In July 2012, we started getting reports of an acrimonious schism in the Mysteria Film Group, which had been working on a licensed Myst film project for the past several years.
I have decided to keep copies of the public statements of the people involved. This is not an attempt to inflame dispute or make anybody look bad. We know that posts on web sites can be edited or taken down. When Internet disputes rage -- or, indeed, when people calm down -- this may seem like the best course of action. I believe it is not, and that in the long term it is better to have a historic record.
I have copied these texts exactly, as far as I know, except that I may have lost stylistic formatting (such as italics).
I have no personal connection to any of the people involved (except as a customer of Cyan's works). I have blogged about the Myst movie project several times (June 2008, May 2009, December 2009, July 2012).
Isaac Testerman: forum post, July 20, 2012
Posted: Fri Jul 20, 2012 3:36 pm — Post subject: A Myst Movie Update
To the most amazing fans in the world,
By Isaac Testerman (Producer for the Myst movie)
So it's been a long, long time since you've had any updates in respect to the Myst movie progress. It's probably time to fill you in on what's going on. I apologize right off the bat for how long that wait has been! The Myst fans are a incredibly loyal and wonderful group of people, and it has been very difficult to stay silent as long as we have! But as you will soon see, the silence was necessary for legal and personal reasons.
As referenced in past posts on the mystmovie.com website, we went through some dramatic creative changes to the Myst project in the last year. We have also gone through some personnel changes that have been very difficult for everyone involved, but have been necessary.
In our initial informal meetings with every major studio in town and their top brass, it became clear that the BoT was going to be VERY hard if not impossible to sell as a starting point for the movie franchise. There is a litany of reasons for this, which have been discussed in detail in previous msytmovie.com posts so I won't bore you with them.
As the necessity for a new creative direction became clear, it was harder for some to accept then others. Of course Adrian and Patrick spent years developing and working towards a very specific vision for the BoT, including writing a full length spec script based on the book. As the changes were discussed among our LA partners, Cyan, and MFG, it became clear that Adrian and Patrick's plan to move forward was not aligning with everyone else. I don't think this is the time or place to get into the details, but Cyan ultimately came to the decision that the best thing for the property was to have Adrian step down as MFG's lead producer, and have me step into those shoes. (If you remember Patrick stepped down as producer for personal reasons a couple years ago.) This was of course, very difficult for everyone involved, but most of all for Adrian. I want to make it clear here that Cyan made a very difficult but well-informed decision, based on what was best for the property. Everyone involved sans Adrian and Patrick were in full agreement with their decision.
Understandably, Adrian decided to step away from the project completely, and he and Patrick entered into discussions with my company Delve Films, to acquire MFG and everything it’s developed so far.
After a couple months both parties were not able to reach agreeable terms and as Cyan's option (the legal document that allows you to control the rights) with MFG was expiring, they chose not to renew it with them. Delve Films then entered into negotiations with Cyan and purchased the option, obtaining the audio/visual rights to the Myst property going forward.
So what does this mean for all of you and for a Myst movie?!? While this was a very hard and tumultuous time for the project we have come out stronger and better suited to make this film. Jason and Yale are still very much involved with the project and continue to be incredibly helpful as it progresses. Our partners in LA, Hunt Lowry and Mark Johnson have stuck with us, and have been an incredible support throughout this whole process! We could not have continued with out them.
Yes we've had to go back to the drawing board and reanalyze our entire project, but that has been very good for us. We have brought in another Oscar winning producer and writer (who is on the Warner Bros. lot with Hunt Lowry) to help guide us through the creative restructure and into production. I'm not saying who it is yet, but he's officially on board, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone more qualified or experienced in the industry!
I will give a couple hints about the future though. A Myst movie is not all that’s in the works. Our vision is to re-introduce the Myst brand to the millions of dormant fans out there, and bring in millions of new fans through multiple audio/visual and interactive platforms. What does this mean? Well that will remain under wraps a bit longer, but we wil keep you updated more regularly now that the legal issues have been worked out.
In short, we are all very excited with were the Myst stands right now. Cyan has become much more involved creatively this time through. We've had some great meetings with Rand and Tony in LA talking about the future, and planning the next phase. I have to say, sitting in a room with Rand and the rest of the team in LA, developing a Myst movie has been some of the most exciting times of my life, and I know everyone is going to be thrilled with the result!
The personal side of this transition has been very tough on everyone! Adrian and Patrick put in A LOT of hard work and deserve to be continually acknowledged for their contribution to this! Ultimately though for the project and its success the spilt was necessary. Trying to separate personal from business is one of the hardest things in life, and doesn't always end well. I know that I have learned a lot from this, and will always wish Adrian and Patrick the very best.
