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Is it time to call on Disney to “Free John Carter”?

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Surprise, surprise — looks like John Carter 2 didn’t make the cut with Disney.  Yesterday Disney announced its slate of upcoming movies, and there was no mention of anything Barsoomian. The announcement included the following films and projected release dates:

The Muppets 2 – 21 March 2014
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (3D) – 4 April 2014
Maleficent (3D) – 2 July 2014
Guardians of the Galaxy 
(3D) – 1 August 2014
Brad Bird’s 1952 (3D) – 19 December 2014
Pirates Of The Caribbean 5 – 10 July 2015

Those who have been following the John Carter saga closely cannot possibly be surprised by this — it has been abundantly clear ever since March 19, 2012, when Disney announced a $200M writedown associated with John Carter, that no sequel will be forthcoming from Disney under Bob Iger, who aside from the “doomsday” $200m writedown announcement has on two occasions come right out and said he viewed John Carter as, in effect, a mistake — in so doing aligning his own personal identity and the prestige of his position against the notion of more John Carter from Disney.

So yesterday’s announcement cannot be considered a surprise.

Still, by making it quasi-official that Disney is well and truly out of the Barsoom business, it brings  into focus a question:  Should this affect the strategy of those lobbying for a continuation of the series?  How do the fans react?  ERB Inc?  Does the announcement represent any opening to move the situation forward?

After reflecting on it, here is what I think.

It seems to me that this may well be the moment when all of the constituencies who are committed to a continuation of John Carter  (of Mars, dammit!) as a film series need to take a collective deep breath and start moving away from “Disney, give us our sequel” and toward “Disney, give us the rights back”.  

The message needs to become: Use it or lose it.

You’re not using it, so let go of it.

The pitch to Disney would be a rational one — that while JC may not have done enough business to entice a sequel with a $250M price tag, there is most definitely now a global fan base that would support other, less expensive products — a fan base which includes artists, filmmakers, writers, web developers, game designers who themselves could be players in generating an ecosystem of products and intellectual property associated with Barsoom —  but wh0 are unable to do so now because Disney holds all the rights (until March 2015), not just film rights — and is doing nothing to exploit or develop them.

So give them back.

With Disney holding the rights, ERB Inc. can’t, for example, undertake the commissioning of the kind of contemporary Barsoom novels that it has undertaken with Andy Briggs and Robin Maxwell for Tarzan.  Yet an early return of right would make this possible.  Nor can games be developed without a return of rights, and there are game developers who have Barsoom on the brain and would love to create something.  Ditto for animated web or TV series development.

Is it realistic to think Disney might play ball?

Yes and no.
The answer is yes, because it is absolutely a common thing within the industry for a rights holder in a situation like this to approach the licensee about an early return of rights — and it is not uncommon for the licensee to go along with this.
The answer is no, because Disney is relatively less likely to be inclined to do so, simply because it seems to be in their corporate DNA to hoard rights even when it is not exploiting them.
But in the case of John Carter, Disney may in fact be willing to deal.  So, in an atmosphere when Iger, the absolute top of the Disney food chain,   has gone on record and when the studio has announced the slate which would have included John Carter 2 if there was going to be one —   there is a greater chance than might otherwise be the case, that Disney would play ball.
More importantly, what is there to lose by trying?

All that Disney can say is “no” — but even if the answer is “no”  —  certainly no one, not even Disney, would argue that ERB Inc. is acting in the best interests of the property by seeking an early return.

And if Disney won’t return the rights to make a sequel – – is there a possibility that they might reward the effort with a “consolation prize” in the form of the early return of some of the the lesser ancillary rights as a goodwill gesture and way of appeasing the Burroughs/Barsoom constituency?

They might say no on the movie sequel, but yes to Barsoomian novels, video games, etc.

In other words, they might throw everyone a bone or two.

This matters.

It helps keep John Carter from creeping extinction while Disney holds the rights and does nothing with them.

