Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, summed up Hollywood the best when he said, "It's all about greed, ego, stupidity, and insecurity." Those words could very well sum up a man I was working for a few weeks ago, a man named Rasool Verjee.
I've been lucky to get many jobs off the Internet, everything from content creator for Uproar Entertainment, my monthly joke writing job and The Taboo Show to my book deal for Celebrity sTalker. But I was surprised to get contacted from LinkedIn. People joke about that site but it's currently the biggest and most successful provider of resumes on the web.
Rasool wanted me to read his screenplay, a comedy. A person who reads a screenplay for free here in Hollywood is as rare as O.J. Simpson offering to pay off his civil lawsuit to Fred Goldman. I've written three of them, plus nine teleplays. I've written standup and blog posts and a memoir and essays but by far the hardest of all to write is the screenplay.
So I said I would read it and give him a one-sheet (critique) in return. We agreed on a price. After he asked me for a 10% discount, which I granted.
So here's how our email exchanges went down: I asked for a check but realizing he was in Canada, (although the phone number he lists as a Canadian one is actually a number in Beverly Hills) suggested he PayPal me since U.S. Banks remove a portion of your spleen to cash a foreign check. He wrote back:
"Suzy, I have a US account at Chase. Let me know. Thanks for getting back to me. Will confirm or not shortly. Was looking for more help with some rewriting."
Then wrote this:
"Okay done! Sending the script now. Please send me your bank details. Appreciate your advice."
I sent him my bank details and "Rasool, when the check clears I'll send notes, ok?"
He wrote back:
"Sure sounds good. Would prefer to email transfer if that works. Anyway will get it done."
An email transfer? I was unaware you could stick a check in an email and send it to someone. Thinking he meant a wire transfer from bank to bank, I asked for clarification and got this in return:
"Love to know when you have read it."
I wrote back: Did you send the check yet? Because at this point I'd started to read his script and it had so many problems I knew I couldn't list them all in a one-sheet. I already had 3 pages of notes and was not going to give him any notes without getting paid. And then suddenly this email:
"I am going to give the money to a friend who is here from Rochester. As I don't have a cheque and a wire is $30! I will confirm. Please go ahead and read! As you said no notes till you get the money. I won't stiff you!"
Didn't have a check? What happened to the Chase bank he said he had? I started to feel bad about the deal. And him. Something was wrong. Something was off.
"Suzy where are you located? New York. It looks like I will be in NY next week."
WHAT? My LinkedIn profile clearly states I live in Los Angeles. I wrote back and said that I lived in LA.
"Aha! Okay. Why did I think NY. Do you use pay pal?"
Aside from the fact that I already told him he could PayPal me I wrote back and said that I did but for him to add $3.00 to the total to make up for PayPal taking funds away.
"Oki doki! When do you think you will be done?"
I told him that as soon as the money cleared I'd send the notes.
I heard nothing from him for days. Suspicious of his silence, I emailed him to say I'd finished the script. And that there were problems. There are ALWAYS problems with scripts. Like with all writing, nothing is ever perfect until the 12th of never draft. Not to mention that a script in development is rewritten so many times by so many writers that it often doesn't even resemble the original. But was his script in development? I doubted it. He didn't even use screenplay software and that, right off the bat, was a sign this was an amateur project. Rasool wrote back:
"Thanks Suzy - just trying to get my damn PayPal to work. Ughhhh. By the way did you like the story? Sounds there is some work to be done. But can it be fixed and made into a great script."
At this point I realized Rasool was never going to pay me because he really didn't want feedback on his script; he's one of those writers who thinks it's already perfect and is just sending it out for confirmation of this. Many first-time writers make this mistake. Good writers have self-doubt about their work, worry about it, test-drive it with everyone they know. They agonize over one sentence, or one scene, or sometimes over one word. It's what makes them good writers.
So, do you know who this guy is who can't "work" PayPal ? According to his LinkedIn profile he's Rasool J Verjee Success Messenger and Millionaire Coach.
I googled him and discovered an interview he gave where he mentions his script, how he's already got the star AND THE MONEY and is ready to go into production! Do you have any idea how much money it takes to go into production? About twenty million for a low budget indie. And most of his script takes place in Kenya so how cheap is that going to be? If he had this money why was he still sending out his script for critique?
The man is in his 60s and there's no way anyone in Hollywood is going to develop a script by an old man. If you know anything about this town, it's that they hate anyone over the age of 28. According to his IMDb he produced something in the 1990s and that's not a track record he could take to the Hollywood Bank. At that point it occurred to me he thought I might have liked his script and used my contacts to help him. I felt sorry for him if he thought that's how Hollywood worked. Especially since he was stiffing me on a written contract. If he lived in LA I'd haul his ass into small claims court. And I would win. Emails are the new written contract proofs, Rasool.
So who is this guy? One of the original founders of Lavalife. The online dating site. Which was sold for quite a bit of money when it changed hands. And how much money were Rasool and I negotiating? What massive amount of money was tying up his stock options and accountants? What was forcing him to transfer funds from a Swiss bank account to an off-shore bank account?
$100. One hundred dollars.
Plus the 10% discount he asked for.
$90. That's what one of the founders of Lavalife, a millionaire coach, and movie producer couldn't afford.
I never answered his last email. I never sent the notes.