Monday, August 18, 2008

Clone Wars. How did this happen?

Here’s Will Davies thinking aloud about how mobile phone companies ...

“...look set to be the oil companies of the twenty-first century: vast, arrogant, lumbering businesses, that make money without even trying, and colonise virgin territories without much permission. Long before the Jont Orange horrors, there was the sickening O2 Wireless Festival (featuring a VIP platform, open only to O2 customers) and the invented Vodafone Live Music Awards, whose main award appears to be 'Best Live Return', thereby offering centre stage to some Richard Ashcroft tribute act known as The Verve.”

In a similar (though less informed and conclusive) way, I spent a while in a darkened room this afternoon, trying to make sense of a whole cornucopia of phenomena, sparked off by the latest in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, ‘Clone Wars’. I had to take my son and a couple of his mates, and it being a PG, I had to sit through it myself.

A quick pre-trip glance at Wikipedia shows the relationship between existing video games and the planned TV series spin-off. But it still leaves a few unanswered questions for me.

It’s very disappointing as an instalment in the Star Wars franchise (though the boys liked it well enough). I didn’t particularly care for it, and poor reviews suggest that it doesn’t have the broad appeal of its predecessors. Bad reviews don’t always = box office failure of course, but the Star Wars brand is a big valuable one, and they must worry about how opinion-formers can damage it in the long run.

There must be a reward to compensate for this risk? I’m sure that there is a half-decent book in print somewhere that pulls together an explanation for this, but here as some questions I have in lieu of reading it.

  1. Will Star Wars make absolutely tons of money by getting a film out – any film – at the moment? Are we in a short-term ‘window’? Or do the studios think we may be in a short term window and are they prepared to put a certain amount of chips on this square? By this, I mean, did they say “we can’t assemble the cast or do the production on a new non-animated Star Wars film in time for summer 2008, so we will make do with an animated substitution”? I don’t completely buy the ‘we were going to make an animated TV Star Wars serial and we kinda decided to make a film as well on the spur of the moment’ explanation.
  2. If so, is this because the knock-on sales of videogames (Nintendo / Playstation / X-Box etc) and other promotional activities are so huge at the moment that the studios can’t afford not to have something out? And if this is the case, has this reward become more pronounced in a fairly short time? Was it the case that – in 2005 (say) they didn’t regard a summer 2008 release (of any standard) to be essential, but now they do? And if so, just how has this changed?
  3. Again, related. The film is nearly all animation, and that that isn’t is CGI that is made up to look like animation. Now, my very limited knowledge of this tells me that the two are more and more indistinct these days anyway, but is it the case that advances in video-gaming technology means that it is now a lot cheaper to produce something like this at low-ish cost?
  4. Another question: Artists rights. There are animated characters that are very clearly based upon the Star Wars actors. Some more recognisably than others. How do the rights work? Ewan MacGregor is fairly recognisable, Samuel L Jackson is moreso, and he was even prepared to do the voiceover (as was Christopher Lee). Other characters are less firmly based upon the actors. Was this all done by negotiation? Did Ewan hold out for more and make ‘looks exactly like Ewan’ the high-paying option with ‘could be Ewan, but there’s quite a lot of differences really’ (the final outcome) as one that he got paid less for. Or does he get paid at all? And what happens if you’re dead and they base an animated character on you? (This hasn’t happened here, but they could have done an Alex Guinness avatar, for example).

As I said, thinking aloud rather than anything else....

1 comment:

Chris said...

I'm not sure why you don't buy the TV series into film explanation. There were a series of short, and definitely cheaper, animations done for the prequels which were originally meant as a promotional tool (the first ones were only 3-minutes each, perfect for the web of the time) and which grew up to be quite well regarded.

I'm pretty sure one reason why it's in the cinema is, as well as making a bit of money, and making money twice from people who will then buy the DVD, that you sell more DVDs and make something more valuable for TV sales when it has had a cinema release, both because you get a lot more publicity and because straight-to-DVD is as pejorative a phrase as you can find.

Oh, and answer to Q4 - Image rights exist in the US and Canada, not so much in the UK although you can use other parts of the law to stop me using your fizz to sell grommits. If Lucas was on the ball, some rights to use images in future films etc. would have been in the original contracts for the prequels.