Last week, we broke the story of the rights issues that may hold up MGM moving forward on a planned TV series for Amazon based on the 1984 cult classic The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The Eighth Dimension. The issue was brought to light by the film’s director who stated that one of the earliest deals between Buckaroo Banzai screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch and the studio never secured the underlying rights to the entire world that Rauch had created and written about prior to pitching the idea to the studio.
Today, Richter took to the film’s Facebook page to give a deeper explanation that what he had given us in our initial interview. In the post, he expounds on the issues with the chain of rights that Warner Brothers Animation encountered when the studio was interested in producing a cartoon spinoff of the film by presenting samples of emails from within Warners’ legal department that raise questions about the gaps in the chain of ownership for the film.
WB EMAILS RE: BB TITLE CHAIN
From: Adams, Ed
Sent: Fri, Oct 30, 2009 7:51 pm
To: Jeff Field; Ryan Nord
Subject: Buckaroo Banzai
Jeff and Ryan – I apologize for our inability to connect by phone this week. As I previously mentioned, I passed all of the documents you sent along to our rights department. After their review and analysis, they found two major gaps in the chain of title (and perhaps some minor ones, as well). 1. There is a gap between Credit Lyonnaise and Universal/Polygram. 2. There is a gap between Polygram and Richter/Rauch. The rights department is doing further research in an attempt to close these gaps. That means we’re willing to do the legwork (and bear the cost) to try and figure this out. I am hoping that will be received as good news. For now, WB will foot the bill and see what we can find out. The bad news is that this means additional time while we try to satisfy ourselves that the rights are available. I am not sure how long to expect, but we should probably touch base in about a week. That is all I have to report for now. Clearing the chain of title remains the number one issue for us, but hopefully we are moving in a positive direction. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know. Otherwise, let’s try to touch base in a week or so. Best, Ed
From: Adams, Ed
Sent: Fri, Mar 5, 2010 8:11 pm
To: Jeff Field; Ryan Nord (Business Fax)
Cc: Register, Sam
Subject: Buckaroo Banzai – Chain of Title
Jeff and Ryan — At long last, I am pleased to get back to you with a response regarding the chain of title. I am sorry it took so long, but the rights department has been busy with a number of priorities for other divisions. As we have discussed a number of times, Warner Bros. would require a clean chain-of-title in order to option and move forward with development of an animated project based upon “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension.” Unfortunately, because of a number of transfers of the rights in the property, there are gaps in the chain. These gaps need to be closed before we can proceed any further. 1. Agreement between MGM and Sherwood. 2. Mortgage of Copyright from Sherwood to Lyonnais. 3. Foreclosure on the mortgage by Credit Lyonnais showing its succession to the rights. 4. December 1995 assignment from Lyonnais to Alpha. 5. November 1998 assignment from Alpha to Polygram. There may be additional open questions, but these are the most pressing. My rights team has done as much as it can at this point. After you have had a chance to review the above with your clients, we should set up a time to discuss next steps. I apologize that I am not delivering better news, but I can assure you the rights team worked very hard to create the best outcome they could. I look forward to speaking with you both soon. Ed
This of course raises the question if Warners was not confident in moving forward with their proposed animated series because of their concerns over the chain of rights, why does MGM feel like they are standing on firm legal ground to do so? And that’s before we even look into the question over whether MGM actually acquired the literary rights to Buckaroo Banzai all those years ago.
Look for the next installment of our multi-part interview with W. D. Richter this weekend.