And what’s more, there are outcomes short of getting the sequel rights back that could be helpful to the ERBophile position.  For example, an arrangement might be arrived at whereby Disney might not release the rights 0—but someone (ERB Inc most probably) would be empowered to pursue continuation with other studios, a la Narnia, without such efforts being in conflict with Disney. This applies to dialogue with domestic studios, and with international ones.  Because now, more than ever, there is an opportunity to harness the international (i.e. non-US) market both in terms of the market for film (greater share coming from abroad), and in terms of the financing plan, with foreign co-producers (particularly from China and Russia, both large and fast-growing markets where John Carter did well) potentially emerging as potent co-producers able to contribute substantially to the production cost, thus limiting the risk for whatever US Studio ends up as distributor and production partner on the film.  That’s how Iron Man 3 and Kung Fu Panda 3 were packaged — each acquired a Chinese co-production partner who became an essential component to the greenlighting of the project.  If Disney would step aside or even give an informal blessing, ERB Inc could proactively seek out such partners and use the acquisition of such a partner to leverage a deal with a US studio.

So I would put it this way.

“Disney, we want a sequel” may have run its course.

“Disney, free John Carter!” may have arrived.

Make no mistake.  As it is now, John Carter is trapped in the Disney prison, unable to do anything other than languish behind bars until March 2015, a “sentence” of a little more than two years from now.  If no one does anything, the Warlord will spend the next two years in that prison, and by the time he comes out — the modest but substantial groundswell of awareness and global interest in things Barsoomian will have dissipated.

Leave him there?

Or negotiate his release?

 

 

25 comments

  • I’d love for Stanton to finish his trilogy, but if that’s not gonna happen, Disney needs to free John Carter. I really liked Kerry Conran’s vision for John Carter… maybe he can do a reboot.

  • I’m not sure what the difference in cost would be, but I would have no problem with a good quality animated series if that would be a more workable alternative, either as a theatrical release, like was done with “Tarzan,” though with the end result being MUCH closer to the original source, or as direct to DVD, as was also done with “Tarzan.” I wouldn’t, however want the end result to be some kind of kiddie show aimed at the 12 and under audience. We’ve had adult animated features all the way back to the original “Heavy Metal.” and I think that the John Carter series would be great animated. Special effects would certainly be no obstacle, and if the original cast can;t or won;t reprise their roles in that format, it would be much easier to find replacements. Best of all, the scope of the production would be limited only by what the artists could draw or manipulate on their computers.

    But if the series were to go that route, I would prefer starting over with “A Princess Of Mars” and going on that way.

  • Victor Laszlo wrote:

    I have endured one maddening Barsoom film so far, I would rather nothing happen for a few years than to have to endure another. What is most important to me is that, when a ‘reboot’ happens – and it will – that it be the right one. That it be the film which understands what this story can and should be, the one that understands who Captain Jack Carter of Virginia – and John Carter of Mars, truly is. What matters is that the next film set on Barsoom be the one that exalts the genius of Edgar Rice Burroughs instead of disgracing it.

    The stage is set now — the underdog story is lying in wait to surge when the alchemy is right, but to rush it now would be a disservice to the fan passion that such a move would exploit.

    A couple of thoughts.

    First, I think what you’re hoping will happen is probably going to happen — meaning it’s going to take some years for the next Barsoom film to happen. And that’s if everybody keeps working on it in the meantime.

    I think that to some degree the moment for a Stanton sequel may have passed, or be passing . . . . and with it, the pendulum swings toward a reboot. But just as it was “too early” a few months ago to start calling for the rights back, I still feel it’s too early to jump to that solution. I say that as one who on the one hand is more forgiving than you and MCR and Steve Davidson . . . but hopefully also as one who actually does “get” what made ERB special and a genius. I know you may feel that by excusing or semi-excusing what Stanton did with the story, I’m somehow doing a disservice to ERB (although no one has actually accused me of that directly) . . . but I just feel that between where Stanton left the story at the end (a John Carter who is truly “of Mars” and 95% the JC we wanted in the first place), and all that has been learned and gleaned from this first round — I believe that a Stanton second effort (now just a theoretical possibility, not a real one) would please you skeptics a lot more than the first one did. But as I said . . . I just don’t think it’s going to come to that unless stars align in a very strange way some years downstream.

    Where I tend to disagree is the notion that there is no shelf life for fan interest, but there is a half-life . . . it does decay unless it is renewed. What I want to see is all those ancillary rights put back in play — those rights can be used to keep the embers burning and then yes, take the time necessary to get a sequel properly mounted. But with all those ancillary rights locked away in Disney’s vault, I do worry that interest will dissipate ……Rick

  • To set the rights free is certainly a more noble battle cry than sequel, but I take the points of Steve and Rus to heart.