I'm sure there will be a lot of fears, questions and doubts with these latest revelations, and I will do my best to address them all. But rest assured that as you have always trusted Cyan with Myst, you can continue to do so! As Cyan and our LA partners can attest to, this was not a planed or hostile take over to push anyone out! Circumstances led to some hard decisions having to be made, but all were made with the best interest of Myst at heart, and many with much heartache. We will continue to be straightforward and honest about this project, and will keep you the fans at the forefront of our thoughts and priorities as we move forward.
I'm not sure if Adrian or Patrick will wish to respond to this or not. As is always the case, there are two (or more) sides to an issue and I want them to feel free to discuss if they’d like too.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen with mystmovie.com. That was part of the Intellectual Property that remains in limbo at the moment, and will probably remain that way for a while.
Thank you for hearing me out on this. I hope you can continue to trust both Cyan and Delve Films as we shepherd this project into new and exciting places. Feel free to ask questions or post your thoughts (positive or negative) and I’ll do my best to answer any I can.
Adrian Vanderbosch: blog post, July 23 (blog is deleted as of July 25th)
Dear Myst Community,
It came to my attention a few nights ago that Isaac Testerman has posted an update on the Myst Online Forums, detailing my departure from the “Myst” movie project and hinting at future developments within the franchise. I have long been silent about this issue because I felt that it wasn’t appropriate to publicly air our company’s dirty laundry, but my hand has now been forced and I am obliged to reply – not only to defend my image but to set the record straight once and for all.
The seemingly diplomatic nature and sense of fairness Isaac attempts to portray in his post are, in light of my first hand knowledge of events, laughable in the extreme. His statement is rubbish populated with half-truths and an inaccurate and dreadfully unfair oversimplification of a complex issue. I take particular exception to the implication that I chose to depart the project because it became clear that “The Book of Ti’ana” was not deemed an acceptable story basis by the “Hollywood brass”. This absolutely is not the case nor has it ever been.
In the following statement, I will present the facts of the situation as accurately and truthfully as I can recall them. As it will be made abundantly clear, my narrative differs substantially from Isaac’s. Let it be understood from the start that his thinly veiled suggestion that I skulked away from the project – like some petulant child who wasn’t getting his way – is patently false. To put it bluntly, my departure from the “Myst” movie project was due to nothing short of a coup, orchestrated and executed by Isaac, with the support of the company heads of Cyan Worlds.
Before I go any further, I want to preface my statement with the fact that Patrick McIntire and I were given a mandate and a primary directive, by Rand and Tony, to do our utmost to safeguard the integrity of the franchise and its canon. Given Cyan’s generous terms for the option and our passion and respect for the Myst franchise, this was a mandate that we were committed to honoring above all else. Every decision we ever made on this project, right up to the one that cost us our involvement, was in the interest of creating the best possible version of a Myst movie that maintained the integrity of the franchise. Indeed, only days before the mutiny and in spite of the friction that was obviously present as a result of our attempts to uphold our mandate, Tony himself strongly encouraged us to stick to our guns. It would be that very same tension that Cyan would cite, a week and a half later, as their justification for facilitating and endorsing Isaac’s takeover. In effect, I was advised to act and was subsequently blamed for the action – by the advisor!
To quote the great songwriter Robert Hunter, “Light a candle; curse the glare.”
As Isaac said, there are two sides to every story. What follows is my version of the events leading up to my departure from the “Myst” movie project. Take my words for what you will, but this is the truth as I see it and as I lived it.
In early 2009, Isaac, a fellow Myst fan, contacted our company, requesting permission to submit a fan film based on BoT. The purpose of the film was to serve as a bid for becoming involved with the project. We agreed to view the film and were impressed by the resourcefulness and ingenuity required to achieve it. That June, Isaac and his creative partner flew to South Bend, IN to meet with my team.
Patrick and I were immediately impressed by their professionalism, their passion, and especially Isaac’s ability to command a room. We thought they would be valuable additions to the Mysteria Film Group team and they were offered the opportunity to become equity-sharing members of the company – an offer which they did not hesitate to accept. Our one concern was that Isaac, having owned multiple businesses, was used to being in charge. So, it was made clear that, in joining our team, he would be taking on a subordinate role. He assured us that he was comfortable with this arrangement and would honor and respect our authority as co-presidents. So was the understanding of Isaac’s role in Mysteria Film Group (MFG). Over the next two years, that role would change drastically and Patrick and I would come to deeply regret our decision to bring Isaac onto the team.
In December, 2009, MFG partnered with producer Hunt Lowry and, on Hunt’s recommendation, producer Mark Johnson. From the initial meetings to discuss the nature of the partnership, it was made clear that both Patrick and I were to be full producers. In industry terms, this meant that we had the exact same title and accompanying authority as Hunt and Mark, with regard to decision-making for the direction of the project. In addition, it was agreed that we would serve as the primary writers on the project through the initial scripting phases. In these respects, we believed, at the time, that we had secured a fair and equal partnership and clear working relationship. The events of the following months seemed to suggest otherwise.
