Bias isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Bias in many cases isn’t a CHOICE. It is, more often than not, a result of circumstances someone finds themselves in. Bias enters the conversation when the person involved stands to gain or lose or has a vested interest in the result of a given situation. That’s not the person’s fault… it’s just the result of their circumstances. In that way being biased neither makes you good or bad. If your house was on fire, you would be very biased in your desire to see the fire department arrive sooner rather than later. If your place of employment was making job cuts, you would be biased in your opinion of who should be allowed to stay and who should be fired.
And, in the same vein, if you were a producer of a mega budget Hollywood movie that you stood to gain or lose a fortune on, you would, through no fault of your own, be extremely biased on any issue relating to your film getting released. Being biased isn’t a negative reflection on the character of that individual… it’s just something that the observer has to weigh and keep in mind when evaluating the opinion of those who are in the biased position.
With that being said, Lloyd Levin, producer of Watchmen, has issued an open letter to the public giving his thoughts and knowledge of the current legal battle between WB and Fox regarding the release of the movie. The following open letter comes to us through Hitfix:
Who is right? In the Watchmen dispute between Warner Brothers and Fox that question is being discussed, analyzed, argued, tried and ruled on in a court of law. That’s one way to answer the question – It is a fallback position in our society for parties in conflict to resolve disputes. And there are teams of lawyers and a highly regarded Federal Judge trying to do just that, which obviates any contribution I could make towards answering the “who is right” question within a legal context. But after 15 plus years of involvement in the project, and a decade more than that working in the movie business, I have another perspective, a personal perspective that I believe important to have on the public record.
No one is more keenly aware of the irony of this dispute than Larry Gordon and I who have been trying to get this movie made for many years. There’s a list of people who have rejected the viability of a movie based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s classic graphic novel that reads like a who’s who of Hollywood.
We’ve been told the graphic novel is unfilmable.
After 9/11 some felt the story’s themes were too close to reality ever to be palatable to a mainstream audience.
There were those who considered the project but who wished it were somehow different: Could it be a buddy movie, or a team-up movie or could it focus on one main character; did it have to be so dark; did so many people have to die; could it be stripped of its flashback structure; could storylines be eliminated; could new storylines be invented; did it have to be so long; could the blue guy put clothes on… The list of dissatisfactions for what Watchmen is was as endless as the list of suggestions to make it something it never was.
Also endless are the list of studio rejections we accrued over the years. Larry and I developed screenplays at five different studios. We had two false starts in production on the movie. We were involved with prominent and commercial directors. Big name stars were interested. In one instance hundreds of people were employed, sets were being built – An A-list director and top artists in the industry were given their walking papers when the studio financing the movie lost faith.
After all these years of rejection, this is the same project, the same movie, over which two studios are now spending millions of dollars contesting ownership. Irony indeed, and then some.
Through the years, inverse of the lack of studio faith has been the passionate belief by many many individuals – movie professionals who were also passionate fans of the graphic novel – who, yes, wanted to work on the film, but more for reasons of just wanting to see the movie get made, to see this movie get made and made right, donated their time and talent to help push the film forward: Writers gave us free screenplay drafts; conceptual art was supplied by illustrators, tests were performed gratis by highly respected actors and helped along and put together by editors, designers, prop makers and vfx artists; we were the recipients of donated studio and work space, lighting and camera equipment. Another irony, given the commercial stakes implied by the pitched legal dispute between Fox and Warners, is that for years Watchmen has been a project that has survived on the fumes of whatever could be begged, borrowed and stolen – A charity case for all intents and purposes. None of that effort, none of that passion and emotional involvement, is considered in the framework of this legal dispute.
From my point of view, the flashpoint of this dispute, came in late spring of 2005. Both Fox and Warner Brothers were offered the chance to make Watchmen. They were submitted the same package, at the same time. It included a cover letter describing the project and its history, budget information, a screenplay, the graphic novel, and it made mention that a top director was involved.
And it’s at this point, where the response from both parties could not have been more radically different.
The response we got from Fox was a flat “pass.” That’s it. An internal Fox email documents that executives there felt the script was one of the most unintelligible pieces of shit they had read in years. Conversely, Warner Brothers called us after having read the script and said they were interested in the movie – yes, they were unsure of the screenplay, and had many questions, but wanted to set a meeting to discuss the project, which they promptly did. Did anyone at Fox ask to meet on the movie? No. Did anyone at Fox express any interest in the movie? No. Express even the slightest interest in the movie? Or the graphic novel? No.
From there, the executives at Warner Brothers, who weren’t yet completely comfortable with the movie, made a deal to acquire the movie rights and we all started to creatively explore the possibility of making Watchmen. We discussed creative approaches and started offering the movie to directors, our former director having moved on by then. After a few director submissions, Zack Snyder came onboard, well before the release of his movie 300. In fact, well before its completion. This was a gut, creative call by Larry, me and the studio… Zack didn’t have a huge commercial track record, yet we all felt he was the right guy for the movie.
