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Monthly Archives: July 2007

Australian Production of "Company" almost shut-down by an unhappy Stephen Sondheim

don't make unauthorized cuts to plays and musicals
No Cuts Allowed!

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Australia's First and Only National Musical Theatre Company”, Kookabura, almost had a problem on its hands when its artistic staff made cuts to Stephen Sondheim‘s “Company”.
Stephen Sondheim was not pleased with "cuts" made to his musical, "Company"The cuts, which involved removal of key songs, scenes and dialogue, was characterized by some as a last-minute ‘hatchet job' to Sonheim's script in Wednesday night's performance at the Theatre Royal.

Upon learning of the changes, which were made after a key cast member called in sick, the author threatened to terminate the theatre's license to perform the show. It seems loyal Sondheim fans were unhappy at seeing the abridged production, and reported the situation to Sondheim's representatives. According to some sources, the cast and director also expressed their distaste for the changes.

The situation highlights the importance of faithfully rendering a show as the author envisioned it. It is a violation of both the “moral rights” of the author, and the terms of most license agreements to make even the most minor changes.

Although it is common for school, church, and community theatres to alter shows' content to suit their and their audiences' tastes, doing so is technically a violation. Although licensors sometimes look the other way, they're within their rights to withdraw permission and stop a production in its tracks. Obviously, this is a costly proposition for a theater company with tens- or even hundreds of thousands of dollars sunk into a production.

The bottom line is this: if changes are desired, ask permission from the licensor. Some authors are very flexible, while others, like Sondheim, view even the smallest change as an adulteration of their work, akin to censorship, or the removal or addition of elements from a classic painting.

Hobbits, Orcs Sue New Line

A group of New Zealand based actors has filed suit against New Line Cinema claiming the studio has failed to abide by contract terms relating to merchandising rights for the Lord Of The Rings movies.

Specifically, the lawsuit claims that the actors were entitled to 5% of the net revenue from sales of merchandising bearing the likenesses of their characters.    New Line's earnings from Merchandise reportedly exceed $100 Million.

The case once again calls into question the “Hollywood accounting” used by studios and distributors, to make $100 Million in revenues look like a deficit situation, by taking deductions for distribution fees, gross-participations, and overhead and interest before arriving at the bottom-line “net revenues” figure.

The accounting system has been repeatedly challenged in the courts, most notably by humorist Art Buchwald, who developed a treatment that was later developed into the hit Eddie Murphy film “Coming to America”, which despite hundreds of millions in worldwide gross earnings, continued to show a net loss, depriving Buchwald of his so-called ‘back-end' compensation.    Buchwald won at trial, garnering several key rulings in the case before the matter was settled before the studio's appeal was decided.   Buchwald's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell recounts the case  in his book “Fatal Subtraction”.

The current Lord Of The Rings case is  not just a case of a few disgruntled actors.  The trilogy's director, Peter Jackson, is also suing the studio, claiming he's owed as much as $100 Million for the trilogy.

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