I’d like it to be understood that Mark and Hunt are busy producers; standard operating procedure is to engage almost exclusively in dealings with junior executives. These juniors are tasked with the development of projects, shaping them and molding them through the conceptual phase and getting them to a point where they believe their bosses will be satisfied. Generally, this means that the producers, such as our partners-proper, Mark and Hunt, have very little involvement throughout the initial creative process. Given the atypical situation of our relationship with the project, as rights-bringing producers and story-generators, Patrick and I were heavily involved in all aspects of this early development process.
Only a few months into the partnership, Patrick and I began to have concerns about the way in which we were being engaged by the junior executives. As story discussions began, all agreed that “The Book of Ti’ana” (BoT) was the most logical and effective starting point. This was great news to us, as all of our creative energies had, from the very beginning, been focused on that particular story. However, the junior execs expressed concerns about the absence of Myst Island within the BoT story. As Myst Island is the most recognizable icon from the franchise, they felt it was imperative to include it within the concept of our screen story.
One of the junior execs suggested, as a possible inclusion point, that the characters of Anna and her father could be found, at the beginning of our story, on a ship traversing an ocean. At this point, they would be swallowed by a black hole in the middle of the ocean, thus being carried to a new dimension and stranded on Myst Island! I won’t dwell on the fact that a black hole large enough to swallow a ship would implode the Earth, or that Anna and her father would never survive the gravitational pressures of the journey. And I need hardly highlight the enormous canonical contradiction (obvious to any Myst fan) arising from the fact that Anna would be the one responsible for the creation of Myst Island many years later. Yeah. This is the kind of thing we were dealing with, folks – on a daily basis.
Despite our strong reticence to contradict canon, we acknowledged the validity of the junior execs concerns regarding the presence of such a recognizable icon from the games. As such, we began searching for a compromise that would elegantly weave the concept of Myst Island into the story in a way that would not overtly break the established narrative of the franchise. This solution was rejected outright by the juniors as not good enough. This would become an ongoing process of seeking compromise to the satisfaction of all parties involved while abiding by the wishes of Cyan. I cannot stress enough that this effort to compromise was made over and over and over again by my company and me. Far too often, our story input and the documents we were repeatedly asked to create outlining those story concepts –in one instance, a 60-page treatment that required weeks of work by both Patrick and me –being outright rejected or worse, summarily ignored and the subject quickly changed. It was the feeling of both Patrick and myself that, as full producers on the project, it was inappropriate for our input to be dismissed or ignored by these junior executives. We were beginning to feel very uneasy.
Before we had the opportunity to address these concerns with the junior execs, yet another change of subject occurred – a change of subject that would open the door for all of the troubles that followed. Attention was steered entirely away from story discussions and the focus became about entering renegotiations with Cyan. The stated aim of these negotiations was to obtain an option on the franchise in its entirety, as opposed to just BoT; the logic was that no major studio would be attracted to a mere partial franchise. I have, at no time, disputed the fact that this is an understandable reality of the Hollywood system and a just decision by our partners. It should also be pointed out that Isaac deserves some credit for the success of these negotiations. He served as my second when Patrick was unable to attend due to outside business concerns. Isaac’s rapport with Tony and Rand was immediate and assisted in allaying any concerns they might have had about signing over the remainder of the franchise. It was Isaac’s ability in the meeting room that led to his promotion to producer upon Patrick’s later departure from day-to-day operations on the “Myst” film.
Unfortunately, what seemed to be an ulterior motive of the junior execs began to come into focus only one hour after the conclusion of these negotiations to option the entire franchise. One junior exec in particular let slip a tiny, little phrase that haunts me to this day:
“Now, we can go back to the drawing board.”
Though they continued to pay lip-service to the BoT storyline, their actions suggested that their true objective for obtaining the entirety of the property was to facilitate a hodge-podge film version of BoT that would amount to an unrecognizable mishmash of Myst elements thrown into a watered down storyline. In a nutshell, they seemed set on abandoning the canonical narrative (or any established Myst narrative, for that matter) in favor of broader commercial appeal – the very thing Tony and Rand charged our company with preventing!
At this point, our company reaffirmed our opinion that the established BoT narrative was the strongest and best entry point into the world of Myst. We were met with reassurances by the partners that they shared this opinion. Given those reassurances, we reserved our focus for those story ideas that aligned with that particular narrative. These reassurances did little to quell our suspicions that the junior execs were not being totally forthcoming.
At this time, Isaac began engaging in behaviors that clearly did not suit the best interests of MFG. Chief among these behaviors was the initiation of unsanctioned phone conversations with both Cyan and the junior execs, with the purpose of promoting the business of his independent production company, Delve Films. In effect, he was, while acting as a representative of our company, using our resources and contacts to establish relationships with our partners and solicit potential contracts and collaborations for his own film company. Imagine you worked for a major car company and called current investors of that company to tell them about a new car design you were working on, with the intention of producing that car design through your own company; any reasonable person can immediately recognize the glaringly unethical nature of this kind of maneuver.
