They’re going to put me in the movies They’re going to make a big star out of me . . .
That’s right, friends. No autographs, please, and keep your clothes on, but we are going to be in a motion picture, a major release from Paramount Pictures, starring Erika Christiansen, an actress — a starlet, some would say — who most recently appeared opposite Michael Douglas (the Michael Douglas) in the move "Traffic."
The movie is called "The Perfect Score." Filming begins this month. It’s directed by Brian Robbins (whose directorial credits include Hardball and Varsity Blues), and it is scheduled for release in 2003. So mark your calendars, and again no autographs, please, and keep your clothes on — they are going to put us in the movies.
Well, that was our initial reaction when we got the fax from Paramount Pictures, the Paramount Pictures, at the glamorous-sounding address of 5555 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles CA: "Paramount Pictures is proud to announce the start of production on the feature film THE PERFECT SCORE" . . . and "we are seeking permission to use actual issues of your newspaper" . . . "in dialogue and featured use" in the Picture (capital P).
That was the first reaction. Then of course reality began to set in. It wasn’t us, it wasn’t our staff, it was just copies of our paper. Maybe. As the fax said: "We are seeking permission to use actual issues of your newspaper as incidental, non-referenced set dressing and/or a prop in the film."
Set dressing? Prop? Non-referenced? What did it mean, we asked Jay Floyd, described as the clearance administrator for a firm called Now Clear This, a company that apparently had been retained by Paramount to fax out the clearance request and work out all these details. In a phone call to his Los Angeles office — at the decidedly less glamorous address of 4150 Los Feliz Boulevard #12 — Floyd explained that non-referenced means that the plot of the movie will have nothing to do with U.S. 1.
But the paper (and probably every other paper in town is being considered for the same role) might end up in the background cluttering someone’s desk or lining some bird cage. It’s needed, Floyd added, because the movie — about a student striving to achieve a perfect score on the SAT exam — is set in central New Jersey but it’s being filmed in Canada.
Moreover, we would pretty much have to sign our life away just to get our newspaper on that desk or in that bird cage. Here’s what the Paramount legal department asked us to sign:
"For good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged, we hereby irrevocably grant PPC (Paramount Pictures Corp.), its successors, assigns, and licensees the non-exclusive right to use the Publication (U.S. 1) in such manner as PPC may determine in its sole discretion in connection with the Picture (including, but not limited to, its name. all logos, and trademarks), and to photograph, record, reproduce, or otherwise use same in the Picture, and to exhibit, advertise, and exploit these rights in perpetuity in any and all media now or hereafter known or devised at any time throughout the universe, including without limitation in `making of’ and `behind the scenes’ footage, still photos, clips, trailers, and all other added-value material in connection with home video (e.g. DVD, VHS), pay-per-view, and other versions of the picture."
There was more. The legal department also wanted us "represent and warrant" that we own or are authorized agent for everything that appears in the paper or on its cover. And, just in case some third party sees their photograph in U.S. 1 and then in the Paramount movie and wants to sue for whatever reason, we at U.S. 1 would "agree to indemnify PPC and its successors and assigns from and against all claims, damages, or expenses (including reasonable attorney’s fees) resulting from our break of these representations and warranties."
Reasonable attorney’s fees? Does that mean reasonable fees from an attorney or fees from a reasonable attorney? We decided if we had to ask we probably couldn’t afford the answer.
Instead we thought about that movie and what it could mean — or not mean. Even as we were debating whether or not to give some movie studio permission to use our publication as a prop, some other far larger businesses were offering large sums of money to get their products consumed or used by the actors in major motion pictures. Were we looking a gift horse in the mouth, or what?
In the end we strolled over to the fax machine and transmitted the signed document back to LA. We may have signed our business away, for all we knew, but we were whistling cheerfully as we got back to the daily grind:
. . . It’s a film about a man who’s sad and lonely All I got to do is act naturally.