Without Copyright Infringement, Deadpool Doesn't Get Made

from the killing-creativity,-eh? dept

Copyright infringement kills creativity. It's killing artists and depriving future generations of a variety of works that -- if they could even be made in this era of lawlessness -- should rightfully be withheld from the public until long after the future generation is dead and next generation fully grown. So. They. Say.

Kids, I'm sure you've heard about this "Deadpool," the fourth-wall-breaking, foul-mouthed "superhero" currently raking in $$$ at the megaplexes. For years, it was a pet project passed back and forth between interested shepherds and less-interested studios. Everyone loved the idea but no one wanted to put their money behind it.

For one thing, the licensing alone was a nightmare. While Deadpool belongs to the Marvel "universe," the licensing for Deadpool as a movie character belongs to 20th Century Fox. Nearly everything else belongs to entertainment megagiant Disney. The licensing situation alone should have been enough to keep Deadpool from making it to the big screen. Very few entities want to tangle with Disney's lawyers and put millions of production dollars on the line.

But the movie still made it out into the wild, even with this potentially litigious entanglement. In fact, this weird licensing fact plays into the movie's very self-aware take on the comic book movie genre, as Ars Technica's Sam Machkovech points out:

Should you arrive at a Deadpool screening with high hopes for X-Men or X-Force character cameos or other strides toward comics continuity, you've got another thing coming. 20th Century Fox is behind this film, though Marvel Studios/Disney own most of Marvel's intellectual property, and the result is a world seemingly disconnected from the greater Marvel universe.

There are even disconnects with the Deadpool comics themselves, much to the movie's detriment. Ajax, for example, is a much more toothless supervillain than the one who brutalized the comic version of Wade Wilson, which negatively affects that entire portion of Deadpool's origin tale by opening up gaping plot and logic holes. In fact, the entire "how Wade turned into Deadpool" portion of the movie drags in both length and pacing so much that it borders on the edge of satire in practice.
Whether or not it's "satire in practice" or just the burden of dumping exposition on newcomers to better serve the franchise, Deadpool is still somewhat tangled up in licensing limitations. Crossover appeal is likely limited. And actual crossovers likely next to impossible. If only 20th Century Fox could have been as bold as those who somehow brought this film -- one that had been pronounced DOA repeatedly over the past several years -- to life.

What put this in motion is the same sort of behavior the MPAA works endlessly to prevent: the leaking of footage.

Ben Kuchera at Polygon notes that someone realized the best way to get this project underway was to show its potential audience how they (the actor, writers and director) would handle the subject matter. Fans have wanted a dark, sarcastic, fully-nihilistic Deadpool movie for a long, long time. Some test footage shot three years ago could have languished unseen on some shelf/hard drive somewhere in Hollywood and the unmade project would still be cruising from rejection to rejection. But one of these people decided to perform an action no studio would ever condone.
"I've been trying to get it made for 11 years, which is crazy," star Ryan Reynolds said in an interview with Jimmy Fallon. "We developed the script six years ago, wrote this fantastic script, it leaked online, Deadpool fans went nuts for it, so the studio granted us a small amount of money to make test footage. This test footage that we shot then sat on the shelf for four years, as it does, they didn't do anything with it, then just a little under two years ago it leaked, accidentally, onto the internet."

We, like just about every other outlet concerned with pop culture, ran the story. Everyone loved the footage, and the film went into full production.

"Here's the thing, the fans freaked out and overwhelmed Fox, and Fox basically had to greenlight the movie," Reynolds said. "The problem is the footage was owned by Fox so it was kind of illegal ... I know that one of us did it."
While no one will admit to leaking the footage, everyone involved couldn't be happier this act of copyright infringement has resulted in an actual Deadpool film.
"Oh my god, we were absolutely thrilled," Paul Wernick, one of the film's writers, told Variety. "If you go back and look at our emails after the test footage was made in 2012, we had said back and forth, 'How do we leak this? How do we get the groundswell support from our fans?' When it finally leaked in 2014 and got the reaction we hoped for, we were like, 'Here it goes!' This is confirmation we are not crazy to be passionate about this. There’s a whole fanbase of people clamoring for this movie."

That leak was, in fact, crucial. It was the film's last chance to be made.

"Had it not gotten that reaction, it would have been a disaster and the project would have been dead," Wernick continued. "We knew it in our bones this would be the reaction. We were thrilled and still to this day don’t know who did it. There is a very short list of suspects."
One of the entities who's likely happy the footage was leaked is the studio behind the film. Deadpool wasn't given much of a budget ($58 million) but it's already well on its way to turning a good-sized profit.*

*Non-Hollywood accounting methods only.
According to industry estimates this morning, 20th Century Fox’s Marvel pic, Deadpool whipped Fifty Shades’ Friday figure by 57% with a projected daily haul of $47.5M (that includes $12.7M in Thursday previews) on its way to a mindblowing 3-day opening of $118.4M-$123M and a 4-day between $129.6M-$136M.
Sure, leaking test footage isn't like leaking an entire film, but without that happening, nothing else does. The movie is never made and Fox doesn't have almost three times the budget grossed within the first four days of ticket sales. But because this leak happened, the studio is likely in control of a promising franchise, provided it can keep the lightning bottled and push forward without discarding everything that makes Deadpool Deadpool. And everyone involved can thank the unnamed person they won't rat out for shrugging off the insular "power" of copyright and mobilizing a fan base that is now making good on its promise to support the movie.

Filed Under: copyright, deadpool, leak, licensing, movies
Companies: 20th century fox, disney, marvel

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  1. icon
    SirWired (profile), 16 Feb 2016 @ 6:46am

    The licensing was not a "nightmare"

    I agree with most of this article but not the first few paragraphs.

    I do not see how the licensing was a "nightmare". There were no conflicting claims of ownership to the character; everybody involved (Disney/Marvel included) knew Fox owned the rights to Deadpool. As long as Fox didn't toss in an appearance by an Avenger (or Spider-Man, risking Sony's wrath), there's no conflict.

    Also, there was nothing stopping Fox from including X-Men, since they own most of those rights too. Whatever the reasons we don't see some X-Men in the Deadpool movie, licensing rights aren't on the list.

    And cross-overs from other companies are certainly NOT impossible; Spider-Man is totally being incorporated into the MCU, due to an agreement struck with Sony. I'm sure this was not easy, but neither is it some sort of far-fetched dream.

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