Patrick and I addressed this issue directly with Isaac, expressing our concerns and asking him to cease utilizing our company’s resources and position to further his own ends. He outright refused to acknowledge the validity of our concerns and the behaviors continued. This resulted in Isaac securing at least one non-Myst related film project and the possibility of at least two other film projects, all under the Delve Films banner and in partnership with Hunt Lowry. This presented a tremendous conflict of interest, as it split Isaac’s loyalty between MFG and those he was courting on behalf of his company. It was this conflict of interest that contributed in part to my being ousted from the “Myst” film project in April 2011.
Simultaneously, these conversations led to a rapport between Isaac and the junior execs – a rapport that became beneficial to Isaac and Delve Films and detrimental to the future of MFG. Patrick and I were clearly growing unpopular with the juniors because of our insistence on maintaining integrity within the property. We weren’t “playing ball”. As a result, the junior execs began calling Isaac for advice on how to “best handle” Patrick and me in terms of story disagreements. Isaac entertained these phone calls instead of doing the proper thing, which would have been to say, “My bosses don’t need to be handled. You just need to talk with them.” By engaging in these conversations, he was directly undermining our authority as full producers in the “Myst” film project. And so, a paradigm was established in which Isaac appeared to be more in our partners’ camp than was our company and this paradigm would permeate the remainder of my tenure on the project.
Around this time, an April, 2010 trip to Los Angeles brought more difficult news: a planned series of meetings with Hunt and Mark did not occur. In fact, the junior execs never even bothered to schedule the meetings. Once in L.A., we found ourselves in a meeting with the junior execs in which Hunt poked his head in to broach a new topic. The partners felt that Patrick and I should step down as writers on the film in favor of attaching an A-list writer to create a new screenplay. The reasoning was that having a major writer on the film would up its salability. However, Hunt assured us that we would still be tasked with writing the screen-story upon which the screenplay would be based and that we would be credited in the film for that task.
Given the time and passion we’d already invested in the project, this was a very difficult decision to make. However, we gave it a night and agreed the following day to step down as writers, recognizing the wisdom in this decision and embracing the idea of working with a top, Hollywood screenwriter.
What followed was month-upon-month of searching for a writer, without much motion. As the remaining time on our option continued to tick by, we became increasingly frustrated with the lack of action by the junior execs to approach and secure an A-list writer. Multiple phone calls to the junior execs were made in an attempt to spurn them onward, but were, at best, mildly successful. It seemed that, despite the ticking clock, the “Myst” film was less than a priority to our partners. We soon became concerned that things were progressing at a pace that was going to put us up against a wall with the option expiration. With that in mind, we began insisting that we prepare to pitch the property sooner rather than later, thereby giving ourselves some time if it became necessary to retool before the option ran out.
During this uncertain and trying period, Patrick decided to step down as an active producer. He would remain Co-President of MFG and would still have all of his authorities over company business (including “Myst”-related matters), but he would not be involved on a day-to-day basis with the film. It was also at this time that Isaac was elevated to the position of full producer, though still subordinate to me. These events occurred on July 14th, 2010, roughly one week prior to our first big-studio pitch.
The pitch was to Warner Bros., per Hunt’s contract giving them right of first refusal. The junior execs were insistent on us pitching the nuts and bolts of the franchise first, leaving the story for second. Patrick and I knew in our guts that this was the wrong approach and that filling a studio exec’s head full of such minutia and lore would only confuse him when it came time to unveil the story. However, we deferred to the “expertise” of our partners and pitched according to their wishes. The result was that we were stopped halfway through the pitch. As I had expected, the studio exec was overwhelmed with the complexity of the mythos and grew frustrated. We never even had the opportunity to pitch our story. What we did have the opportunity to do was to submit a document directly to the same exec to whom we had just pitched. This document presented our story outline, but in the context of our failed property pitch and the clear frustration the exec had felt in the room, I don’t know what good this document could possibly have done. I’m not even sure if he bothered reading it. Regardless, Warner Bros. chose to pass a few days later.
After the rejection from Warner Bros., the focus became entirely about finding an A-list writer. Finally, after another FOUR months, a writer was secured – thankfully, one I respected and admired. During the final meeting prior to the writer’s signing on, Isaac and I communicated with the writer via conference call. We made it clear to him that he would be getting all of the concept material we had produced to date and was given the go ahead to start developing a synopsis. Never mind that it should have been the responsibility of Patrick and me to develop the synopsis, as per our agreement with Hunt when we decided to step down as screenwriters.
