Showing posts with label Warner Bros.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Warner Bros.. Show all posts

CASE STUDY: TB'S Studio Series - An Analysis of the Major Movie Studios in 2016


For entertainment industry junkies who see the value in understanding the major movie studios, Neil Turitz has done us a big favor by writing a great series at the Tracking Board called "The Studio Series."  With the Studio Series, Turitz analyzes each major movie studio in 2016 to assess their strategies as well as what they are doing right and wrong.  Whether you're just a movie fan who likes digging deep into the industry that makes the film he loves or a filmmaker trying to figure out where to pitch her next film, the analysis below will be sure to inform.

STX Entertainment and Studio 8

  • To break into the film distribution business on the higher budget side seems like a fools errand. But if you’re Robert Simonds and Adam Fogelson at STX Entertainment, and Jeff Robinov at Studio 8, then you’re not thinking in exactly those terms. On the contrary, you’re thinking you can take on the system and win.

A24, Open Road and Roadside Attractions

  • A look at three of the more successful smaller distributors, Roadside Attractions, A24, and Open Road, the latter two of which won the top prizes for feature films at this year’s Oscars, Best Documentary Feature and Best Picture, respectively.

FOX Searchlight

  • Winning a Best Picture trophy doesn’t happen very often. Even rarer is winning two in a row, and yet that’s what Fox Searchlight just did in 2014 and 2015 with 12 Years a Slave and Birdman. Consider, also, that the company has either released a Best Picture nominee or a film that won another major Oscar each year since 2006, and in several years, it has done both. That’s a nice run, but it might very well end in 2016.

Netflix and Amazon

  • Not your typical movie studio. But still players in the game.

Weinstein Company

  • In 2016, The Weinstein Company has grossed $54.8 million domestically, but almost $50 million of that came from The Hateful Eight and Carol, which means that the four movies released by the company thus far this year have combined for under $5 million domestically. Yes, things may be down at TWC, but no one in Hollywood dares to bet against Bob and Harvey.

Focus Features

  • If there is an ideal situation for a film company to inhabit, it would probably be some sort of self-sufficiency combined with the infrastructure of a larger operation. Basically, the exact situation Focus Features has.

Paramount

  • Last summer the Paramount executives would have scoffed at the idea that the studio’s highest grossing film of 2016 thus far would be a Will Ferrell comedy released on Christmas Day. Of the previous year. (But that's the situation they find themselves in ~~ DJ)

Sony Pictures

  • To say that Sony’s film division has had a bit of a tough go lately might be an understatement. The email hack, the terrorist threat against The Interview, and a failure to clear the billion dollar mark in domestic grosses in 2015. But look a little closer, and it’s not necessarily as dire as it might appear.

Lionsgate

  • When you’re a smaller studio without the resources of one of the Big Six your attitude and strategy has to be a bit different from the norm. And since Lionsgate is now in the crosshairs, it’s time to talk about that strategy, as well as what happens when it doesn’t work out so well.

Warner Bros.

  • Despite the relative failure of Batman v Superman, do not yet abandon hope, all ye who enter. The calendar still holds some possibility that 2016 won’t be a total disaster.

20th Century Fox

  • Twentieth has had an interesting year so far, with highs like Deadpool, not-so-highs like X-Men: Apocalypse, and the announcement that Stacey Snider will be taking over the reins at the studio. With nearly a dozen movies left on the schedule, including this week’s Independence Daysequel, can Fox still pull off a resurgence in 2016?

Disney (+ Marvel, LucasFilm and Pixar)

  • Disney is primed to obliterate every record out there (it already beat the one for fastest to $1B, which it did in just 128 days), and even with a change in leadership in the offing, there are plenty of reasons to think that upward trend will continue apace for some time. 

Universal
  • Why was the first half of last year so much better than this year for Universal? That’s easy: this year doesn’t have the ferocious combination of Furious 7Fifty Shades of Grey and Pitch Perfect 2. This is part one of our weekly series analyzing the current state of the studios.
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Nothing on this blog or blog posting is official legal advice; it is just information and opinion. But if you want to, you can visit my professional website and hire me.



