Legacy Rights Make Busi­ness Might

Clas­sic rock rights-hold­ers guard gates as cred-seek­ing biopics come knock­ing

Variety - - Focus - By JEM ASWAD

Two of the big­gest films of the fall sea­son — “A Star Is Born” and “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” — are cen­tered around mu­sic. “Straight Outta Comp­ton” in­tro­duced N.W.A.’S mu­sic and story to a whole new gen­er­a­tion. Net­flix and Hulu and Show­time are filled with mu­sic doc­u­men­taries and biopics, many about fig­ures who are hardly house­hold names (mil­lions know Bert Berns’ songs, but how many know who he is?). There’s lit­tle ques­tion that we’re in an un­prece­dented time for mu­sic and screens.

As dur­ing any boom time, play­ers are cast­ing a care­ful eye on what they own, what they want, and how much they can charge or pay for it — not to men­tion whether a project is con­sis­tent with their artist’s busi­ness and (sorry, we’ve gotta use this word sooner or later) brand.

These top­ics and more will be ex­plored and un­packed at the In the Zeit­geist — Mu­sic Doc­u­men- taries and Biopics panel at Va­ri­ety’s Mu­sic for Films sum­mit. What is at­trac­tive to an es­tate or rights-holder and makes them want to be­come in­volved in a film or TV project? Con­versely, how can right­sh­old­ers present an artist or cat­a­log in a way that makes it seem ripe for such a project? Lend­ing their ex­per­tise will be man­ager Deb­o­rah Man­nis- Gard­ner, owner/pres­i­dent of DMG Clear­ances and mu­sic su­per­vi­sor of “The De­fi­ant Ones”; es­tate man­ager Jeff Jam­pol; mu­sic su­per­vi­sor Jonathan Mchugh; John Ottman, edi­tor, “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody”; and Heather Parry, pres­i­dent of pro­duc­tion, film and tele­vi­sion at Live Na­tion Prods.

Key to any suc­cess­ful project is a level of au­then­tic­ity that still man­ages to de­liver a strong story. Jam­pol, who works on both sides of the busi­ness as a pro­ducer and as man­ager of the es­tates of the Doors, Ja­nis Joplin, Otis Red­ding, the Ra­mones and oth­ers, says, “There are three things we keep in mind re­gard­ing these projects and our artists’ lega­cies: Are we pro­tect­ing it? Are we mov­ing it for­ward? Are we keep­ing it cred­i­ble?”

Such con­sid­er­a­tions, of course, are in the eye of the be­holder, and the rights holder con­trols the cred­i­bil­ity of most mu­si­cal projects: If a biopic about a cer- tain artist does not in­clude any mu­sic by that artist be­cause the pro­duc­ers could not pro­cure the nec­es­sary clear­ances — as was the case with the 2014 Jimi Hendrix biopic “All Is by My Side,” which starred Outkast mem­ber An­dre Ben­jamin — the film suf­fers both com­mer­cially and crit­i­cally. Un­like, say, an unau­tho­rized bi­og­ra­phy, the re­fusal of mu­sic rights con­notes dis­ap­proval of the project by the sub­ject or its rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Whether that dis­ap­proval is jus­ti­fied is also sub­jec­tive — wit­ness the dis­pute over “A True Tes­ti­mo­nial,” the 2002 doc­u­men­tary of Detroit pre-punk pi­o­neers the MC5, which was la­bo­ri­ously pro­duced and screened, only to be held from re­lease due to a dis­pute over the mu­sic that still has not been re­solved, 16 years later.

How does one avoid such worst- case sce­nar­ios? Va­ri­ety’s panel of experts will un­pack these ques­tions and more on Oct. 30.

L.A. Story

The N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Comp­ton” couldn’t have been made with­out ex­ten­sive at­ten­tion to rights clear­ances.

There are three things we keep in mind re­gard­ing these projects and our artists’ lega­cies: Are we pro­tect­ing it? Are we mov­ing it for­ward? Are we keep­ing it cred­i­ble?”

Jeff Jam­pol

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