    I have endured one maddening Barsoom film so far, I would rather nothing happen for a few years than to have to endure another. What is most important to me is that, when a ‘reboot’ happens – and it will – that it be the right one. That it be the film which understands what this story can and should be, the one that understands who Captain Jack Carter of Virginia – and John Carter of Mars, truly is. What matters is that the next film set on Barsoom be the one that exalts the genius of Edgar Rice Burroughs instead of disgracing it.

    The stage is set now — the underdog story is lying in wait to surge when the alchemy is right, but to rush it now would be a disservice to the fan passion that such a move would exploit.

    I do not believe there is an imminent shelf life for the fans interest – and to declare such is to invite the wrong kind of attention. A Princess of Mars has stood strong for a hundred years, and if anything, that flame has been renewed this past year. We can wait for quality now, we can wait for the poetry and the savagery that cinema owes to this work of literature.

    I would rather there be no film for ten years, or twenty, than another wrong one.
    The Burroughs legacy can wait for the right souls to take on this great task.

  • MCR wrote: “so if nothing else ERB Inc can settle with Dynamite and allow them to continue with their comics-and let them keep John Carter and Barsoom in the public eye until Disney does release the film rights.”

    Definitely yes, they deserve to be officialized!

  • The author, Neal Romanek tweeted that on december the 27th.

    https://twitter.com/rabbitandcrow

    David Anaxagoras: “How is life on Venus?”

    Neal Romanek: “Wet! And still talking to publishers. An actual trip to Venus would take less time than getting this book published. “

  • “I realize MCR wouldn’t want the Stanton stink on a sequel, but given how many people in Pixar are interested in the project, and have basically gotten a slap in the face from Disney …

    Perhaps it’s the alcohol talking.”

    That’s why it’s not a good idea to drink and type. And yeah we really need Pixar-the ones who suggested Dead Wife Carter and agreed with Stanton’s Selfish Jerk Hero approach-to back this (sarcasm!). The problem here isn’t just release John Carter of Mars from Disney’s prison but to get him the hell away from Andrew Stanton and his lackeys period. It is time to reboot or as pointed out to get the rights for new novels, games or the comics-so if nothing else ERB Inc can settle with Dynamite and allow them to continue with their comics-and let them keep John Carter and Barsoom in the public eye until Disney does release the film rights.

  • It’s no surprise no John Carter sequel is announced as far as 2015. Since Andrew Stanton is booked on Finding Nemo 2, it would be surprising if he could begin work on the John Carter sequel before 2015, meaning perhaps a 2018 release.

    It’s the major factor now to me, Andrew Stanton himself. Don’t forget he has traded “Nemo 2” for an undisclosed live-action movie. It could still be “John Carter 2”. Don’t forget that “Chicken Little” tweet, which I think doesn’t make sense if it referred to Finding Nemo 2. Some question, with arguments, his passion for the novels, ok, I get it and you are perhaps right. But you can’t deny his passion for the movie he’s made, and which touched a lot of viewers. Not all viewers, that’s for sure, but those who got his passion are equally passionate about the movie now.

    I still think there are better chances of a sequel at Disney that anywhere else on the planet. We’re talking a property that laid untouched by Hollywood for 79 years, why would it change all of a sudden? There are more than enough superheroes or graphic novels adaptation, novels, or franchises to keep Hollywood busy for the next hundred years, why would any studio risk any money on a not only untried property, but a property that generated what is perceived as a huge failure (even if this perception may change in time)? Who will listen to the pleas of a bunch of fans of ERB like us? For better or worse, the movie generates, and will generate more fandom than the novels at this point.

    A new Barsoom novel would be fine, that’s for sure, but who will publish it? When you see that Skies of Venus has still no publisher as of December the 27th, it’s not encouraging. I’m not sure that the unofficial “Under the Moons of Mars” was a success to be noticed.

    I’m convinced that if Stanton doesn’t finish what he has started, it’s certain oblivion for John Carter for another bunch of decades. Maybe I’m too pessimistic, we’ll see. You know what? I even hope I am wrong. :)

  • I have always said that its a last resort, but I am starting to think that probably we need an animated series first to get the characters out there and popular amongst the kids This would then lead naturally to games,soft toys, etc. and demand for a live action series or movies. In this situation you have got to create a demand for John Carter.

  • I may have asked this before (age+alcohol=zzzzzz) but does Disney finance their subsidiaries or are they self subsidized? In udder woids, if Pixar says they want to produce a sequel, and all Disney is obligated to do is distribute the thing (I know, that costs money), could a deal be worked out that way?

