NY Times Provides Some Clarification on Watchmen Case
When the news broke last week that the judge was allowing Fox's claim over Watchmen rights to be fought in court, the internet was abuzz with fights breaking out on both sides. Fanboys were defending Watchmen, others were saying it's Warner Brothers fault for not checking all the contracts. But in reality, I don't think anyone knew the exact intricacies of the entire case, unless they ended up reading through piles of legal documents that made their way online. Alas, the New York Times has stepped up to the challenge and writer Michael Cieply has done a fantastic job of explaining the situation better than we could. So instead of making more claims on our end, we'll let Cieply explain the Watchmen situation clearly for those interested.
So here's the part from Cieply's article that explains the legal situation clearly in its entirety.
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.
If you're reading that and thinking that Fox instantly does have the rights, remember that this is simply Fox's argument, and if Warner Brothers claims everything is in order and there were some other issues with the producer or someone else, then who knows how it may turn out. Fox claims that "Mr. Gordon was supposed to resubmit Watchmen to Fox every time he came up with a changed element." And since he did not, it was in breach of that turnaround. However, "Warner, both in court and in a statement last week, said it had done everything legally necessary to make the film." You can read more over at the New York Times, but since I haven't looked at all of the legal documents myself, I can't safely side with one party.
However, if I do have to make a statement, I hope that Warner Brothers ends up either winning the case or paying off Fox in order to keep the film. There are many elements at play in my fight for Warners, and one of them has to do with how badly Fox treats all of the films. Just look at this article yesterday from Babylon A.D. director Mathieu Kassovitz - he explains how hard it was to deal with Fox and how angry he is at what they did. Fox didn't have enough "guts" to make Watchmen for 20 years and it wasn't until Warner Brothers gave the reigns over to Zack Snyder did it finally end up looking like the hit it should be. Now Fox is becoming the bully and whining about rights. We'll be sure to let you know how this all ends.