This was expected. Sony Music and Sony Pictures had moved into first positions in the Hollywood auction of the live music and film rights to Michael Jackson’s rehearsal footage for sale by the ghouls at AEG. Major studios like Viacom’s Paramount/MTV, NBC Universal, and News Corp’s 20th Century Fox/Fox Broadcasting Co, all had been battling with Sony for the projects. AEG started the bidding for the movie rights at a staggering $50 million, and the TV special rights at $10 million. Sony had the inside edge because it controls the distribution rights to Michael Jackson’s music. A judge had to agree to the deal. No word on what, if anything, AEG is doing with its one-time plans to air a primetime TV special in September. (Sony didn’t want that to happen a month before its movie is out.) The reason for the Hollywood feeding frenzy over these projects is straightforward: “As you know, it will be huge,” one Sony exec told me earlier. “The footage is so moving. My fingers are crossed.”
As soon as executives involved in organizing Michael Jackson’s 50-night schedule of shows at London’s O2 arena learned of the performer’s death, they met at Staples Center in Los Angeles and secured all of the rehearsal footage which Jackson had done there, according to news reports. Randy Phillips, president and CEO of AEG Live, ghoulishly boasted to The Associated Press he had “more than 100 hours of footage that could be turned into live albums, a movie and a pay-per-view special. He was our partner in life and now he’s our partner in death.” Phillips claimed the production budget for the shows reached $25 million, which also covered 3-D “mini-movies” of Thriller and Earth Song. He also said that, aside from AEG, the Jackson estate would get the “lion’s share” of any profits from the high-def footage. The footage includes production meetings and auditions and behind-the-scenes showing Jackson and his dancers occupying several spaces in the Staples Center, and Michael supervising the rehearsals.
Here’s Sony’s press release just released:
MICHAEL JACKSON’S “THIS IS IT” TO BE PRESENTED IN THEATERS AROUND THE WORLD BY SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT AND SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT
Film Drawn From Entertainer’s Last Rehearsals and Behind-The-Scenes Footage
Will Be Released October 30th in High Definition with Digital Sound
CULVER CITY, Calif., August 10, 2009 – Beginning October 30th, the world will have a front-row seat for Michael Jackson’s final concert, as Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony Music Entertainment release Michael Jackson’s This Is It.
This Is It is being produced with the full support of The Estate of Michael Jackson and will be drawn from hundreds of hours of rehearsal and behind-the-scenes footage, captured in high definition with state-of-the-art digital sound as the late singer was preparing for his concert series in London. The film, which will also offer select sequences in 3-D, will provide a unique career retrospective and feature interviews with some of Jackson’s closest friends and creative collaborators.
The announcement was made by Michael Lynton, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Amy Pascal, Co-Chairman of the studio, Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, Chief Executive Officer of Sony Music Entertainment, and Rob Stringer, Chairman of Columbia/Epic Label Group, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment. The companies serve as the principal entertainment divisions of Sony Corporation.
Joining Sony in the announcement was The Estate of Michael Jackson, administered by his longtime attorney John Branca and veteran music executive John McClain, a Jackson family friend for more than 40 years. Proceeds the Estate earns from the film’s release will benefit the Michael Jackson Family Trust, the entity that Mr. Jackson specified in his will is to receive all of his assets.
The rights to the exclusive footage were acquired from AEG Live and The Estate of Michael Jackson. Sony Pictures and Sony Music will co-produce with AEG Live and the Estate, and Sony Pictures will distribute the film worldwide. Randy Phillips and Paul Gongaware of AEG Live will serve as producers of the film.
The majority of the film’s footage was shot in June, 2009 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California, and The Forum in Inglewood, California, as Jackson prepared for “This Is It,” the series of fifty concerts Jackson planned to present at the O2 Arena in London.
This Is It will offer Jackson fans and music lovers worldwide a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the performer, his career, and the stage spectacular that would have been. The film will provide moviegoers with an unforgettable front row experience compiled from extensive footage that shows Jackson’s meticulous preparation for his 2009 London shows.
Said Branca, “Our goal is to work with partners who treat Michael’s legacy with dignity and respect, while allowing us to substantially build the value of his estate for the benefit of Mrs. Katherine Jackson, Michael’s three children and the charitable causes that meant so much to him during his life. We are confident we found the right partners for this project in Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony Music Entertainment. Sony and Michael enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial history together, and it’s only fitting that the relationship continues.”
Said McClain, “This film is not only a tribute to an artist who created excitement every moment he was on stage, but also is a fitting gift to the millions of fans worldwide who loved him and who he devoted his professional life to entertaining. John and I are thrilled to be working with Sony to build on Michael’s musical legacy in a way that will generate significant proceeds for his family and for children in need.”
“People who have seen this footage are astounded by the amazing quality of Michael Jackson’s performance,” said Lynton. “This historic recording of the last time he sang and danced on stage shows the legendary artist in an incredibly powerful way, with crystal clear images and sound. We understand the importance of producing a film that pays tribute to Michael as an artist, and are honored to work with the Estate of Michael Jackson to give audiences the gift of his final performances. I know this film will serve as further proof that Michael Jackson is one of the greatest entertainers who ever graced a stage.”
“Michael lives on through his songs, his creative genius, his body of work and his passion for his art,” said Rob Stringer. “He was a perfectionist on stage and through this unique film, audiences will be able to see, many for the first time, how much Michael poured into making his performances as special as they were perfect.”
Said Kenny Ortega, director of and Jackson’s creative partner on the This Is It concert, “The world will see what our team was so fortunate to experience, which was the full commitment, passion and creativity that Michael put into this project. He was the architect of This Is It, and we were his builders. The footage that was captured from the early stages of the production to our technical rehearsals at the STAPLES Center in L.A. will show Michael as he truly was, creatively involved with every aspect of the production, from the staging and choreography, to the music, lighting, production design and conception of the original short films and video backdrops. It will also show Michael as one of the greatest entertainers in the world and one of the industry’s most creative minds. This Is It was Michael’s last theatrical work and although it was still a work in progress, I think the footage will show that the process was something that Michael deeply enjoyed and that it was clear that he was on his way to another theatrical triumph.”
In the coming weeks, additional information about the film will be available at michaeljackson.com .
Peter Schlessel, President of Worldwide Affairs, negotiated for the footage on behalf of Sony Pictures. Branca represented The Estate of Michael Jackson.