Triple Word Score is a quirky zero-budget short which, as its title suggests, has Scrabble as a central feature. Made as a weekend challenge to ourselves (conceived, scripted and shot within 48 hours) we hadn’t anticipated it turning into a film decent enough to submit to festivals. But we were pleased with the results and submitted it to Cardiff Independent Film Festival to see what happened.
They accepted the film and even put it up for their Brian Hibbard Award for Best Welsh Short (as they did for a previous short of mine last year). We were extremely pleased but realised that we had a film that could go places and therefore retroactively contacted Scrabble’s makers, Mattel, to check they were happy with us featuring their product and having the film screen at CIFF.
In short they were not, citing the fact that the film has more adult themes (implied violence, flirting) than they would be happy with as, essentially, toy manufacturers. They don’t want their image affected in any way.
We asked them to reconsider given that:
- Scrabble is recommended for ages 10+;
- our film (if it were to receive a BBFC classification) would probably merit a PG;
- the viewing figures just for this one festival would be (in relative terms) small;
- there would consequently be no adverse effect whatsoever on their brand image;
- Scrabble has featured prominently in several far more ‘adult’ films through the years, including horrors and ‘gross-out’ comedies (even Steptoe & Son featured a game where the characters put down all sorts of rude words);
- finally, nobody at any point is making any money from the film or their product – neither us as film makers, nor the cast and crew, nor the festival, as the film would be screened at the free closing night gala.
Without responding to any of our points Mattel firmly (although politely) repeated their refusal and insisted that we stop immediately any use of their intellectual property.
We acknowledge that we are featuring Mattel’s product and that, in an ideal world, we would have realised the potential of the film sooner and approached them much earlier for their approval. However, our view is that as small-scale film makers of a small-scale zero-budget short, which will reach at most a few hundred viewers, it would be a matter of almost no consequence to Mattel to simply say ‘yes’; conversely, for us their refusal means our little short, of which we are very proud, will never be able to see the light of day, impacting therefore on our careers and those of the actors and crew linked to the film.
CIFF have supported us throughout all of this, with words of encouragement and great praise for the film. They have urged us to go to the press as, like us, they feel that this a story with a far wider reach, showing how even the smallest of film makers with honest intentions can be entirely shackled by intransigent international corporations. I would be very interested to know what Mattel’s response would have been if we had any sort of budget and could have given them a cut.
“It’s disappointing to see a large company like Mattel using legal threats against a low-budget production from up and coming filmmakers. There could be no possible damage to the good name of Mattel from ‘Triple Word Score’, but using these strong-arm tactics smacks of bullying.” Alistair Parkhurst – Festival Director and Chairman, Cardiff Independent Film Festival
“It is unfortunate that Mattel have insisted that ‘Triple Word Score’ be pulled from competition at the Cardiff Independent Film Festival, due to the film’s unscrupulous protagonists playing a game of Scrabble. It is always disappointing when a multinational corporation attempts to kill a small, independent film, but who would argue that Mattel, the company that brought us the vibrating broom stick and a doll with expandable breasts, aren’t fit for their new-found role as the moral arbiters of independent cinema?” Anthony James – Festival Director of Operations, Cardiff Independent Film Festival
So how can you help?
We are continuing to appeal to Mattel in an effort for them to rescind their refusal, and we are sourcing words of support from the filmmaking and arts communities to aid us in this. If you would like to show your support, please feel free to send us a message using the form here and you have our eternal gratitude in return for this!
Jonathan & Dan