The first synopsis submitted by the writer – and all subsequent synopses – did not fall in line with the canon of “Myst”, much less BoT. He was, however, generating plot ideas that were fantastic and could have easily been incorporated into the BoT storyline developed by MFG; the ideas just needed to be reigned in a bit. My excitement for what the writer was bringing to the table far outweighed any concerns I had for these initial synopses and I truly believed integrating his concepts into our story would make for a remarkable pitch. I gave notes with this goal in mind, as well as notes which addressed our concerns about the canonical issues in the synopses. Unfortunately, these notes were met with resistance and a consistent censoring by the junior execs. The writer was never really privy to my wishes. Not exactly being treated as a full producer on a project, is it?
The prior dragging of the junior execs’ collective feet now meant that the deadline on our option was fast approaching. We continued to work in haste with the writer, to develop a story suitable for pitching. Unfortunately, each iteration had issues which directly conflicted with our primary directive to protect the property. Again, my notes to that effect somehow seemed to get lost in the fray and were never communicated to the writer.
By this time, it was January, 2011. Isaac and I had relocated to California, in preparation for pitching to studios, but things were moving slowly and I was growing more and more concerned. The expiration of our option was coming up in March and we still had no pitch-worthy story. All we had for a story was a watered-down version of BoT – so watered-down, in fact, that it can hardly be called the same story. All of the characters were present and Anna went down to D’ni, but the similarities ended there.
As we entered into February, there were no significant story advances. It became clear that, with the looming expiration of the option, we were going to have to pitch with the story that we had. Our partners assured us that the story was strong enough to sell the property to a studio. I maintained significant doubts, but chose to trust in the 30+ years experience of our partners. I trusted that we would fight the story battles after we got the project set up with a studio. In light of all of this, our partners began scheduling pitches, with every major studio, for the month of March.
During this period, tensions arose between Isaac and me. He began acting unilaterally, engaging in discussions with the junior execs about strategy and story, all without my knowledge or input. I started hearing about discussions and decisions after the fact. This was tremendously upsetting to me and a clear disregard for my authority. Due to our company structure, I was unable to fire him for these infractions. Additionally, taking him off of the project proved to be an unviable option, as it would have generated a negative image of our company.
The real kicker came when I was informed by Isaac that he had, without my knowledge or consent, taken it upon himself to negotiate a month-to-month extension on the option with Cyan. These terms are something to which I never would have agreed but was now forced to accept. To do otherwise would have reflected poorly on our company in the eyes of Cyan. In essence, my acceptance of the new terms was merely damage control and the only reasonable choice that remained for me. I did, however, severely reprimand Isaac for undertaking negotiations without my authorization, while stressing the importance of respecting my position in the company and not making decisions he had no right make. He responded with assurances that he would attempt to respect the boundaries of his position. Predictably, these assurances turned out to be empty promises.
Despite my understandable misgivings at this juncture, I found myself in the position of having to press forward – with a story that I did not believe in (and would later find out that nobody believed in) and a producing partner whom I had no reason to trust. And then we started pitching. Even with the circumstances being what they were, my dedication to the franchise ensured that I delivered every pitch with the same enthusiasm I had when I began this project. I brought my A-game and I’m proud of the job I did.
The pitch was two-fold, with the writer presenting the story and me following up by presenting the viability of the franchise as a whole. We pitched to all but three of the major Hollywood studios before our partners decided to inform us of the feedback they had been receiving since the beginning of the process. Apparently, each studio had the same reaction: “Love the franchise. Hate the story!”
Why our partners chose to continue pitching a story that was obviously not working, why they made no attempt to remedy the failings of the pitch before we were all but three studios from the end of the line, will forever be a mystery to me. Essentially, we were walking in already setup to fail, thereby burning a bridge with every pitch we made.
Instead of retooling our pitch, our partners’ response to the studios was to assure them that we were willing to do whatever they wanted to do with the story. The tack became about convincing the studios to buy the property and figure out the details of a story later. Unfortunately, the studios simply weren’t interested in this scenario. For studios, the development of a story is an expensive process that they would rather avoid. They look to producers to shoulder that burden. As a result, one by one, the studios chose to pass on the project. It was only then that our partners came to the conclusion that we needed to alter our approach heading into our final three pitches.
At this point, I was livid. Not only had we been pitching a story that was clearly not working, but the story that MFG had spent years developing – a story that seemed to answer every one of the studios’ concerns, a story we had spent copious amounts of time refining – was continuing to be completely ignored. And I want to stress here that I strongly believed (and still do) that BoT was our best bet, but I was always willing to look at alternative story options, provided they were strong and did justice to the franchise. However, the simple fact is no other viable story options were ever presented or forthcoming.
