she states, "Waide was given options which he refused to take. Unfortunately, "Something Wicked Dwells" will remain unseen."
It has been five years since the day of the theft. The betrayal is still painful. But, I have learned a great deal from this experience. ALWAYS COPYRIGHT YOUR WORK. ALWAYS REGISTER YOUR WORK. DON'T THINK IT CAN'T HAPPEN TO YOU.
In closing, I regret what the actors had to go through. I am still broken to the fact that Bill Oberst, Jr., Troy Mittleider, Fabian Alomar and CJ Brady will never be given their REELS. Their amazing performances will never be seen by the public. That devastates me.
And to Jake Wesley Stewart, who suffered tremendous emotional abuse by the hands of a monster. I am so sorry you had to go through that.
Somewhere. Someplace. There is a hard drive with the film. Perhaps someday it will be returned to me.
*Artists should always Copyright their work with the Library of Congress/ www.copyright.gov.
*Artists should always Register their work/ www.wga.org.
*California Lawyers For The Arts is a good resource.