Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What Doth It Profit a Bloodsucking Film Company to Cheat Hardworking Writers While It Battens upon Their Creative Output? Too Bloody Much, If You Ask Me

One day in 1979 I picked up a copy of The Last Unicorn, and I fell in love with the book’s simplicity, humor, and beauty, the evocative language, and the haunting, hopeful story. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest books of the twentieth century, a book to stand beside the best of Mark Twain or Italo Calvino, a classic that unfolds new meaning each time I read it.

That same year, a cartoon version was made. Because it fell so far short of the book, I’ve never been fond of it, but I know many people who were first introduced to the unicorn herself, Schmendrick the Magician, Molly Grue, and all the other rich and varied characters by that film. It has, in fact, been enormously popular for more than 25 years.

So why isn’t Peter Beagle getting the 5% of net profits his contract promised him?

Because it never turned a profit, according to the vast corporation that has bought the rights to the film.

Well, that’s just one of their excuses, but it’s an interesting and bizarre one. Basically, they want to continue getting rich by screwing over authors. They’re also not paying the 5% he’s due for merchandise rights. This FAQ explain the details, and it’s just sickening.

Mr. Beagle is fighting this in court—an expensive proposition, given that the suit must be filed in both England and the US. England doesn’t permit lawyers to work for contingency fees, and it will take a fortune to pay forensic accountants and contract specialists to sift through the years of lies and records. He needs financial help. But instead of just asking for contributions, he has written a sequel to help raise some money.

Even if you can’t buy a book, you can help.

Now, I don’t know Peter Beagle myself, although friends of mine know him. In this context, it doesn’t matter a damn that he’s a gentle human being supporting his hundred-year-old mother (which I understand to be the case). This case doesn’t hinge on his personal virtues, the length of his beard, or even the extraordinarily high literary quality of the original story. This is a question of contract rights. It’s pure and simple business. And yet he’s being cheated by people using creative accounting methods to line their own pockets from the fruit of his mind.

Peter Beagle is one of the very few great authors—a phrase I use with the utmost care—whose work found its audience in his lifetime. He has a right to be rewarded.

ETA For the record, the movie went into the black within a year or two, insofar as it's possible to determine. Movie companies routinely use creative accounting to make sure even the most wildly successful films don't officially profit. In this case, they're using a hugely inflated figure for advertising (more than $3 million over what the records show was actually spent), and then compounding the interest on it. They also assume that the movie made no movie for a decade or so. It's disgraceful.

2 comments:

Lunzä Schutzenhaus said...

So are you saying the film DID turn a profit?

Lynn Kendall said...

Oh yes. It went into the black within a year or two, insofar as it's possible to determine. Movie companies routinely use creative accounting to make sure even the most wildly successful films don't officially profit. In this case, they're using a hugely inflated figure for advertising (more than $3 million over what the records show was actually spent), and then compounding the interest on it. They also assume that the movie made no movie for a decade or so. It's disgraceful.