As you may have heard, some legal battles have arisen involving the much-anticipated movie adaptation of the comic book, Watchmen.
So what’s really going on?
Well, basically, a federal judge has granted Fox permission to take Warner Bros. to court for not gaining Fox’s permission to make Watchmen in the first place. Fox has apparently has held the rights to make a Watchmen movie for 22 years with no luck actually making it themselves. Warner seems to think all is fine and legal, so to battle they go.
Properties that are obtained by studios, but ultimately don’t get made by said studio are usually picked up by other studios (Fox failed, Warner picked it up. On we go.), but the original studio will still hang onto something in case the movie gets turned into a juggernaut. In this case, Fox tried and failed to make Watchmen, now WB is doing it and getting A LOT of attention in the process, so Fox is pissed and doesn’t want to be made a fool. So what’s the Hollywood way? Sue, sue, sue!
The best example is from 2005, when a judge (the same judge as the Watchmen case) granted a stoppage to The Dukes of Hazzard, also from WB, which was eventually settled with $17 million.
Apparently, Fox does have ground to stand on in this lawsuit because of the issue of “turnaround” and “changed elements,” which has been explained in an article in the NY Times this week.
On its face, turnaround
is a contractual mechanism that allows a studio to release its interest in a dormant film project, while recovering costs, plus interest, from any rival that eventually adopts the project. But turnaround is a stacked deck.
The turnaround clauses in a typical contract are also insurance for studio executives who do not want to be humiliated by a competitor who makes a hit out of their castoffs.
That trick turns on a term of art: “changed elements.” A producer of a movie acquired in turnaround who comes up with a new director, or star, or story line, or even a reduction in budget, must give the original studio another shot at making the movie because of changed elements, even if a new backer has entered the picture.
Thus, “Michael Clayton” was put in turnaround by Castle Rock Entertainment (which, like Warner, belongs to Time Warner). When George Clooney became attached to star in it, however, Castle Rock stood on its right to be involved as a producer of what turned out to be an Oscar-nominated film.
So, while Fox’s lawsuit states it wants to put a stop on WB’s Watchmen, what this is really about is getting some of the money that the film is bound to make. Hopefully, whether it takes throwing a few million at someone or not, Watchmen doesn’t get stopped from being released on March 6, 2009.
We’ll find out soon enough.