My goal for the duration of my involvement with this project was to produce a film that was faithful to the canon and captured the essence of what we fans love about “Myst”. I could not, in good conscience, accept any storyline that did not meet these requirements. BoT was the story on which everyone’s energies had been focused from the beginning, precisely because it best encapsulated all that is great about Myst. The only alternatives that were ever offered were bastardized versions of BoT – the best of which was a proven failure! The only explanation I can offer for our partners’ paradoxical adherence and yet complete deviation from BoT is this: they were paying lip-service to BoT in order to placate me as the rights-bringing producer, while simultaneously doing everything they could to dismantle and mold BoT into something that represented their Hollywood-ized version of “Myst”. This is not what you, the fans, wanted and it is not what such an intelligent and sophisticated franchise deserves!
I’m sure you can imagine the frustration I felt during this time. I was, in every sense, looking at seven, long years of work, of life, being washed down the drain. During that time, MFG and I had endeavored to compromise with the wishes of our partners, making every attempt to respect their suggestions while staying true to the franchise. Compromise after compromise had been extended by our company, but in nearly every instance, we were met with a response that was all-or-nothing. Having no desire to waste our few remaining chances to garner major studio interest, I committed to making some bold choices. It was time to trust my own gut and have the courage of my convictions. Their approach had resulted in failure. We had tried it their way; it was time to try it ours. If we were going to fail moving forward, we were going to fail on our own terms.
A meeting was called with the junior execs, in which I expressed my feeling that it was time to reconsider the story that MFG had always believed in the most: our adaptation of BoT. At the time, everyone in MFG, including Isaac, was in agreement. We all had labored together to perfect MFG’s version of BoT and, to the last man, we regarded it as the best possible version. My argument to the juniors was that we clearly couldn’t do any worse than we already had. What was the harm?
To my surprise, the junior execs were actually open to considering our story again. They suggested we make a few tweaks, with an eye toward addressing the specific concerns of the studios. We did so and submitted the revised story via email.
Instead of our submission being met with further consideration or even discussion, the junior execs informed us that Mark and Hunt wanted to have a conference call. We were given a heads up that our partners felt the best way to move forward was to pitch only the property – without any story at all – to the remaining three studios. This decision made no sense to me, as it completely contradicted all of the evidence we had: namely, that no studio wanted to develop a story; they wanted a good story delivered to them. For all intents and purposes, it was for this very reason that we had been rejected by every studio to which we had pitched. Where was the logic in walking into another studio with less than we had before?
For me, we had reached a tipping point. In the days prior to the scheduled conference call, I spoke with the members of my team and expressed that it was time to draw a line in the sand. I had reached the conclusion that if the partners weren’t willing to allow us the opportunity to pitch the story that we had earned the right to pitch, then we could not continue forward with the partnership. At the end of the day, it was our right to do what we believed was in the best interest of the property – a property over which we’d been given responsibility and whose integrity we’d been charged with safeguarding.
My decision was met with agreement by some and resistance by others. Isaac, in particular, emphatically disagreed with my change in tack. He made it clear that he believed the best way to get a movie made – not matter what that movie was – was to stick with the partners we had. It became more about making any Myst movie and decidedly less about making a good Myst movie. Additionally, Isaac expressed concerns about damaging his relationships with Mark and Hunt. He, as I mentioned before, had other projects in the works under the Delve Films banner and was either partnered with or in talks with Mark and/or Hunt regarding those projects. And so, the conflict of interest that I pointed out earlier finally reared its dangerous head.
Without a consensus within the company, I chose to contact Tony personally, in order to seek his opinion on the matter. After all, it was ultimately Cyan’s property and I felt that they should have a say in a decision of this magnitude. I explained to Tony the circumstances of the situation and that I was potentially going to sever the partnership with Mark and Hunt. He agreed with my position that pitching with no story at all made absolutely no sense. I asked him where Cyan’s limits were. I asked him what he wanted me to do. Tony told me to stick to my guns.
Confident that the direction I was taking carried the blessings of Cyan, I resigned myself to presenting an ultimatum to our partners. This was a terrifying proposition for me. There were so many unknowns associated with ending this partnership, but I firmly believed that the movie had a better chance of getting made –and made well – by walking away if our strategy was not adopted by all involved. Despite Isaac’s disagreement with me, he acknowledged that it was his responsibility to the company – and to me as Co-President of that company – to stand behind my decision.
As Isaac was scheduled to be on vacation in Florida when the conference call was scheduled, he requested that he not be a part of the discussion. I saw this as an attempt to avoid sharing the responsibility in the conversation that was to come and thereby preserving his relationships with our partners. This was unacceptable. His first and only priority needed to be “Myst” and its future. As such I made it clear that as a producer on the project, he was absolutely required to be present for the call.
And now, onto the phone call that changed my world forever. Everyone from the partners team – junior execs on up to Mark and Hunt – were present on the call. From my team, it was just me and Isaac. Conveniently, Isaac’s cell-phone reception dropped out about five minutes into the call, leaving me to face Goliath alone. From the get go, the partners proper maintained their position that it was better to press forward by pitching the property with no story attached. I immediately expressed my disagreement and stated my case. Again, the partners reiterated their stance. I acknowledged their experience and expertise, but stated that, in this particular case, I respectfully disagreed. Once more, they stated that their strategy was the best way to go. At this point, I told them I believed we were at an impasse.
