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As studios await Watchmen decision, producers speak out

by  in Comic News Comment
As studios await <i>Watchmen</i> decision, producers speak out

A federal judge could announce today whether he’ll hear arguments about the release of Watchmen on Monday rather than Jan. 20. But while Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and countless fans wait anxiously for the decision, not everyone is waiting quietly.

On Jan. 5, attorneys for the two studios agreed to allow U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess to decide if Fox can block distribution of the highly anticipated adaptation, now scheduled for a March 6 release. Arguing that “time is of the essence,” lawyers for Warner Bros. have asked that the hearing be moved up.

At the center of the bitter legal battle is producer Lawrence Gordon, for whom Fox originally secured the movie rights two decades ago. Now Gordon, whom The Hollywood Reporter says “is tired of being the villain,” has written a lengthy letter to Feess blaming Fox and his former lawyers for the mess, and offering his own version of events.

Citing “improper communication” in violation of court rules, Feess refused to read the letter.

In December Feess ruled that Fox owns a copyright interest in Watchmen because of a tangled development history that dates back to the late 1980s, when the studio acquired the rights to the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons comic Gordon. The movie passed from studio to studio over the next two decades before finally settling at Warner Bros.

The judge determined, however, that Gordon never obtained the necessary rights from Fox. In his letter Gordon argues that a 1994 turnaround agreement, signed by the studio, permitted him to shop around Watchmen.

But Gordon isn’t the only insider speaking out. Yesterday Watchmen producer released a lengthy open letter offering his take on the movie’s complicated history, and criticizing Fox for passing on the project only to later assert a claim to it:

… 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.

Fox, unsurprisingly, disagrees with Levin’s take. From The Los Angeles Times:

“We appreciate Mr. Levin’s passion for this project, but he has neglected basic facts and legal rulings,” Fox said in a statement, noting that Fox had notified Warner Bros. of its rights, which Fox said Warner Bros. “deliberately ignored,” thus prompting the lawsuit. “There is no question of who is right and who is wrong. That has been decided through the litigation that we had hoped to avoid, and we refer interested parties to the court’s ruling to confirm these statements.”

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