NY Times Provides Some Clarification on Watchmen Case

August 26, 2008
Source: New York Times


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.

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All I can say is that if Fox gets their hands on this film, then the movie will be awful. I can understand Warner wanting it to be 2.5 hours; that's fair, for theaters. But Fox would cut it down to 90 minutes, make it PG-13, and kick Snyder off the project (or just limit his involvment.) Think that all sounds unrealistic? Look at what the director of Babylon A.D. had to say, or consider the Wolverine film.

DinoChow on Aug 26, 2008


The only good fox is firefox. Ok, Zorro is alright too, but the name is in espanol, so that doesn't really count.

Reverend on Aug 26, 2008


The track record for Fox in terms of PR recently is horrifying, I agree. But I also think it is a little premature to suggest what Fox will do whether or not they win. Reports of Fox saying they'll sit on the movie and never get it made are just as logical as when you go to a bazaar and are told that the shopkeeper won't let the stuffed parrot go for under 1,000 dollars. It's their first offer, a warning shot for Warner's, who, if they lose, and I admit I'm hoping they don't, will probably either have to pay a large cash restitution, agree to shares of the domestic intake, or relinquish international distribution to Fox entirely, which has been the settlement for situations like this in the past, though on a much smaller scale.

Ryan on Aug 26, 2008


I have to say is that Fox is a sons of bitches, i'll blow them into pieces u knw, i'll get my mob on dem and tell them to puuck off ...u knw, u with me fellas.

Al'Pacony Truverte'z on Aug 26, 2008


@ DinoChow Didn't Fox already say that if they win, they're dumping the film and never releasing it? That's what I've read on like 6 different film blogs.

Homero on Aug 26, 2008


I sure hope Fox gets it's stuff straight and stops butchering and hacking potentially good films.

Blue Silver on Aug 26, 2008


actually the only good fox is a star fox.....go warner bros!

mos on Aug 26, 2008


not meaning to start any angry comments but i want it to be PG-13 so I can go see it im not in the R group

cheater on Aug 26, 2008


Cheater, just get someone to take you or buy tickets for you.

Kelley on Aug 26, 2008


well you see i can only go to movies with my grandma and she hates violence so that a pg 13 movie is all i have to see this

cheater on Aug 26, 2008


Warner Bros. better not let the studio heads at Fox get their grubby-ass hands on Zack Snyder's Watchmen, and get the film released as the 2 1/2 hour, R-rated, narratively complex epic it should be. As fans of the graphic novel we must unite to boycott Fox if they even DARE to change the film from the way Snyder made it.

Andrew on Aug 26, 2008


Cheater, i have to tell ya.......If you and your grandmother ruin the chances of all of us seeing a perfect Watchmen flick, there will be some very angry fanboys waiting for you after school....by the swing set.

Nthngmn on Aug 26, 2008


I almost hope Fox wins the rights and tries to prevent the film from being released. We would see a fight in Hollywood like never before, it would be fucking epic!

Keith on Aug 27, 2008


Great post and structure. Alex, I like it when you stick out the facts clearly and then at the end give your own opinion.

WaterFun on Aug 27, 2008


Agreed with #14... this is the way to write an article like this Alex. Nicely done. I have this horrible feeling that the only Watchmen movie I'm going to enjoy is going to end up as a director's cut DVD.

dRailer on Aug 27, 2008


I really don't think Alex Fox will change this film much if they get it, that's a little premature. However, it will be very intresting on how the events turn out and that producer is in deep sh!t.

Ryan on Aug 27, 2008


Fox will mutilate Watchmen if they get their grubby mits on it. It still seems like this should have been dealth with before the movie was even filming, which means that Warner already had this greenlit and made for millions, then out of nowhere Fox starts bitching because they didn't make it first when they could have.

Breach on Aug 27, 2008


I heard Fox Studios is a terrorist cell and they are trying to end careers, hurt fans and destroy any good entertainment.

Jimmy on Aug 27, 2008


You might not have officially taken sides but I think it's safe to assume your on Warner Brothers: "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." A tad obvious...

Kyle on Aug 27, 2008


@ #5 - Homero: Why on earth would Fox fight so hard over a film they were going to never realease? Especially after the great press the film is getting and the anticipation of it being a big, successful film? if they were going to do that, why would they even waste the time and resources to get the distribution rights to it? Businesses don't behave that way. Everything they do is based on the money they can make. Would it cost them less money to fight for the rights for this movie than they think they would end up receiving with the distribution? If they're fighting for it, that means they probably think they can. My only hope is that if they DO get the film, they don't do what they typically do with promising films by screwing with the creators and chopping it into little bits.

Squiggly_P on Aug 27, 2008


All the Harry Potter fans should aim their efforts at boycotting FOX, possibly with staged foxy boxing outside any offices throughout the country. Cheater and his grandma can have a bout to liven things up. Everyday people can challenge all FOX employees to a few bouts in the rings with giant gloves or something. The loser gets to be called "whoreson." I just hope this all isn't some horrible joke in memory of the Comdeian though. We all need a new take on Watchmen--a Sesame Street version. That will bring back the muppet franchise, I'm certain.

Dee on Aug 29, 2008

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