John Calley (1930 – 2011)

Veteran studio executive John Calley has died aged 81.

Often actors and directors (rightly) get the acclaim when a film is successful but often they need a patron and key supporter within the studio system.

For over four decades Calley performed this role, first during a golden period at Warner Bros. in the 1970s and later on in the 1990s at MGM/United Artists and then Sony Pictures.

After attending Columbia University and serving in the army, he worked at NBC in New York and from 1960 was an associate producer at Filmways Inc., where he produced films such The Loved One (1965) and Catch-22 (1970).

But it was when he joined Warner Bros. in 1969 as executive vice president in charge of production, that he presided over a a stream of indelible films, some of which rank amongst the finest to be released at a major studio.

Amongst the films he backed and oversaw the release of such films as Woodstock (1970), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Dirty Harry (1971), Deliverance (1972), Badlands (1973), Mean Streets (1973), The Exorcist (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Barry Lyndon (1975), All the President’s Men (1976), Superman (1978) and Chariots of Fire (1981).

Here he talks about the time Kubrick asked him to send him some rear projection cameras so that he could give Barry Lyndon it’s distinctive look:

In 1980 he signed a new deal with the studio but surprised the industry by promptly quitting and retreating to Fishers Island in Long Island Sound.

He later said that he played the commodities markets, read novels and avoided watching movies and television.

It was nearly a decade before he eventually resurfaced as a producer on films like Postcards from the Edge (1990) and The Remains of the Day (1993) he became president of MGM/United Artists in 1993.

His time there saw hits such the relaunch of the Bond franchise with Goldeneye (1995), the critically acclaimed Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and the hit comedy The Birdcage (1996).

In 1996 he became president and chief operating officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which had endured a turbulent time under Jon Peters and Peter Gruber, and he stayed there until 2003.

In 2009 he was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Although he was unable to attend due to illness, he recorded these pre-taped remarks:

A longer video tribute can be seen at the Academy’s site here.

> NY Times obituary
> Find out more about John Calley at Wikipedia
> Academy tribute page


Warner Bros and Fox settle Watchmen lawsuit

WB Watchmen Fox

Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox have settled their differences over Watchmen and the film will now definitely be released on March 6th.

For those unfamiliar with the case, Fox brought a copyright lawsuit against Warner Bros last February, asserting that in a series of legal agreements in 1991 and 1994, they retained distribution rights to a film based on the Watchmen graphic novel.

On Christmas Eve, Judge Gary Feess ruled that Fox owned a distribution interest in the film and a trial was scheduled for January 20th.

Variety report the details:

Warner Bros. gets the right to open its superhero pic on March 6 as planned, and Fox’s logo will not be on the film, sources said.

Fox, on the other hand, will emerge with an upfront cash payment that sources pegged between $5 million and $10 million, covering reimbursement of $1.4 million the studio invested in development fees, and also millions of dollars in legal fees incurred during the case.

More importantly, Fox will get a gross participation in “Watchmen” that scales between 5% and 8.5%, depending on the film’s worldwide revenues. Fox also participates as a gross player in any sequels and spinoffs, sources said.

Both studios issued this joint statement:

“Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Fox have resolved their dispute regarding the rights to the upcoming motion picture “Watchmen” in a confidential settlement.

Warner Bros. acknowledges that Fox acted in good faith in bringing its claims, which were asserted prior to the start of principal photography.

Fox acknowledges that Warner Brothers acted in good faith in defending against those claims.

Warner Bros. and Fox, like all “Watchmen” fans, look forward with great anticipation to this film’s March 6 release in theatres.”

Nikki Finke provides more background details:

This is a case where producer Larry Gordon’s hot property changed hands again and again since the late 1980s from Fox, to Universal, to Paramount, until finally to Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures which together went forward with the $130 million film despite knowing that Fox had claims which led to the lawsuit.

The next legal step might have been an injunction against Watchmen‘s March 6th release. Initially, Warner Bros said it would fight Feess’ intention to side with Fox and appeal.

But then, according to my sources, Warner Bros boss Barry Meyer stepped up and stopped that, and his studio finally started talking settlement with Fox last week.

So now, Warner Bros can release Watchmen domestically as planned, and Paramount (which also had to sign off on the settlement) play it internationally, and Fox reap the rewards, and fans of the comic book series/graphic novel can rejoice — or find something else about the movie to bitch about…

Although some tried to paint Fox as the bad guy who didn’t care about the material, the fact of the matter was that they did have a legal claim.

The real question is: how did Warner Bros manage to greenlight a production like this without realising they would be open to a massive lawsuit?

The LA Times thinks that Larry Gordon and his legal and insurance teams could now be in a spot of bother:

The court fight over “The Watchmen” is costing Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, but the biggest bill of all could fall to the film’s producer, Larry Gordon, his lawyers and their insurers, who could be on the hook for substantially more money.

Court documents in the nearly yearlong dispute over the superhero movie’s distribution rights show that Warner Bros., which is poised to lose valuable rights to “Watchmen” after a judge’s favorable ruling for Fox, is pursuing Gordon “for all damages Warner Bros. suffers as a result of Fox’s claims.”

Although the main thing is that the film will be released, there is perhaps more on this case to be unearthed.

> Variety on the settlement
> Watchmen at the IMDb
> Find out more about the graphic novel by Alan Moore


Warner Bros respond to Turkish lawsuit

Warner Bros repond to that silly lawsuit from the town of Batman in Turkey.

