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(Meta) Some background information

24th March 2010 (15:22)

Some of you may already have seen a big interview that Scott Allie of Dark Horse Comics gave to Ain't It Cool News recently... but if you haven't, he gave the clearest statement I've ever seen about the copyright and licencing situation regarding 'Buffy' and Joss's other creative works. I thought it might be interesting to repeat it here:


SCOTT: Joss doesn't own any of this stuff or have a legal claim on it. Fox owns all of it... Universal owns "Serenity." He doesn't license it or lease it to Fox and then they license it or lease it to us. Out of courtesy and respect and pragmatism, Fox gives Joss as much say as he wants with this stuff.

INTERVIEWER: Because it's good for sales.

SCOTT: And it's good policy. If Fox Licensing started pushing Joss around, Fox's film and TV divisions would come in and squash them and say, "Why are you pissing off this incredibly important guy?"

INTERVIEWER: And his audience.

SCOTT: Exactly. My contact Debbie [Olshan] at Fox Licensing likes working with Joss. She's going to respect Joss' wishes on all this stuff. Which is great, and gives the creator some control over his creation, which is really nice -- and not legally built into it. Nobody has to do it, but it's a really good choice that they're all making constantly.

So in short, FOX controls everything, but they respect Joss's wishes about it out of professional courtesy. Specifically, they're ultimately the people who decide who can write comics about which characters...


Another part of the interview which I know will be interesting to a few is Scott's description of how he and Joss work together on the comics:


INTERVIEWER: How do you and Whedon, who has clear editorial ideas, divvy up editorial responsibility when you're collaborating on a book like "Serenity"?

SCOTT: "It's my job, and then he does as much of it as he wants" is the short answer. But it's all my job: to whatever extent he doesn't have time to do something, I have to make sure it gets done. But of course, scheduling, budgeting, all that B.S. is all, of course, me.

INTERVIEWER: All the fun stuff. [laughs]

SCOTT: All the really rewarding.... On a project that he's executive-producing -- like any "Serenity" comic we've done or any issue of "Season Eight" -- generally, he breaks the story with the writer, he gets the script before I get it, he gives notes to the writer, and usually gets a second draft and okays it before I ever see it. Then Joss sends it to me or the writer sends it to me. And then, if I have any major notes, I go by Joss before I go to the writer -- but if it's minor stuff I just work it out with the writer.

He and I picked Georges Jeanty together. Any time there's been a fill-in artist, I've found somebody to run by him -- and it's not like there's been a bunch of new faces. Like we're setting up a one-shot that we're doing in August, I think, and I said, "Hey, I want to have Karl Moline draw this one," Joss said, "Yeah, that's great," and then I made sure Karl was available.

Joss is very hands-on with the script -- much more so than I am, generally. He generally pitches cover ideas -- especially Jo's covers -- although Brad Meltzer pitched a lot of the covers on his arc. Joss sees cover sketches. He sees and gives feedback on the layouts -- the artist will do layouts and send them to Joss, Joss' assistant, the writer on the individual arc, me, Sierra, assistant editor Freddye Lins, and then Joss will write notes. Usually, I write more notes on layouts than anybody else does, but Joss will chime in on that stuff, and if it's an arc or issue that he's writing, he'll chime in a lot.

So that's the majority of his involvement.

INTERVIEWER: Does his involvement wax and wane depending on how involved he is with filming and directing?

SCOTT: And depending on how much he's needed. There have been times when he's at his busiest that I need him the most, and just have to stretch him really, really, really thin. That's been the worst, when we're at a point where we really need him to be hands-on about a script or decide exactly what we're doing. Sometimes he rewrites scripts after they've been technically turned in and approved -- even lettered -- and more than a couple of times, that's happened when he's really been in the thick of it with "Dollhouse" or something like that.

But the best situation is when we have a writer where things are laid out well enough in advance that he just doesn't need to be that involved -- where they break the story together and it's just kind of good to go. That doesn't really happen that much. [laughs] But I like to think that it happens.


Comments

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 15:46 (UTC)

I thought the licensing stuff was common knowledge. Joss owns nothing so if/when Fox decide they want to revisit the property they will have no problem invalidating all or part of the canon.It's the same situation as Roddenbury.

