Tina Fey paid me nothing for hit franchise
Writer Rosalind Wiseman has watched as “Mean Girls” became a global cultural phenomenon.
She should be thrilled that her book, “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” was turned into a hit movie, then a Broadway musical — and now the musical is to be turned into a movie too.
But while writer and producer Tina Fey and Paramount Pictures have made millions out of the franchise, Wiseman has made just over $400,000 after signing a deal to sell her film rights back in 2002, and not a cent since.
Now, she is speaking out against a real-life Mean Girls culture and the “painful experience” that has stopped her from getting her alleged dues — revealing Paramount has even told her the studio has not made any profit from the franchise.
Her lawyers are preparing to take action, and she told The Post exclusively: “We have reached out to Paramount to have things be more equitable, but Paramount is not interested in that.”
It’s taken a lot for Wiseman, 54, to hit back. “For so long I was so quiet about it, so, so quiet, but I just feel like the hypocrisy is too much,” she said.
“I think it’s fair for me to be able to get compensated in some way for the work that has changed our culture and changed the zeitgeist.
“Over the years Tina’s spoken so eloquently about women supporting other women, but it’s gotten increasingly clear to me that, in my own personal experience, that’s not going to be the experience. You don’t just talk about supporting women, you actually do it.”
Wiseman met Fey, the first female head writer on “Saturday Night Live,” in 2002 after the comedy star signed a development deal with Paramount.
Fey asked to buy the film rights to “Queen Bees,” which guides parents on how to navigate the rocky world of teen girls and their friendships, after reading Wiseman’s New York Times Magazine cover story.
“When I went to meet Tina and Lorne Michaels [‘SNL’ boss and ‘Mean Girls’ producer] many years ago, it was very much a ‘we’re doing this together’ kind of experience,” said Wiseman, who chose Fey above multiple other film offers.
Fey turned the book into a blockbuster film starring Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Seyfried, Rachel McAdams and Lacey Chabert, also taking a role herself. Wiseman consulted on the movie.
Released on April 30, 2004, “Mean Girls” was a surprise hit and grossed $130 million worldwide. It had a $17 million budget, which then was doubled to include marketing and PR costs.
“We created this thing, Tina took my words, she did an extraordinary job with it,” Wiseman saids. “She brought it to life and the material has been used and recycled for the last 20 years.
“I’m clearly recognized and acknowledged by Tina as the source material, the inspiration. I’m recognized and yet I deserve nothing?”
Wiseman added: “For me, having a female writer and not having that happen has not only been difficult because of the money, but it’s also been painful, very painful.
“It’s really what my work has been about, especially ‘Mean Girls.’ Women don’t have to be best friends — we can get mad at each other, but when it comes down to it we need to actually support each other.” Referring to Fey, she said: “That has been especially hard as a writer to writer.”
In signing her original contract, Wiseman signed away in perpetuity all rights to original motion pictures and derivative works, including musicals and TV projects — although she said there was no discussion of any other projects at the time.
“Just because you can doesn’t make it right,” she said. “Yes, I had a terrible contract, terrible, but the movie has made so much money, and they keep recycling my work over and over again, so to not even consider me … “
To make matters more infuriating, Wiseman claimed, Paramount insists it has made no money from the franchise.
Her original contract included net profit points — that is, extra cash dependent on how well the movie fares at the box office.
However, the studio has continually told her they have made no net profits from “Mean Girls” and have actually incurred so much extra cost there is nothing left to share with her. Wiseman’s lawyers now want to audit Paramount’s books.
Wiseman’s lawyer, Ryan Keech, told the Post: “I suspect most people would be shocked at how shabbily Rosalind Wiseman has been treated. And properly so. It is nothing short of shameful for a company with the resources of Paramount to go to the lengths to which it has gone to deny Ms. Wiseman what she is fairly entitled to for having created what has become one of the most iconic entertainment franchises of the last 25 years.”
The Post has reached out to Fey and Paramount for comment.
Speaking from her Boulder, Colorado, home, Wiseman, a mom of two grown sons, told The Post that a theater producer had reached out to her decades ago about making a “Mean Girls” musical. Her agent contacted Fey and Paramount, asking if she could go ahead, but was told no.
Wiseman alleged that instead Paramount used the request from the agent to stop her from being paid for the musical, by claiming that it meant she was aware she had no ownership of the rights.
“What’s hard is that they used my name in the Playbill,” Wiseman said. “And Tina, in her interviews, said I was the inspiration and the source, but there was no payment.”
However, she did work with Fey on producing an educational program for high schoolers doing their own productions of the musical and worked with cast and crew — for which she has never been paid, Wiseman said.
“When the musical was coming out, I approached Tina and said this is an amazing opportunity to talk about bullying, to help parents talk to kids. She agreed and I did a workshop with the cast and the crew about bullying because they were going to get inundated with kids who were talking to them about their stories.
“I gave Tina so many notes as I knew high schools are going to use “Mean Girls” for their school musicals and I thought we were working towards this education program.”
You don’t just talk about supporting women, you actually do it.
The last time that Wiseman saw Fey, 52, was on April 8, 2018 — the night of the Broadway premiere, with guests including Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Ellie Kemper, Titus Burgess and Alec and Hilaria Baldwin.
The party was held at TAO downtown with a spread of kalbi sirloin and Peking duck, roasted cod and spring rolls, plus brownies packaged as Queen Bee Regina George’s favorite Kälteen Bars for dessert.
But this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Wiseman, who said, “There was a moment for me, I was at this incredible party and I’m thinking how much money this party must have cost, probably more than I was paid.
“There were all these Paramount execs who had no idea who I was and I’m just walking around going, ‘Wow, wow.’ I had to leave.
“I realized that night that nothing was going to happen with the educational program and that made me really angry. That’s when I reached out to my lawyers and they pushed Paramount and said, ‘How can you be doing this to her?’”
The writer claimed: “They never compensated me for the work I did, they never compensated me for the training I did for the cast and the crew.”
As Page Six revealed, four of the original “Mean Girls” stars were in talks to appear in the new movie, but were left upset over Paramount’s “disrespectful” money offer.
McAdams — who played Regina George — was supposed to play “cool mom” June George, originally played by Amy Poehler. The role has now been taken by Busy Philipps, while the other actresses reportedly wanted to make cameo appearances.
Asked about the movie at the SAG Awards last month, Seyfried admitted: “I’m still hoping for a miracle. It’s not really up to us, is it?”
Wiseman said, “When I read about the actresses supporting each other, I really thought ‘that’s what this movie is about. They knew they were stronger together than apart.”
Wiseman, whose last book “Courageous Discomfort: How to Have Important, Brave, Life-Changing Conversations about Race and Racism,” was released in October, only heard about the new movie a few months ago in the press. She was not contacted by Fey, who is producing, writing and co-starring in the project.
“For a lot of reasons I didn’t come forward for a while and one of the reasons for all of these years —because I was so focused on me not whining or trying to trash Tina,” she said. “That’s just not who I am and it’s almost disrespectful to the content of what we were doing. I just felt so trapped.
“But also, I believe really strongly when you’re in a position of power and privilege that you have a responsibility to share that to create equity.”