EXCLUSIVE: The appeal by The Weinstein Company of an MPAA ruling denying them use of The Butler title is just getting underway, with Harvey Weinstein out to overturn that judgement. At the same time, the investors who backed the Lee Daniels-directed film have made a direct appeal to MPAA chief Chris Dodd. After Deadline broke the story of this title battle, it has kicked up a ruckus I never expected and perked up what is usually a fallow period for news. Some have claimed TWC has done this for publicity, others have claimed Warner Bros is being spiteful, with Weinstein even claiming the studio has tried to force him to surrender the 5% first dollar gross participation he holds in The Hobbit. Believe me, that ain’t never going to happen–that condition was part of the turnaround deal when New Line founder Bob Shaye agreed to back three Lord Of The Rings films, and if he hadn’t, Weinstein would have made one, maybe two LOTR installments, without writer/director Peter Jackson. That move has meant billions of dollars to Warner Bros and changed Hollywood history. Weinstein got 5% of all those films, and that gross payment is so valuable now with two more Hobbit installments coming that if push came to shove, TWC would retitle its Lee Daniels civil rights drama. Despite the sentimental appeals and harsh words between the studios, this all comes down to lawyer horse trading between two studios that will begin if today’s appeal doesn’t overturn the verdict and if TWC continues to abide by the MPAA Title Registry (it is not a signatory studio). Some have speculated that the film could go out with an alternative title like Lee Daniels’ The Butler, but it will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Here is the letter that the film’s financial backers just sent to Dodd:
Senator Christopher Dodd
Chairman & CEO, MPAA
1600 I Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Dear Senator Dodd,
We are 15 individuals who joined together almost two years ago to support and launch the film production of THE BUTLER – a story that chronicles the civil rights movement and the history of our nation.
As a group, we have worked tirelessly and have taken immeasurable risk to bring to fruition the dream and vision of both the late Laura Ziskin and Lee Daniels, of an emotionally powerful and socially impactful film about a family’s struggle through the tumultuous times of the civil rights movement. We believed that this film was an important one to make, despite being turned down by every studio in Hollywood. We are finally weeks away from our release, but we now face our biggest challenge – one that we cannot understand or explain.
We have been informed by our distributor, The Weinstein Company, that Warner Bros. is preventing the 2013 release of our film under the title – The Butler – due to a 1916 short film of the same name. As our group is composed of many small business owners and entrepreneurs, we certainly respect Warner Bros’ business desire to protect what they feel is rightfully theirs, but we also feel that the dispute over this film’s title has simply no basis in any economic or business foundation. The fact is that THE BUTLER of 1916 and THE BUTLER of 2013 are two entirely different entities; the chances of consumers confusing the two are virtually impossible, considering the 1916 version isn’t even available for public viewing.
While we do not know the politics between The Weinstein Company and Warner Bros., and do not care to get involved, we simply want to release our film – The Butler. We want to ensure that this transformative movie about the civil rights movement and our nation’s history, that we have collectively put our resources and faith in, is given a fair chance to be seen by as many people as possible. The story about the resilience of one African-American man, the growth of our nation, and the power of family should not be squelched. Ultimately, it is us, the investors, who are being victimized by the behind-the-scenes pettiness of Hollywood politics. We respectfully and honorably request that Warner Bros. remove their roadblock and work collectively with our distributor, The Weinstein Company, as we wish to release a film that will honor the memory of those who fought for civil rights in our nation.
The investors of THE BUTLER