I do wonder whether the quietness on the film front means there is some behind the scenes maneveuring going on.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 16:33 (UTC)

I've seen enough contradictory information being passed around that I think I'm safe in saying that no, it's not common knowledge. :-)

From my own perspective, I know that Fox owns the copyright so they have ultimate control, but I've seen enough people in official positions - including Fran Kazui and Gail Berman - saying that "we need to run this by Joss first" that I wondered if he had some terms in his contract with Fox giving him right of refusal or some such. But it appears he doesn't, it's just professional courtesy. (Under EU copyright law, the artist's "moral rights" over their creation - such as the right to object to derogatory treatment of it - are separate to the actual copyright, but I don't know if US law follows that principle.)

I do wonder whether the quietness on the film front means there is some behind the scenes maneveuring going on.

Maybe the almost universal outrage, not only among fandom but from the industry professionals involved with the original 'Buffy' series, made the Kazuis realise that so much bad publicity would cripple any attempt to relaunch the show? It all comes down to numbers, and if they were banking on a halo effect from the original show attracting larger audiences from existing 'Buffy' fans as well as the new teenage Twilight crowd, they may have had to revise their cash projections radically downwards.

Besides, as I understand Hollywood, people float ideas for films all the time, and only a tiny fraction of them ever get greenlighted.

Posted by: Owen (owenthurman)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 17:19 (UTC)

Gail Berman implies in interviews that there is some kind of contract that required her to offer a producer job to Joss for any work her created that went to the screen. She didn't really expect him to want to run Buffy, but had to ask (lucky thing, too).

But it could just be professional courtesy of the kind that isn't written down but would ruin your credibility if you violated it.

Posted by: Going through the motions (rowanda380)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 16:16 (UTC)
random commenter

thanks for highlighting that info, very interesting!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 16:33 (UTC)
Re: random commenter
cordelia-yourewelcome

:-)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 16:33 (UTC)
pic#82749049

That was a very enlightening interview.

I had known that Joss owned none of his shows (except Dr. Horrible) and that Fox could cut him off if they wanted... but they're smart enough to know that the vast majority of fans wouldn't recognize as legitimate anything they did without him. Fox has the legal rights, but only Joss carries the Key to the Canon.

As both the season 8 and Angel: AtF comics have shown, his name on a Buffyverse project increases sales by a factor of 2-3, so Fox will want to keep him nice and happy.

I hadn't realized that Firefly and Serenity were two different licenses owned by two different companies, though. Seems odd, because although Dark Horse's license is for Serenity (the movie), they have used characters specifically from the series in their comics... Dobson and the Blue Hands come immediately to mind. Wonder how that works.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 16:50 (UTC)

As I understand it, Fox cancelled 'Firefly' and weren't interested in any sort of continuation of it. Joss was looking for some way to keep going, and rang a friend who had a movie deal with Universal. That friend mentioned it to a Universal executive (Mary Parent) who sat down and watched 'Firefly', decided it was good, and agreed to make the film - so Universal bought the movie rights from Fox.

I do know that the 'Serenity' role-playing game doesn't mention any exclusively 'Firefly' characters directly, although it does have very thinly-disguised versions of them. I assume that the Dark Horse comics pushed the boundary a bit more, because Joss was directly involved and so they knew Fox wouldn't create a fuss.

Part of the interview I didn't quote is that Debbie Olshan at Fox has said that technically, they do have the right to licence another company to publish a 'Firefly' comic in direct competition with Dark Horse's 'Serenity' comic. But they don't, because that would seem petty, would probably annoy Joss, and would confuse and anger the fans.

(But contrast the Terminator franchise, where there acutally are several different comic licences out there, for each version of the films...)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 16:54 (UTC)

That's interesting... I know I've seen an interview with Gail Berman where she said she had to approach Joss first when she decided to finance the 'Buffy' TV show, and give him right of first refusal to direct it. (She actually expected him to turn it down, and was pleasantly surprised when he said he'd do it.)

It's certainly possible that he has a confidential clause in his contract with Fox giving him creative control, and that Scott Allie isn't actually aware of that...

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 17:23 (UTC)

I know I've seen an interview with Gail Berman where she said she had to approach Joss first when she decided to finance the 'Buffy' TV show, and give him right of first refusal to direct it.