Warner Brothers continued to support, both financially and creatively, the development of the movie. And eventually, after over a year of work, they agreed to make the film, based on a script that, for what it’s worth, was by and large very similar to the one Fox initially read and deemed an unintelligible piece of shit.
Now here’s the part that has to be fully appreciated, if for nothing more than providing insight into producing movies in Hollywood: The Watchmen script was way above the norm in length, near 150 pages, meaning the film could clock in at close to 3 hours, the movie would not only be R rated but a hard R – for graphic violence and explicit sex – would feature no stars, and had a budget north of $100M. We also asked Warner Brothers to support an additional 1 to 1.5 hours of content incurring additional cost that would tie in with the movie but only be featured in DVD iterations of the film. Warners supported the whole package and I cannot begin to emphasize how ballsy and unprecedented a move this was on the part of a major Hollywood studio. Unheard of. And would another studio in Hollywood, let alone a studio that didn’t show one shred of interest in the movie, not one, have taken such a risk? Would they ever have made such a commitment, a commitment to a film that defied all conventional wisdom?
Only the executives at Fox can answer that question. But if they were to be honest, their answer would have to be “No.”
Shouldn’t Warner Brothers be entitled to the spoils – if any — of the risk they took in supporting and making Watchmen? Should Fox have any claim on something they could have had but chose to neither support nor show any interest in?
Look at it another way… One reason the movie was made was because Warner Brothers spent the time, effort and money to engage with and develop the project. If Watchmen was at Fox the decision to make the movie would never have been made because there was no interest in moving forward with the project.
Does a film studio have the right to stand in the way of an artistic endeavor and determine that it shouldn’t exist? If the project had been sequestered at Fox, if Fox had any say in the matter, Watchmen simply wouldn’t exist today, and there would be no film for Fox to lay claim on. It seems beyond cynical for the studio to claim ownership at this point.
By his own admission, Judge Feess is faced with an extremely complex legal case, with a contradictory contractual history, making it difficult to ascertain what is legally right. Are there circumstances here that are more meaningful, which shed light on what is ultimately just, to be taken into account when assessing who is right? In this case, what is morally right, beyond the minutiae of decades-old contractual semantics, seems clear cut.
For the sake of the artists involved, for the hundreds of people, executives and filmmakers, actors and crew, who invested their time, their money, and dedicated a good portion of their lives in order to bring this extraordinary project to life, the question of what is right is clear and unambiguous – Fox should stand down with its claim.
My father, who was a lawyer and a stickler for the minutiae of the law, was always quick to teach me that the determination of what is right and wrong was not the sole purview of the courts. I bet someone at Fox had a parent like mine who instilled the same sense of fairness and justice in them.
It’s a good open letter. But my thoughts on it are this: Aside from the completely biased position Lloyd is in, it’s still pretty much totally pointless.
The main thrust of the letter seems to be that Fox wasn’t going to make Watchmen into a movie. Ok, fine. The problem is that has never really been the question. That’s also never really been disputed. The question of this legal battle has NEVER been if Fox was going to make the movie. The question… the ONLY question of this dispute has been who owns the rights. PERIOD.
As I, and others have mentioned before, if you own something then you have the right to put it in your living room and use it everyday or the right to put it in a box up in your attic for 50 years never to see the light of day. It’s yours. You can do, or not do with it as you please.
At the end of the day the issue here is STILL that WB failed to do the proper diligence to ensure they actually had the right to make Watchmen. They failed to do so (as a judge has already ruled). Now this mess is here. Fox (and trust me, I like WB a lot more than Fox) is simply doing what they have the right, and legal obligation to do… protect their legal rights.
But I do take one issue with Levin’s letter. The patronizing paragraph that reads: “For the sake of the artists involved, for the hundreds of people, executives and filmmakers, actors and crew, who invested their time, their money, and dedicated a good portion of their lives in order to bring this extraordinary project to life, the question of what is right is clear and unambiguous – Fox should stand down with its claim.” I call bullshit. All those people got paid Lloyd. I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that no one individual stands to make more here than you… and that’s what this is really all about.
Lloyd Levin is the single most biased individual in this entire situation. And that’s not Lloyd’s fault, nor is it a negative reflection on Lloyd in the least. It’s simply the circumstances he finds himself in that make it that way. And, as I mentioned near the beginning of this post, Levin being biased isn’t a reflection on him as an individual… it’s simply something that you and I have to weigh and keep in mind when considering his opinion and comments on the matter he is biased in.
That’s my point of view. What’s yours? Share in the comments section.