How to spot a liar when negotiating a deal… (and maybe that liar is YOU!)


When I wrote the last Guerilla Film Makers Handbook, I asked Brit producer Richard Holmes what was the most important advice he could offer an emerging film maker. He said ‘Learn to make the distinction between what is real, and what you want to be real’.

This resonated with me at the time, and it has ever since. Whenever I find myself in certain situations, those words tend to come back… Especially where others around me are choosing to ‘believe’ in something that, in my gut, I kind of know is not genuine.

Why then do they believe? And why even in those situations do I sometimes choose to believe too? You could call it experience, that hard won lessons inform our choices. But I also feel that all too often we are complicit in bad decisions as we choose to buy into a deceit, lie, untruth disingenuous statement… This TED talk from Pamela Meyer eloquently makes this point.

Only recently I was in high level negotiations with a group of investors for a deal worth £5m. WOW! I know, how amazing is that…! Can you already feel how we want it to be true? Already the bullshit filters are slightly reduced (or heightened depending on who you are)…

At first all seemed great, this was going to be a game changer for me. But as things progressed, my spidey senses started tingling and I began asking tougher questions. The answers were almost always evasive until I was berated by other producers in the negotiations for asking questions that I considered to be simple ‘due diligence’.

You see they had not made the distinction between what is real and what they wanted to be real.

As it transpired I was right to ask those difficult questions as the deal collapsed when it became clear that this deal was really about getting middle eastern gold out of the region – I can say no more.

Here are a few BIG WARNING SIGNS that I have heard (and even, shamefully, said myself)…

  • This film is going to make us all rich!
  • We are paying you deferred fees, so you get paid when we sell the film.
  • The food will be great!
  • The sales agents seem honest, we all like each other, it’s going to be great!
  • We don’t need a contract do we?
  • Yes of course my friend can act, she will be great!
  • No, there is no way we can cut the script.
  • No there is no way we can make the film shorter!
  • We are going to make one film every year.
  • Do this job free and you will get hired on the next one at full rate.
  • This guy is rich, we should just do what he wants.
    Add infinitum… (and please add your own here)

So let me be clear, none of these statements are wrong. They may be untrue. They may be deluded. But they are not wrong. They MAY work for you.

And there lies the rub… Blind optimism versus dogged cynicism and the huge grey area between.

So how do you navigate cynicism that shuts down possibility, optimism that creates a wake of disaster and the real deal?

Take a step back and assess the situation, based on pragmatic optimism. Also, consider how can you be protected if it fails?

Personally, I find when you ask people to commit something to paper or an email, that’s when reality bites. Somehow, it’s easier to bend the truth in conversation than on paper (for obvious paper trail reasons I guess).

So commit it to written words.

That should sort out most of the bullshit. But not all of course.

The real key of course is not to lie to yourself.

It sounds easy but it’s much harder than you would think. Good luck!

Onwards and upwards

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author


3 Responses to How to spot a liar when negotiating a deal… (and maybe that liar is YOU!)

  1. Mark March 7, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Sorry to hear that Chris. I hope you will still be able to make your film this year.

  2. Paul Craig March 8, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Wow!! How many of these statements have I heard in the last 18 months. Sometimes you have to not only step back and look over these situations again but you can also get clues as to what are lies from the way you are treated when the pressure is on.

    Best thing to do. Step away from the lie and never, never lie to yourself.

  3. Dom D March 9, 2012 at 3:49 am #

    Brilliant article! My major lie is: “This is the last film we’re ever doing. If this one doesn’t do anything we’re sticking to theatre”. Somehow can’t help myself.

    Thoughts on a few of these:

    “This film is going to make us all rich!” – Odd how many people believe this. Even people who want to be part of the industry don’t understand there’s no money in a guerilla film. The number of times I’ve had to explain to actors that despite what they’re hoping our film is probably not going to do as well as The Blair Witch Project shocks me.

    “The food will be great!” – Yeah, I do this one a lot.

    “We don’t need a contract do we?” – I love contracts. All guerilla’s need to learn to love contracts.

    “Yes of course my friend can act, she will be great!” – Yup told that one a few times in the past. Never again.

    “No there is no way we can make the film shorter!” – Said that. Only because we were in danger of turning our feature into a short subject though.

Leave a Reply

tumblr statistics