[Link via DHD]


Warner Bros to close Warner Independent and Picturehouse

Variety are reporting that Warner Bros are closing down their two specialty divisions, Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse.

Dade Hayes and Dave McNary report:

Warner Bros. has discovered a way to deal with the specialty film business — it’s staying away from it.

In a move that reflects the massive pressures to cut costs., Warner Bros. has decided to shutter both Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures. The closings – which caught Hollywood off guard — will eliminate more than 70 slots.

Announcement came late Thursday morning from Alan Horn, Warner’s president and chief operating officer, who pointed to the recent move to fold in New Line to Warner Bros. More than 500 New Line jobs have been cut as a result.

“With New Line now a key part of Warner Bros., we’re able to handle films across the entire spectrum of genres and budgets without overlapping production, marketing and distribution infrastructures,” he said.

“After much painstaking analysis, this was a difficult decision to make, but it reflects the reality of a changing marketplace and our need to prudently run our businesses with increased efficiencies.”

Horn told Daily Variety that the decision – made in conjunction with Warner topper Barry Meyer – was “wrenching” from the standpoint of its impact on pink-slipped employees.

But he emphasized that it made no sense for Warner Bros. to continue funding marketing and distribution infrastructures at Picturehouse and WIP – particularly since Warner has expanded its capacity to handle films by absorbing New Line’s marketing-distribution operations.

So the big question is will Warner Bros bother with the kinds of movies WiP and Picturehouse produced and/or distributed? Key quote here:

Horn cited the fact that 600 pics get released annually as having made the specialty biz less attractive financially in recent year.

He also said that such pics have becomce more likely to screen at multiplexes rather than art-hosue venues and expresssed confidence in Warner’s distribution side to ensure that smaller films receive the proper handling.

Well, the answer would appear to be ‘no, not really’.

Warner Bros were the last major to get into the specialty business and they never appeared as comfortable with supporting a dependant in the way Disney were with Miramax, Paramount were with Paramount Vantage, or Universal were with Focus Features.

Depsite that both WiP and Piturehouse have put out some very distinctive and interesting films such as Before Sunset, A Very Long Engagement, Good Night, and Good Luck, Paradise Now, The Painted Veil, In the Valley of Elah, Funny Games US, Pan’s Labyrinth and La Vie En Rose – the last two of which were Oscar winning arthouse hits.

So the legacy of both companies is short and sad, but by no means unimportant.

I’m sure the accountants at Burbank have run the numbers and – with difficult economic times ahead – concluded that the best way to save money was to close both divisions and maybe use a reduced New Line to pick up some of the slack.

This is a sad day for all those left jobless, but also a bad day for anyone who thinks that quality, award-friendly filmmaking can exist in the same corporate structure as tentpole blockbusters.

> The full story in Variety
> S.T. Van Airsdale at Defamer with a prescient post last week about the closures
> Check out the notable films produced and distributed by WiP and Picturehouse over at Wikipedia


Harry Potter and the Lexicon Lawsuit

J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros are suing the publishers of an ‘unauthorised’ Harry Potter dictionary called The Harry Potter Lexicon.

RDR Books of Michigan said the author of the Lexicon, Steve Vander Ark, based it on his fan website, which has been very popular with Potter fans.

According to Reuters, Rowling herself had called it “a great site”.

However, the author wants to write her own definitive Harry Potter encyclopedia and donate the proceeds to charity.

She says:

I cannot …approve of ‘companion books’ or ‘encyclopedias’ that seek to pre-empt my definitive Potter reference book for their authors’ own personal gain.

The losers in such a situation would be the charities that I hope, eventually, to benefit.

Nikke Finke of Deadline Hollywood Daily reports:

The company, which normally publishes books about travel and Judaica, will defend The Harry Potter Lexicon which began online and is about to become what it says is a “reference guide” which Rowling can’t lay claim to.

But issues of copyright infringement and fair use are in dispute over online material that’s been subsequently published.

…Rowling will be the first witness for the plaintiffs. “It’s very important to her,” an insider told me Friday night. “She doesn’t feel that somebody else should be effectively ripping off her work and infringing on her intellectual property.”

This case is set for bench trial (which means no jury) in the New York Federal District Court of Judge Robert Patterson on Monday.

RDR Books defence team includes people from the Fair Use Project at Stanford University Law School.

They argue:

In support of her position Ms. Rowling appears to claim a monopoly on the right to publish literary reference guides, and other non-academic research, relating to her own fiction.

This is a right no court has ever recognized. It has little to recommend it.

If accepted, it would dramatically extend the reach of copyright protection, and eliminate an entire genre of literary supplements: third party reference guides to fiction, which for centuries have helped readers better access, understand and enjoy literary works.

You can read their legal brief here, whilst Team Potter’s brief is here, along with a further reply here.

This is a tricky one – although Rowling and Warner Bros may indeed have a case, this could easily backfire.

Even if they win and protect the ‘Potter brand’, the danger is that they’ll look like they are punishing the fan culture that has helped make the books and films so popular.

Or are the Potter books too successful and ingrained in pop culture to be damaged by any fall out from this?

Leave your thoughts below.

> Reuters report on the case from last October
> Nikki Finke at DHD reports on the case
> The Fair Use Project at Stanford University Law School
> The Harry Potter Lexicon