What followed was a long silence, during which, I presume, it became clear to them exactly what I was saying. Suddenly, a voice of reason interrupted the awkward lull. Mark acknowledged that, perhaps, I was right and that we needed a story to sell this property. With this revelation, discussions then turned to the fact that they didn’t believe BoT to be a viable story. Their reasoning was that we had pitched it several times and it had failed. I countered by reminding them that we had never actually pitched BoT. What we had pitched was an unrecognizable, watered-down version of BoT. I then stated that MFG had long had a strong adaptation of BoT, which had been repeatedly ignored by the partners.
It was then explicitly stated to me that I had to decide if I was going to be a “writer or producer” on this project. I cannot tell you how many times since this phone call I’ve wished I had reminded them of the agreement we’d reached when Patrick and I stepped down as screenwriters – namely, that we were assured we would be the writers of the screen-story upon which the screenplay would be based. Instead, I kept my focus on the good of the project and explained that our only obligation at this point was to come up with a great story and that it didn’t matter where that story came from. It could have come from a writer, a producer, or my Uncle Joe, so long as it was a strong story.
Again, they pressed forward with the fallacious argument that BoT had been proven not to work. Naturally, I was forced to remind them that we had pitched BoT in name only and that MFG’s faithful adaptation had never been acknowledged, much less pitched. There was another long silence, again broken by Mark, who asked me to what version was I referring. My stomach fell into my feet.
I responded, “I’m talking about the story we sent over a few days ago.” In other words, the story we’d been repeatedly pushing to the partners, in slightly revised iterations, since the beginning.
And yet a third long silence, again broken by Mark. Justifying my worst fears, he stated that he was unaware of any such story. Upon hearing that, I explained that this was the very reason for my frustration. We had, since the beginning, been treated like baggage on the project. Our input, our creative contributions, and our wishes were being routinely ignored or disregarded as irrelevant. I stressed that, due to these conditions, this partnership had never operated on an equal and fair basis.
After another round of back-and-forth, it was decided that the partners proper would review the story that we had submitted and that we would reconvene in a few days, to discuss our strategy moving forward. Awkward and difficult though it was, I believed that the phone call had resulted in a positive change in the working relationship with MFG and our partners. I was willing to forego severing the partnership and took a wait-and-see approach.
This would be the last time I would ever speak to any of these people.
A few days later, I picked up Isaac and his family from the airport upon their return from Florida. The atmosphere during the car ride was friendly. There was very little discussion about Myst, as I had not heard from the partners and neither had Isaac – or so he led me to believe. Over the course of the few days, I began to notice a strange tension between Isaac and myself. He, his family, and I were roommates, but they were strangely absent during this time. I suspected that he was avoiding me and began to worry that something was greatly amiss.
Roughly four or five days after his return from Florida, Isaac finally mustered the courage to have a talk with me about the reality of the situation. He took me outside of the apartment, sat me down on a bench, and told me that he had been in communication with the junior execs. I was told that, because of the conference call, the partners were angry with me and no longer wished to work with me. Isaac then proceeded to tell me that he had spoken to Tony at Cyan Worlds. Cyan’s position was that, in order to keep the partners happy and to keep the project moving forward, they were going to revoke MFG’s option, with the required 30 days notice, unless I stepped down as a producer on the project and took a much less involved role.
I cannot adequately convey the level of disbelief and rage I felt at this turn of events and for this perceived friend – one who I had personally invited to partake in MFG’s collective dream – who had so cunningly stabbed me in the back. I stood up from the bench, looked Isaac in the eye, and shamed him. I then turned and walked away.
This would be the last time Isaac and I were ever face-to-face.
Whatever occurred in those days between the conference call and Isaac’s confession of betrayal is somewhat open to conjecture. My only understanding of the mechanics of the process by which I was ousted from my own project and relegated to an impotent role within my own company – co-president in name only – comes from bits and pieces I have managed to collect through conversations with the other members of MFG. To the best of my knowledge, the events went something like this:
Upon completion of our conference call, the junior execs immediately called Isaac. They stated that they no longer wished to work with me and that if Isaac wanted to continue forward with them on the Myst project – and, more importantly, on the projects he was attempting to secure for his own company, Delve Films – he must deliver Myst to them, without me attached.
Isaac’s strategy to fulfill the wishes of the partners and secure his position as the rights-controller of Myst appears to have been to call Tony and defame my professionalism and character to the heads of Cyan Worlds.
What Isaac said to Tony, I will never know. All I know is that I was now being blamed by Tony for taking the very advice he himself had given me.
A few days after Isaac’s coup, there remained one final phone call that I needed to make. I simply could not understand the 180 degree change in position from Cyan Worlds – a company that I respected and admired, a company with whom I had built a strong relationship, a company for whom I had repeatedly bent over backwards in order to protect. So, Patrick and I spoke with Tony.
