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The Lost Son
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"Eric Leclere, who wrote the novel on which this was based, has disowned it, and you can't really blame him."
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Anne Billson, The Sunday Telegraph
The Author & Film
The Screenplay
FOREWORD by E. Leclere, 1999
 
The screenplay of The Lost Son (as written by Eric and Margaret Leclere) has been placed on the Internet in response to items in the press containing inaccurate assumptions about the film's source; as a result of the producers' decision to grant co-authorship of the work to a third party; in reaction to claims that the original authors' screen credits are owed to contractual obligations rather than warranted; and perhaps also to show why the writer of the source material decided not to endorse the film.
 
To set the record straight on a few points:
 
The original screenplay of The Lost Son was not written by Dan Weldon, Ronan Bennett or Mark Mills. Nor was its creation the result of a collaboration between the original authors and the film's producers/director or between the three writers credited on screen. As regards the character Xavier Lombard, he was not contrived as a Frenchman to attract French production money nor had he or the story around him been written specifically for the screen. Rather, by the time the producers acquired an option on the original 237 page screenplay, The Lost Son had existed for a couple of years as a 60+ page outline for a novel of which the first three chapters had been completed (they can be seen in the novel "The Lost Son" by Eric Leclere, published in 1999 by Alibi Books [UK]).
 
With regard to the producers' decision to grant co-authorship of the screenplay to a third party (a decision in time endorsed by The Writers' Guild of Great Britain), Eric Leclere, as he informed the parties concerned, does not accept it and, given the history of the work, feels that it amounts to intellectual theft. It is his contention that there exists a clear distinction between original creative writing and editing/adapting. This distinction could perhaps be best described as follows: whereas the writer of original material stares at a blank page which has to be filled from the void with his/her vision, an editor/adapter looks at a page already filled with another person's vision which, for better or worse, he/she proposes to alter, edit, cut, rewrite etc. These are two very different propositions; one amounts to designing and building a wall from scratch after having also secured the land on which to build it, the other to decorating, extending or patching up the cracks of an existing one. A builder might be required for both tasks, but that is not to say that their roles, whatever their respective merits, should be seen to be the same. And ordinarily they are not, otherwise buildings would be credited not to their architects but to their masons and interior decorators. Equally, when dealing with the world of works built with words rather than bricks and mortar, when an original work such as a Shakespeare play is adapted for a new stage production, however much the source material may have been doctored, it is customary to reward the original author with a "by William Shakespeare" writing credit while at the same time - unlike in the construction industry perhaps - also acknowledging the work of the adapter with a distinct and separate "adaptation by" credit. This practice is seen as the fair and proper way of reflecting and rewarding people's true contributions to a project without prejudicing the names, rights or estates of the writer(s) of source material. It also defers to the laws governing intellectual property as well as showing some courtesy, if not necessarily respect, towards artists and their work. In the film industry, however, this fundamental and often voluntary code of conduct in respect of credits has been somewhat warped. For one thing, and for reasons best known to themselves, the Writers Guild of Great Britain feels there exists no contradiction between its role as a writers' union subsidized by writers' subscriptions and their stated policy that "material written specifically for the screen does not constitute source material", even if this position at one stroke deprives screenwriters of their legitimate and inalienable right of paternity over their intellectual property. For another, it is generally accepted by people in the film industry that, between its first conception and first day of photography, a screenplay may go through so many drafts, producers or writers that it can end up barely recognizable from its beginnings, just as, perhaps, happened with time to Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" as layer upon layer of repairs by restorers ended up masking the original brush strokes. This has led to a situation in which screenplay credits can become the object of bitter disputes as well as being shared between two, three or more "deserving" writers, often at the producers' discretion. Moreover, it can lead to writers - even if he or she wrote the original screenplay at home on 'spec', with no financial or creative support whatsoever - never making it to the screen credits, his or her "contribution" being deemed to have been all but obliterated by subsequent hired hands or, as can also happen, by the director's creative input. That such things should happen raises some serious questions. Certainly, when added to the fact that scriptwriters are routinely required to waive their 'droit moral' over their work - leaving them to work in a climate of insecurity and putting them, in effect, completely at the mercy of producers' goodwill - these questions ought to be addressed by people willing to at least recognize scriptwriting as the proper creative occupation that it is, people willing to deal scriptwriters the same hand as that afforded playwrights, novelists and journalists. Still, it remains a fact that some screenplays, particularly when producer or director led, go through so many changes or guises that to establish who is truly responsible for what can be a very fogged affair. In any case, in the event of a screenplay being producer or director led, it would perhaps be right to argue that such source material as may exist should be the director or producer's own intellectual property, and not that of the writer(s) they may hire to write the screenplay.
However, none of this applies to The Lost Son. As a project, it was not producer or director led but written on spec and copyrighted by its authors long before the director or producers knew of its existence. As it stands today, and as the Lecleres' script clearly illustrates, the released film is undeniably and substantially based on the original creation. Its title, story-line, dialogue, as well as all of its component characters - not merely Xavier Lombard - are clearly recognizable as coming from the original writers' mind and pen, albeit having all experienced with mixed results various degrees of editing, altering, cutting etc. Be that as it may, the original brushstrokes, colours and figures are all still clearly visible beneath the "repair" work carried out by the producers' hired "restorer". In these circumstances, it remains the original writers' legitimate intellectual property, a work "written by Eric & Margaret Leclere", and the film's titles should reflect this as well as carrying an additional credit acknowledging the work/editing carried out by the producers hired writer(s) (apart from anything else, such a distinction in the credits would allow the original writers to distance themselves from the work carried out by others upon their work, a right which was denied in this case to the original writers).
 