Yes, I remembered that, too. Presumably, that would be the case for all future Buffy projects, so Allie is only half-right about the legalities.

I think the distinction is that Fox can do a Buffy project without Joss' approval, but Joss can't do a Buffy project without Fox's approval. Joss can choose whether to be involved, but he can't stop Fox from doing something he doesn't want. But Fox doesn't want to piss Joss off, so they're probably not going to pursue a project if Joss doesn't ok it.

What Allie's trying to say, I think, is that Joss couldn't go to Dark Horse and say, "I want to do Buffy comics," unless Dark Horse had a license from Fox to publish them. He needs Fox's permission to do anything with Buffy.

Posted by: mr_waterproof (mr_waterproof)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 17:58 (UTC)

So basically Rupert Murdoch owns Buffy.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 19:04 (UTC)

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

/Anakin Skywalker

Posted by: mr_waterproof (mr_waterproof)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 21:07 (UTC)

Actually, Star Wars is 20th Century Fox, so Murdoch owns him too.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 22:07 (UTC)

Well obviously Darth Vader is owned by Rupert Mu-- no wait, I'm thinking of Emperor Palpatine. It's an easy mistake.

Posted by: ubi4soft (ubi4soft)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 18:00 (UTC)

Reading also the comments above, that licensing thing could explain the weird characterization of both vampires in the comics: Angel in S8 is based only on BTVS (things in LA got funky) and Spike's Willingham is based only on AtS S5. And also would explain Allies statement that Buffy is more important to Angel that Connor.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 19:09 (UTC)

I definitely think the idea is, "You shouldn't have to read our rival's comics to understand this character, as long as you've seen the TV show."

However, I very much doubt that Joss's interpretation of Angel in B8 can be understood if you don't see it in light of the A5 "Angel pretends to be evil, fooling friends and enemies alike, in order to infiltrate a powerful organisation and bring it down from the inside" storyline. :-)

Posted by: ubi4soft (ubi4soft)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 19:35 (UTC)

I definitely think the idea is, "You shouldn't have to read our rival's comics to understand this character, as long as you've seen the TV show."

Shouldn't be the TV shows?

As for bringing down from the inside I thought he already learned it cannot be done with W&H (or you have to read AtF comics).

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 22:06 (UTC)

I was thinking of the Black Thorn rather than Wolfram & Hart when it came to taking things down from the inside.

Although his time at W&H probably gives him even more experience with being the leader of an evil organisation, not to mention setting up a good reason why Buffy and her friends might no longer trust him...

And I get the impression the Angel comics, at least, are based on AtS and not BtVS...

Posted by: araceli (mana1023)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 19:14 (UTC)

It sounds to me like Joss goes over every BtVS comic before it's released. And therefore everything in them has been Jossed. Or am I reading it wrong?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 22:04 (UTC)

With Season 8, Joss approves everything page-by-page. (Apart from the ones he writes himself.) With 'After The Fall', he sat down with the writer for a long talk, then let him get on with it. For the other IDW comics, and for the pre-Season 8 Buffy ones, I gather he didn't really get involved much at all beyond checking over their plans once a year or so and saying "Yeah, that's fine."

Posted by: araceli (mana1023)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 22:13 (UTC)

Right. I'm just wondering why people keep saying that s8 isn't canon because they don't like it. And then they want to say it isn't Joss. I mean he still approves of everything.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th March 2010 23:27 (UTC)

why people keep saying that s8 isn't canon because they don't like it.

Well, you said it. They don't like it: but because it's written and/or approved by Joss, they feel uncomfortable just ignoring it, and instead feel they have to justify why they aren't reading it.

As for saying "it isn't Joss" - I've actually heard the opposite more often; that on the TV show Joss had a team of writers and producers, and the actors interpreting the lines, whereas on the comic there are many fewer people directly involved, so his views are coming across undiluted.

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 25th March 2010 09:34 (UTC)
Xacula by beer_good_foamy

I don't think it's canon, but that's because it's a comic book, and I've said that ever since it was first announced. As it happens I think s8 is beyond terrible, but even if it was The Best Story Ever, I'd still not think it canon. Just like the movie isn't canon.

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