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Do We Have Too Much Comics Based Entertainment?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

by Gamal Hennessy

Last week had two milestones in comics based transmedia entertainment. Batman v Superman broke records for both highest opening film in the genre and fastest decline in weekend revenues. Along with crossovers from the Flash and Supergirl TV series, the recent success of Deadpool, Daredevil and Gotham, as well as the much anticipated Civil War, Suicide Squad and Doctor Strange films later this year and the industry appears to be firing on all cylinders.   

But not everyone sees a bright future for the art form. Some critics from the Washington Post contend that the revenue cycle of the latest Batman film is a sign that the genre is running out of creative and financial appeal. Is this accurate? Where does it end for this style of entertainment, and what does this new world mean for the creators of this work?

The Reality TV Connection

Consider the recent past, before the current “golden age” of television with Game of Thrones, Mad Men and Breaking Bad where unscripted or “reality” TV dominated the pop culture landscape. It began with experimental shows like MTV’s Real World and then expanded into things like Road Rules. A few years later, shows like Survivor, the Bachelor and American Idol became prime time staples.

That prompted a flood of reality programming. The category got so big it had to develop subgenres to create differentiation. They had makeover shows, celebrity shows, and competition shows. Every network felt the need to jump into the category. Networks like the History Channel and Food Network created shows having little or nothing to do with the channel’s original purpose. The phenomenon became so big MTV itself morphed into a reality TV network. For all intents and purposes it abandoned music videos altogether.

But at a certain point, it was all too much. The industry couldn’t absorb another Real Housewives or singing competition show. The genre shrunk to a handful of shows that gets smaller every year.

The Tail That Wags the Dog

Now consider the evolution of comics based entertainment over the past twenty five years. The success of films like Batman in 1989, Spider-Man in 2002 and the Avengers franchise in 2013 have made this genre of film one of the most financially successful categories in the history of movies. (See IMDB Highest Grossing Films of All Time). When you add the success of TV series like Smallville and Arrow to the equation, not to mention animated series like TMNTBatman, Justice League and X-Men and you have a content avalanche that’s only gaining momentum. We’ve reached the point now where some universities are devoting college classes just to the comic book movie phenomenon (See New College Course for the Marvel Universe). The industry has come a long way from the sad days of films like Howard the Duck and Spawn.

More or Less

But how far can this momentum take us? Is there a connection between the fall of reality TV and the coming implosion of transmedia in comics? Consider this:

  • Unlike reality TV, it will take more than a box office flop (or even a series of flops) to stop it. Green LanternPunisher and Ghost Rider taught us that.
  • It won’t come from a lack of “A List” actors or characters. Iron Man wasn’t a household name before RDJ got to it and no one knew who Guardians were before last year.
  • It’s not just a game for Marvel and DC, since Wanted, Sin City, Kick Ass and Walking Dead have shown independents can take their titles to the screen too.

So maybe the question isn’t ‘Will this genre collapse?’ There might be an opportunity for comic based transmedia to expand instead of contract.

Will comic film and television get their own awards category at some point? Which network will abandon its original mandate and become a comic entertainment channel? The questions seemed silly ten years ago. Now it doesn’t seem so farfetched. In the world of comic entertainment, comics are becoming the bottom priority, not the top (See Making Comics Isn’t Really about Comics Anymore)

Forward Thinking

What does all this mean for aspiring writers and artists? I think there are three takeaways anyone in the industry should keep in mind as they build their careers:

  1. Opportunities beyond traditional comics are continuing to grow not just in terms of TV and film, but in the areas of video games, streaming video and other forms of entertainment
  2. While the chances of translating any given property into a mainstream market release is still rare, it is essential for creators to know and protect the rights they have in the comics they create
  3. The amount of quality entertainment coming into the marketplace can raise the bar across the industry and drive innovation in art and story quality.

We might be living in the golden age of transmedia entertainment, but it will take creative expansion and prudent business choices to keep the momentum going.

Have fun.

Gamal

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A LICENSING OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUE, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.