PRODUCTION TIPS: Avoid Using a Movie Title Already In Use (Lessons Learned from The Butler ruling)


So the verdict came in and a MPAA title registration bureau arbitration ruled Tuesday that The Weinstein Co. could not use the title The Butler on its upcoming film, due to be released Aug. 16, because that previously served as the title of a 1916 short film that now belongs to the Warner Bros. library.  High-powered attorney, David Boies, fresh off his Supreme Court win, issued the following statement, "The suggestion that there is a danger of confusion between The Weinstein Co.’s 2013 feature movie and a 1917 [sic] short that has not been shown in theaters, television, DVDs, or in any other way for almost a century makes no sense. The award has no purpose except to restrict competition and is contrary to public policy."  Basically, the MPAA title registration bureau decided that the market at large (meaning you and I) would confuse 2013's The Butler, a feature film about an African-American butler serving at the White House for 34 years, with 1916's The Butler, a short film about I-don't-know-what-seen-by-I-don't-know-who.  The ruling stands and now The Weinstein Company and Warner Bros. will appeal in arbitration and possibly even sue. It's expected that The Weinstein Company will retain the title but they will have to fork something over for it.

So what does this mean for filmmakers?
If you seek domestic distribution for your film, be wary of using a title that is in the library of one of the 6 major studios represented by the MPAA (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Paramount Pictures Corporation; Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Universal City Studios LLC; and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)  If it's in use, YOU ARE BETTER OFF CLEARING THE TITLE than trusting on the good whims of the similar title owner. Even deep pockets like The Weinstein Company can feel the pinch of having to go through all the legal and business hurdles to address the title issue but, at least, they will weather the storm (and maybe this publicity will even increase ticket sales ~~ brand awareness and sympathy buzz). BUT the indie filmmaker and indie production company probably can not afford to be tied up trying to arbitrate and negotiate or worse having to redo their whole marketing campaign, merchandising and one-sheets ~~ they both cost tons of money.

Current precedent at the MPAA title registration bureau suggests that they will protect titles even if they are of obscure works in the studio's library.  Ideally, the writer should have registered the script and and copywritten it first before it even goes to production.  Note, however, that there is no copyrighting a movie title.  And only in a few circumstances can you register a trademark for a movie title.  So to properly clear a movie title you must go through the Search and Clear process.

The Search and Clear process
  1. Search online and major movie listing sites for movie titles exactly like yours.
  2. Search the US trademark registry for movie titles like yours.
  3. Search the trademark registries in territories you plan on distributing your movie in for movie titles like yours.
  4. Contact the MPAA to query about any upcoming movie title in their registry that could be exactly like yours.
  5. If there is no title like yours then you're good. If there are, then either CHANGE THE TITLE or CONTACT THE ORIGINAL OWNER OF THE PRIOR MOVIE AND NEGOTIATE TO USE THE SAME TITLE.  In that case, all negotiations must lead to an agreement known as a TITLE CLEARANCE or a clearance to obtain title.  And you MUST put that in your chain of title.
The further you go in the Search and Clear process I have outlined above the more it will cost you in time and money.  Nevertheless, it's up to the producers and the production company to do their due diligence and ensure that the title is good to release without worries.  Generic titles like The Warrior, The Dark or The Butler risk being subject to a company or studio exercising their title ownership.

What if you want to register your movie title? According to the MPAA's FAQ:

"As filmmakers prepare to make their movie, they typically take action to secure the unique nature of the title of their film. Enter the MPAA's Title Registration Bureau. The Bureau is a voluntary central registration entity for titles of movies intended for U.S. theatrical distribution, and it is intended to prevent public confusion over films with similar titles.

In order to register titles, filmmakers must subscribe to the Bureau's registry. There are currently almost 400 subscribers, including all of the major motion picture studios. Subscribers are bound by the Bureau's rules, which prescribe procedures for registering titles and handling any related disputes."


The fact that different movies with the same titles seem to co-exist peacefully shows that disputes like the recent Weinstein one with The Butler are rare.  It might even hint at some kind of internal power play going on behind the scenes (Is Warner Bros. acting in retribution or wanting something?) Nevertheless, rules are rules.  So it's better to be safe than sorry.  Take risks with your creativity, story, acting, editing, cinematography, and sound but be cautious with the business end of it. Indie filmmakers can at least go throught steps 1-3 of the The Search and Clear process above without investing large sums of money and time on it. So why not?

UPDATE: Read this short and clear list of bulletpoints regarding movie and television titles by Paul D. Supnik, Esq.  

The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist

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