Check out the script I wrote. Does it sound like something you’ve streamed recently?
BY COLLEEN SAYERS
In 2011 I wrote a script titled “The Go Off.” I didn’t start out knowing how long it would be, but when I began writing it seemed like a force took me over. I collaborated on the story with my partner, Lino Delgado of the world-famous Floorlords breaking crew, and based some of the storyline and situations loosely on Lino and his brother when they were younger.
I couldn’t stop. Before we knew it, we had a feature film-length screenplay on our hands.
Other than publishing a few articles for animal magazines due to my knowledge of the pet care industry, I’ve never really considered myself to be a writer. More than anything else, I’m a DJ and a dancer, better known for my own role as a Floorlords b-girl. Since as far back as I can recall, all I did when I was young was play records and dance in the basement where my grandparents lived. It was all I ever wanted to do, though at the time I didn’t know that music would someday become my entire life.
Nineties hip-hop made me do it. In ’94 I bought turntables and taught myself how to DJ. I took different types of dance throughout the years, but from the early ’80s onward I was trying to backspin on cardboard. It wasn’t until I met the Floorlords around 1995 that I really got into breaking. They are one of the oldest bboy outfits anywhere, and I felt honored to be dancing with them. My partner Lino, also a bboy and a DJ, helped start the crew back in 1981, so there’s some serious history there. Ask any breaker in the country about us and they’ll tell you. The same goes for any hip-hop fan in New England, and countless more the world over.
The storyline of “The Go Off” is about four African-American and Latino dancers, two of them brothers, growing up in the Bronx in the late- ’70s/early ’80s during the beginning of hip-hop. They are bboys, or break dancers, performing and battling in street shows, block parties, and nightclubs. They are extremely talented young people breathing in the budding culture, while on the downside, the main character struggles to support his family, which is neglected by his drug-addicted mother. Fearing they will end up in the street, he starts selling drugs to make ends meet. The situation spirals out of control, he winds up indebted to a drug dealer, and as the rest of the crew gets involved, they find themselves in a life or death situation.
As I wrote the script, I truly felt that it was going to be something big. What I didn’t know was that the story would go far, but without me or my consent.
Right after completing “The Go Off,” I wanted to see how it might be received, so I entered it into a screenwriting competition. I actually got some positive feedback, and on the advice of a friend who is a working screenwriter, I also put the script on inktip.com, a site where writers try to sell their work.
Fast-forward almost half-a-decade. I’m streaming TV, and on comes a trailer for a new series that forced me to say, “Whoa! Wait a minute … This sounds just … like … my … script!” My mind was boggled. I tried to figure it all out. Could it have been jacked through that writing competition? Did someone get access through inktip? We also emailed “The Go Off” to a handful of people we knew in hip-hop and the entertainment business in general, and heard very little back. So, how did this happen?
When the series finally aired, I was ready to watch closely. I needed to know if this was actually my script. And it didn’t take long to see that it was. Well, more like he was, he being an author who had written about the South Bronx, and who we sent the script to back in 2011. Lino and I heard through a friend of ours that this particular guy had the right connections, but again, we never heard back. I had forgotten all about him until that very moment watching the show, when he popped up in a cameo appearance on the series in question.
It finally made sense. Even though what I was watching was a watered-down and candy-coated version of my script, it was nonetheless my storyline, my plot, my characters, and my scenes (they even used some of the same music I suggested in my footnotes!) morphed into something that I never would have wanted. My story was raw. It was real. The characters were flawed, and products of their environment. These circumstances made them great. It made them likable, interesting, and above all else compelling.
I was devastated for months. Most depressing of all, I sat back and watched the aforementioned writer of Bronx tales paint social media with self-congratulation and take credit for my work. To cope, I also read every article that pertained to the series, going on blogs and on Twitter looking for evidence. And then I took action.
I spoke to at least 20 attorneys. At first, they treated me like some kind of insane person, since of course a lot of crazy people regularly make such claims. But the more I explained my case—what had happened, how it happened, and the proof I had—the lawyers gave me their attention. At that point I got the same reaction from all of them: their minds were blown, especially since my crew had a connection with the culprit. One lawyer even said that I have more evidence than most plaintiffs in these types of cases. I was ready, about to go all-in for a lawsuit. Until the reality hit about copyright infringement cases, and how they’re nearly impossible to win.
Still, there had to be a way. In time I found a solid team of lawyers, and they examined my case thoroughly, finding that there were substantial similarities in characters, scenes, plot, and storyline. Basically, there’s no doubt that my script was used for this series. But the way copyright law works, there’s no actual infringement if the scenes, plots, and characters are altered. This despite my taking all of the preliminary precautions in 2011 that I was supposed to, including registering the script with the Writers Guild of America. I thought I was protected …
I was wrong. Apparently, anyone can take a script, use the storyline, and as long as they flip it a little, change the names of the characters, tweak the scenes, and add a few things, there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. People can totally steal your written baby and you have no leg to stand on.
So I’m left wondering: How can someone take credit for something that I developed, that came from my brain, and that I poured my heart and soul into? This could and should have been a great opportunity, and it was … but for someone else. After becoming emotionally and physically exhausted with the situation, frustrated and feeling violated, I accepted that there’s little I can do. Other than tell readers like you, who I’m sure can figure out which show I am talking about.
That’s my story. I grew up in the world of hip-hop, where originality is gospel, and where the worst thing you can ever be is a biter. And after writing a script that is built on those ethics, I was completely robbed.
At least I can warn others though. Artists, please think twice before you send your creations to someone for review or a potential opportunity. Even if you truly believe that you covered your bases and protected your work.
As they say, those are the breaks.