Opportunities and Obstacles

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

by Gamal Hennessy 

I hope the weather is warm or at least warmer, where you live. I also hope your business prospects are warming up as well. Before the spring hits and productions of all types get under way, consider these three essays on the state of entertainment contracts. 

What the Valiant Movie Deal Means for Movies, Comics and You: Is the reported nine-figure development deal a desperate money grab or a new avenue for creative artists? 

Your Exclusive Engagement: Can you afford to put all your creative eggs in one basket?

The Cautionary Tale of A Wheel of Time: Franchises like Harry Potter, The Hobbit and Game of Thrones show the potential of bringing fantasy books to a wider audience, but what happens when a deal like that goes wrong?

Contact C3: If you have a contract you need reviewed or help protecting your art and your career, please contact C3 for a free consultation. 

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A LICENSING OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUE, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.

Have fun.

Gamal

What the Valiant Movie Deal Means for Comics, Movies and You

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

By Gamal Hennessy

One of the bigger pieces of entertainment industry news this week focused on the deal between Valiant Comics and a Chinese based company called DMG. The details of the deal haven’t been made clear, but the initial reports suggest DMG has pledged to invest “a nine figure sum” in creating a film and TV universe for Valiant properties. (See Valiant Entertainment Gets Nine Figure Funding for Movie Division)

Paying the Money

In any licensing or production deal, there are at least two sides to the story. On one hand, you have DMG who appears to be trying to get a slice of the lucrative shared universe pie, but it is hard to understand their motives at this point. Why would a Chinese company, with access to potentially billions of creative minds invest so much effort into intellectual property with limited cache? Why not create an original shared universe with less baggage, complications and cost? I understand properties like Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t have mainstream cache before their films came out, but Marvel focused on those properties because they already owned the rights to them. They didn’t have to shell out big money to a third party and then dump more money into bringing them to the big screen. DMG appears to have overpaid to join the connected universe wars.

It could be DMG is using Valiant as a future landing spot for talent it plans to lure away from Disney/Marvel and Warner/DC. Once the established creators see a former minor player as a new deep pocket, they might be willing to jump at the chance to join Valiant’s roster. A move along those lines could shift the balance of power away from Marvel’s dominance in film and DC’s leadership on TV and make the entire industry more competitive.

Getting the Money

No matter what DMG plans to do, the other side of the story is the important piece for producers, writers and creative people of all types. This deal, to the extent it comes to fruition, elevates an unknown independent comic publisher into an international entertainment force. But this transformation didn’t happen overnight. Valiant has been publishing since 1989. Its titles and roster have changed over the years, but their story is a classic example of three concepts I tell all my clients:

Of course, the DMG/ Valiant deal could be a complete disaster. It might be the beginning of the end of the golden age of comic book based entertainment (See Can We Have Too Many Comic Book Movies?) But I don’t think so. Film, television, books and interactive media can all share in the windfall of increased interest in new properties. You can get a piece of the pie too, but only if you’re rights are protected.

Have fun.

Gamal

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A LICENSEING OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUE, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.

The Wheel of Time Offers a Cautionary Lesson for Turning Novels into Film

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

By Gamal Hennessy

            Imagine you wrote a story. It’s a popular story, selling forty-four million copies over 14 connected novels spanning from 1990 to 2013. Now imagine your type of story is popular, because stories in the same fantasy genre, like The Hobbit and Game of Thrones, have been cleaning up in movies, TV and video games. Finally, imagine you’ve licensed your story to a production company created just to produce your work and they signed a distribution deal with Universal to distribute your story to the masses.

            Are you excited? Can you see yourself inviting J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin to your castle in Davos for a poker game with solid gold chips? Hold that thought.

What if I told you there is such a story, The Wheel of Time written by Robert Jordan? What if I also told you the only TV or movie adaptation ever made of this story in thirteen years was a half hour TV show that aired on FXX at 1:30 am without any advertising, marketing or official notice? What if I told you the show was thrown together weeks before without the knowledge or consent of Jordan’s estate? (See The Sad Lesson of The Wheel of Time) It’s not as exciting now, is it?