In deciding to support and sanction the producers' decision to deny the original writers of The Lost Son their rightful and legitimate credit, the Writers' Guild of Great Britain have not only adversely affected the reputations and rights of the writers involved, and prevented them from removing their names from the screen credits in protest, but could be said to have acted against the best interests of all serious screenwriters and screenwriting in general. Of equal concern, by arbitrating the dispute without reference to the clauses of the contract exchanged between the writers and the producers involved, the WGGB de facto declared the said contract void and immaterial, in so doing to all intents and purposes placing themselves above the law. Following his failed appeal to have them reconsider the "final and binding" decision made by their unaccountable panel of anonymous judges, Eric Leclere resigned his membership of their organization. Perhaps the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
 
Such claims as have been made that the inclusion of the Lecleres' names on the screen credits of The Lost Son is due solely to contractual obligation are defamatory and a misrepresentation of their work and true contribution to the project. As Eric Leclere put it in writing to Nik Powell of Scala Productions, but for the original authors' work, whatever its merit, or as the case may be lack of it, the film The Lost Son would never have existed. Such a claim is all the more unjustified since it also happens that most if not all of the film's budget and its stars were secured before the third writer credited was ever approached by the producers.
 
With regard to why the original writer cannot endorse the film based on his work, although he understands and accepts that (in accordance with industry practice) he waived his 'droit moral' over his property on assigning the right (but not the obligation) to Scala Productions to make a motion picture of the work, he nevertheless wishes to dissociate himself from certain aspects of the film for which he is not, nor wants to be perceived as, responsible.
 
This version is the original authors' integral (uncorrected) second rewrite (3rd draft) of the screenplay which they entrusted to Scala Productions in January 1996. Although Scala Productions went on to produce a 6m film substantially based upon this work in association with Sarah Radclyffe Productions, IMA, Canal +, the European Media Development Agency and The Arts Council of England, on receipt of this rewrite in late 1996 the producers nonetheless came to the decision that it was fair, proper as well as acting in accordance with customary industry practice to dismiss the authors without having granted them even one meeting to discuss the material or, as the case may be, having at any stage expressed dissatisfaction with their work. Very much as a result of this way of proceeding, a year later, the authors felt compelled to decline to return to work on their own material when invited to do so.
 
For what it's worth, this version still falls short of accurately representing the authors' initial intentions when they developed the original between 1993 and 1995. It is very much a compromise which they felt succeeded in going some way towards reconciling the producers' demands for a 120 minute film (which became 120 pages) and their own desire to retain the spirit of their original vision. As such, it was not intended as the final draft (for instance, the authors considered editing out the character "Emily" from the American section in order to shorten the piece effectively, but oddly this suggestion was rejected out of hand in a phone call, although, it turned out, the writer subsequently hired by the producers was allowed to carry out just such an edit), but rather a big step towards getting there with something good and, as far as possible, everybody happy. The manner in which it was seen fit to dismiss the authors prevented this from happening.
 
Lastly, on a purely artistic note, the original was conceived as a fast moving talkie, and structured to be contained between the two long opening and closing dialogue scenes. It could perhaps be seen as old-fashioned, but as it turned out it also proved much too original an idea for the people who went on to turn the material into the film The Lost Son.
 
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An article by Margaret Leclere related to the screenplay published in the Spectator Magazine in March 2000
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>> Victims of intellectual torture
An article by Margaret Leclere related to the screenplay published in the Spectator Magazine in March 2000
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