    Pixar to date has not self-financed. Marvel does. Dreamworks does sometimes. There would be nothing to stop Pixar from signing up a financier and then going to Disney, a la what Marvel does, and say — you just distribute. Disney would probably go along with it. But Pixar may not want to open that particular Pandora’s box…..

    Nice thought, though. And there are those at Pixar who would definitely love to deliver a scenario like that to Disney.

  • I may have asked this before (age+alcohol=zzzzzz) but does Disney finance their subsidiaries or are they self subsidized? In udder woids, if Pixar says they want to produce a sequel, and all Disney is obligated to do is distribute the thing (I know, that costs money), could a deal be worked out that way?

    I realize MCR wouldn’t want the Stanton stink on a sequel, but given how many people in Pixar are interested in the project, and have basically gotten a slap in the face from Disney …

    Perhaps it’s the alcohol talking.

  • I suggest that ERB Inc. try to get the early return of rights, and then pursue a reboot at a different studio as soon as possible. If Disney doesn’t go for it, things will be no worse off.

    The John Carter side of me says that the reboot should jump into the fray as soon as possible, to ride the attention it would certainly get. And in true Warlord style, if the filmmakers have confidence in the source material, and it’s well-delivered, it will emerge victorious. The accomplishment will be all the more extraordinary for not having hesitated.

  • 1. Does ERB Inc continued to get paid every year for John Carter that Disney has it or was it just a one time thing for X amount of years? I guess what I am looking for – will ERB Inc lose money if Disney let’s go early? If that is NOTthe case than I could see why ERB Inc would gain from an early out – they could sell it to someone else.

    I’m pretty sure that there is no financial incentive for ERB to leave the rights with Disney if Disney’s not going to do anything with them. But of course if ERB tries to get the rights back early, Disney could try to extract a financial price for doing so. That said, it’s equally likely that they would try and work with ERB Inc. to reach an accomodation. The reason for keeping the rights for 3 years before having to launch a sequel would be meant to address a situation where the result of the first film was uncertain . . . more like Tron Legacy. Then Disney would want three years to analyze the market situation, etc, etc. But in the case of JC they have already labeled it flop of the century and Iger has put his own prestige behind “it didn’t work” . . . . so they really might just be happy to let it go. (And Steve Davidson — your point is well taken and indeed, one could argue that way . . . but the bottom line is a) it won’t come back early if you don’t ask, and b)asking for it back early doesn’t extend the date on the backend.)

    2. Does Disney just hold rights for the first 3 books or the whole series? Just curious if someone could do “Mastermind or Synthetic Men” where the leading story is not directly John Carter.

    My understanding is that it is not so much about the books as it is about the trademarks. There are more than 40 trademarked terms that Disney has licensed so any attempt to do anything with Barsoom, John Carter, Dejah Thoris, etc would theoretically run afoul of those trademarks. I say theoretically because if you check, plenty of people have published A Princess of Mars (public domain in terms of copyright, but not trademark) as an ebook or dead tree book since Disney got the rights, and there is no evidence that Disney has pursued them. But you’d have to do it at your own risk, which is okay with an ebook or POD release of a public domain title by a no-asset individual or company. But to take on something that involves substantial investment (video games, for example), the specter of Disney coming out of the woodwork and suing would be enough to probably stop it in its tracks.

  • I have some questions out of curiosity .
    1. Does ERB Inc continued to get paid every year for John Carter that Disney has it or was it just a one time thing for X amount of years? I guess what I am looking for – will ERB Inc lose money if Disney let’s go early? If that is NOTthe case than I could see why ERB Inc would gain from an early out – they could sell it to someone else.
    2. Does Disney just hold rights for the first 3 books or the whole series? Just curious if someone could do “Mastermind or Synthetic Men” where the leading story is not directly John Carter.

  • I certainly hope that Disney will do the decent thing and let ERB have the rights back ASAP. Since this particular experiment/partnership failed to produce financial results to their liking, to sit on them for another two years without any realistic intention of extending it into a franchise just because they can would be a further insult to fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom series.

  • I’d say the the surest way to get Disney to hang on to the rights is to make a big deal out of wanting them to release them.

    Schizo it may be, but I think that such a campaign would shift them over to “what aren’t we seeing?” – not that thinking such would encourage them to decide to make their own sequel. Property owners who think someone knows something they don’t tend to get very, very clingy.

  • Let the rights expire. No studio will make a sequel to a perceived flop, so in maybe 10 years, we can hope for a complete reboot.

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