The Wheel of Time problem stems from two related contract concepts. The first is the loss of control a writer gives up in exchange for optioning his book, play or comic to be made into a movie (See Losing Control and Loving It). This is a normal aspect of film licensing. Most of the time, a competent production company can adapt a written story to the aesthetics of the screen in a way that makes money. The production company in this case seems unwilling or unable to bring the book to life.

The second problem revolves around the retention of rights. Many licenses for literary properties only last a certain number of years. This is known as the term. The term can be extended as long as the company holding the license continues to release work based on the story. You can see quite a few examples of this in modern film. To a certain extent, the Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men franchises all get new films every few years to prevent Disney/Marvel from becoming even more of an entertainment juggernaut than it already is (See Is the New Marvel Universe a Secret War on Fox Super Hero Films?). But in the case of Fox and Sony, the source material gets a big budget treatment and star power put behind it. The movies aren’t thrown on to a third tier cable station in the middle of the night without anyone knowing about it.

Hope isn’t lost for an authentic Wheel of Time TV franchise. Many popular characters, including Superman, Terminator, James Bond and Spiderman had to fight in court before they could fight on screen. But creative professionals need to learn from the Wheel of Time debacle. Not every deal is a good deal. Time frame and control of rights matter, even when you’re a novelist or comic author thinking about movie rights. You might not be in the best position to make a deal (See David vs. Goliath), but you and your attorney should strive to give your property the best chance for success (See Treat Your Art as an Investment)

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A LICENSING OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUE, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.

Is the New Marvel Universe a Secret War on Fox Super Hero Films?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

 

by Gamal Hennessy

In the comics industry, the death and resurrection of characters is a fairly common occurrence. Marvel killed Wolverine a few months ago and ended Fantastic Four as an ongoing series a couple months later. DC recently killed Robin and we’re now in his rebirth phase. The death of characters is an accepted element of post-industrial mythology and the business of creativity.  Every so often, something has to be taken away so it can come back with renewed energy.

Killing a comic character is common, but Marvel is doing something a bit more daring with today’s announcement of Secret Wars (See The Marvel Universe is Ending). In essence, Marvel is dismantling all of its various continuities to create a single overarching narrative. This event appears to be in the same creative vein as other universe destroying events like Crisis on Infinite Earths, Heroes Reborn and the New 52. Rather than shake things up with a reimagined world like the Ultimate Universe I saw launch when I was at Marvel, the stakes are being raised, or at least the goal posts are being moved.

But how much of this is the product of business as opposed to art? There’s already been plenty of speculation about the impact Marvel’s recent creative moves in comics will have on the superhero movie industry. Marvel has poured more creative and marketing energy towards the movie properties it owns (Avengers, Guardians, etc.) and has downplayed, muddled or destroyed  properties licensed out to other studios (X-Men, Spider-Man, Punisher). Conspiracy theorists suggest Marvel of using the tail to help wag the dog.

If the comics are the root of the money making movie tree, killing the root might weaken the tree. When any licensed product becomes more trouble than its worth, a movie studio might decide they’re better off giving up the rights. When Marvel reacquired the movie rights to titles like Daredevil and Hulk, the conspiracy theorists saw this as a Marvel’s success. The recent rumors of Spider-Man appearing in the Civil War film also fuels the conspiracy fire. The death of Wolverine and the cancelation of Fantastic Four could be considered a more aggressive move, designed to lower the potential success of the upcoming films, assuming other factors remain constant.

So what will the industry impact be of reconfiguring the entire Marvel mythology? It could be nothing or it may be everything. It all depends on which titles and characters emerge from Secret Wars. If most (or none) of the Fox or Sony characters survive the slaughter, I’d say there was a strong case for the conspiracy theory. But I doubt Marvel will be so blatant. A lot of factors go into the success or failure of a film franchise. Killing off a character in the comics isn’t a magic bullet, Kryptonite or a mystic hammer, but it can provide insight into the mind of the character’s owner.

The insight independent creators should have for their own characters is the same no matter how Secret Wars plays out. You need to treat your characters and stories as business assets. Make your decisions and focus your energy on the properties that work for you. If they don’t, consider shaking things up, even if some of your babies have to die. (See Treat Your Art Like an Investment)

Have fun.
Gamal