We conveyed to Tony our absolute befuddlement at the turn of events. He was extremely polite and friendly, as he had always been in our previous dealings, even going so far as to apologize for the way things had worked out. But his justification was disappointing, to say the least. He informed us that he and Rand had reached the conclusion that it was in the best interests of Cyan to get a movie – any movie – made. They were staring at the reality that, with the Myst franchise having come to a close and having no viable projects in the pipeline, Cyan’s financial outlook was bleak and he and Rand needed to look toward their retirement. They viewed the successful production of a Myst film as their nest-egg and now believed their most secure chance for making that happen was continuing to capitalize on the momentum generated through MFG’s partnership with Mark and Hunt – a momentum that Patrick and I had personally and tirelessly worked seven years to build!
I confronted Tony with the fact that Patrick and I had, in every instance and aspect, done exactly as we were asked to do by Cyan; we had protected the property and fought the hard battles necessary to uphold the integrity of the franchise. As a result, I was being made-out to be an unreasonable and unprofessional stumbling block in the path of the film’s production. I had gone from champion of the franchise to villain in the course of a single, telephone call.
Tony acknowledged the he understood that we had simply and faithfully done what he had personally asked us to do. He expressed his great appreciation for all of our efforts, but went on to say that the partnership with Hunt and Mark had become untenable because of those very efforts. Tony told me that Cyan had decided that the #1 priority for them was now getting a Myst movie made and that if that meant significant compromises to the canon and story, then they were willing to do that.
The conversation continued and much more was said, but in the end, it became clear that their minds were made up and I was left with a choice: relinquish any role of leadership on the “Myst” movie project or walk away completely. This decision was an easy one. I realized that it was unrealistic, if not impossible, for me to continue to work in the environment that had been created by the actions of Isaac, Cyan, and our partners. I had one job throughout this entire process: to produce a film adaptation of Myst which honored the essence of its groundbreaking canon and story – the very essence so beloved by its countless fans. It was a job into which I poured every ounce of my mind, heart, and soul for the last seven years. To my great and lasting disappointment, I was prevented, in every respect, from doing that job – first by the junior execs, then by a trusted teammate, and finally, most bizarrely, by the very inventors of the franchise.
And that, as they say, is all the news that’s fit to print.
Here begins the epilogue. Having made the decision to walk away from the project, all that was left was dealing with legalities of the situation. Patrick and I consulted our lawyer and quickly came to the conclusion that our best course of action moving forward was to enter into negotiations with Isaac. The goal of these negotiations would be to transfer control of MFG and its assets to Isaac, in exchange for monetary compensation and credit for the work we had performed during our tenure on the film project. We saw this as the best way to avoid impeding the forward motion of the project and believed that it would be the only scenario under which we would receive that which we were owed. Negotiations began but quickly ceased when Isaac claimed conflict of interest with our lawyer, which amounted to taking away our representation. Yet another brilliant blow by Isaac.
Finding ourselves unable to secure new representation, months went by before negotiations resumed – negotiations we ultimately had to undertake without legal representation. Nonetheless, an agreement was reached with Isaac, in which we would receive an extremely small percentage of his pay on the film and two “executive producer” credits. Unfortunately, the day after this agreement was made and before any contract was signed, Isaac reneged on the deal, citing that he did not believe Patrick could justifiably seek an executive producer credit. I was presented with a decision between either accepting the terms without Patrick’s credit or having no deal at all.
While the credit would not, in and of itself, mean additional monetary compensation, the professional capital of having an “executive producer” credit on a major motion picture can be invaluable. Furthermore, considering the years of hard work and development put in by Patrick, having this credit was only fair. Once again, the choice a simple one. Patrick and I had begun this journey as a team and would complete it the same way.
To date, there is no mechanism in place that offers Patrick or myself any compensation on this film.
There is an old saying that is often bandied around in situations like this. It may seem, on the surface, to express wisdom, but amounts to little more than a justification by those who are quickest to say it. The saying goes, “Don’t take it personally; it’s only business.”
The impetus to succeed, be it in business or any other endeavor, is purely an emotional one and any emotional impetus is intrinsically personal. To justify one’s actions under the banner of a business decision is nothing more than to put one’s own emotional needs above those of others. While this is a reasonable position to a certain degree, it is a position that demands compromise where teamwork is involved – especially when that team is brought together for a creative end. I believe that no truly creative endeavor can be great without an equally great emotional investment. I brought my whole self to this project, and while I regret the way things turned out, I don’t regret the passion with which I fought.
In the end, I came to this as a fan of Myst and I walk away as one.
As a final thought, I would like to extend my deepest and sincerest gratitude to the fans for your support during this process. You have helped me through some very difficult times. I am honored to have shared this journey with you.
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