Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #164: C.Y.A.

I know I'm a little late with this story about how the estate of writer Cornell Woolrich is suing Dreamworks Pictures, but hey, I do analysis, not news.

The gist of the story for those too lazy to click the links is that the estate of the late eccentric crime fiction writer is is suing Dreamworks because they claim that the teeny-bopper thriller Disturbia, starring the ever-present Shia LaBeouf, is an uncredited rip-off of Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller Rear Window, which was based on Woolrich's short story "It Had To Be Murder."

I was surprised when I heard about this lawsuit, because like many people who saw the trailers, and the few I've talked to who have actually seen the movie itself, I just assumed that it was an officially sanctioned remake of Rear Window geared for teens. Sort of like Hitchcock getting the Bugsy Malone treatment with LaBeouf as the Scott Baio of his generation.

Alas, I was wrong.

Which is rare when you're a certified know it all like me.

Which brings me to the topic of this post the importance of the CYA principle.


Now I don't know if, and I don't even suspect that, the folks behind Disturbia had any malicious intent to violate copyright when they gave the movie the green-light.

However, good intentions aren't going to win you a lawsuit, or save you any money in a "go away" cash settlement.

In a situation like this, the only way to save your ass, is to cover your ass, and to do that, you need the gift of anticipation. Any development exec worth the botox to keep their face expressionless could see that the first thing people would do when they saw the ads for Disturbia, is think of Rear Window.

Hell, I'll bet dollars to donuts that Rear Window was mentioned in the pitch session:
Producer- "It's Rear Window in the suburbs with a non-threatening male lead to appeal to tween girls."

Dreamworks Exec- "Sounds like we can do it cheap."

Producer- "Yeah less than $100,000,000!"

Dreamworks Exec- "Wow! That is cheap! I spend that on parking for my Hummer! Deal!"
Now the next thing that the Dreamworks exec should have said was:
"I better make sure that we don't get sued by the Rear Window people."
I'm not saying that every film that bears any passing resemblance to some work from the past should begin with a cheque to the first film's creators. Because most films these days have some sort of connection, or homage, to past works. Cinema's past is the punctuation of modern cinematic language.

What I am saying is that when the first thing that comes to the majority of people who hear the pitch of your new movie, is an old movie, you must do something to cover your ass.

That's why studios have lawyers, who are not only supposed to handle litigation, but most importantly, to avoid litigation. They have to do the research neccessary to avoid a trip to the courthouse, and if that means cutting a cheque to Woolrich's estate, then do it, because a good negotiation will be damn cheaper than a trial.

Of course, the lawyers make more money if it does go to trial, so I might just be talking to a wall here, if you catch my drift.

No comments:

Post a Comment