Watchmen – Fox versus Warners
We haven't heard that much more since the announcement that Fox was taking Warner Bros. to court over their development of Watchmen claiming that they still held the rights to develop the film and not Warner.
That threw up loads of concerns, even to the point that the film could be stopped from being released and we might not see it until a lengthy court case was complete, and immediately the Watchmen fans put Fox in the wrong, but they may not be.
According to a lengthy article in the New York Times they may not be the villains and are only protecting their rights on the property. It may be one of the original producers of the film that are at fault here, and an over complicated and murky area of Hollywood law of course, turnaround.
“...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.”
The original studio can still have “first dibs” on a project even if the team who acquired it in turnaround find another backer. This happens when something in the project changes such as a star, director, script, etc., giving the original studio another crack at the project. This is called “changed elements”, and when something like this happens on a project in turnaround, the original studio either get another chance or the new backers have to buy them out. That allows the studio to recover their original investment and not just lose it.
What's particularly interesting about the Watchmen case is that Fox claim the producer Lawrence Gordon was given an infinite period for the turnaround on Watchmen because he was such a well respected producer. The article also claims that Paramount had some similar claim to the rights and have been given international distribution as their “payoff” in the deal.
It's an interesting article and cites some other cases, some of which are still ongoing such as the original heirs of the Superman story have reclaimed their share of the rights and profits from the beginning, and the same is happening with Lord of the Rings right now. This can prove lengthy and costly.
However films don't tend to be held up by this process, although the Dukes of Hazzard film was, mind you, is that such a good example? Dukes of Hazzard wasn't tipped as a defining moment in it's genre and a huge earner as Watchmen is, any studio would be mad to halt it, but then that's what Fox are asking, at least until everything is sorted out.
For me that's where Fox go overboard, halting the film is doing nothing but hurting the audience and potentially hurting the return on the film, surely if they are to get something back from it they want it to make as much money as possible, and that means letting it get released and seen. Stopping it from getting a release means the audience don't get to see one of the most anticipated films in a very long time, and Fox becomes the villain.