Pop Injustices of 2012
A Roundup of Some of the Worst of the Year
This isn’t an end-of-year “worst of” list, not the type you’re used to seeing online, anyway. Well, OK, to make this a round half-dozen, I’ll indulge two minor “worst of” notations:
* Worst relaunch of 2012: The DC 52 aka the New 52; launched in late 2011, trickling (like golden rain) into 2012, which is where and when I caught up with ‘em. With precious few exceptions, an atrocity exhibit is what it was.
* Worst theatrical feature film of the year: SILENT HILL: REVELATION (2012) damn near put me to sleep. I’m no fan of video games, but I loved the original SILENT HILL feature, so this isn’t a case of prejudice. This instantly went to “lamest imaginable HELLRAISER sequel” status in, like, minutes.
Here’s what I wrote on October 26th, immediately after seeing it:
No slight intended personally or professionally to anyone concerned, but—if you were going to see SILENT HILL tonight, don’t. Michael J. Bassett‘s SILENT HILL: REVELATION (2012) almost immediately tanks any potential it had in mere minutes, plunging handily to levels of HELLRAISER 3 and up, if you know what I mean. Fine cast (Adelaide Clemens, Kit Harington, Deborah Kara Unger, Martin Donovan, Malcolm McDowell, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Sean Bean) wasted, excellent production/tech crew work wasted on an instantly-vapid cratering of the imaginative cartography of the SILENT HILL game/premise & first film. 17-about-to-turn-18 Sarah (Adelaide Clemens) is introduced stumbling through “oogy-boogy” amusement park (???) iconography bullshit, including, I kid you not, pink stuffed bunny-rabbit imagery (symbolic, you see, if her innocence)… and the movie never, ever recovers. It just slides further and further downhill, paint-by-number nonsense with a few eye-catching setpieces (the room of faceless/shuddering nurse thingies) and some listless inadvertent hilarity (Malcolm McDowell‘s WTF sequence).
As with HELLRAISER 2+ and NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. 2+ and every conceptually failed horror franchise, we spend literally half the movie stuck with Sarah/Heather (false names to elude “the coven,” we’re told) in fucking dingy/bloody/peeling corridors and hallways, amid alternatively firelit/gore-caked industrial/abattoir trappings, until we are misled back to the goddamned amusement park setpiece and the inevitable showdown between cenobite-like demons in a ring of fire. Yaaaaawwwwnnn. I’m a fan of Bassett‘s DEATHWATCH (2002), WILDERNESS (2006), and his Robert E. Howard SOLOMON KANE (2010), but man, this was painful. Went in with no expectations, as I had for the original SILENT HILL; that film was a pleasant surprise, this was an endurance test, and not in a good way. Honestly, I almost fell asleep, twice, and I was wide awake going in and coming out. It’s that bad. I found something of interest in every Halloween opening this month, but this… skip it. Really.
Worst film of the year, alongside the worst DVD of the year, another appalling sequel, PIRANHA 3DD (it didn’t play theatrically anywhere near us, so it premiered on DVD to me).
No, that stuff is harmless, really. It doesn’t matter in the least, really.
This end-of-year roundup has to do with a few of the major pop culture abuses of the year, the stuff that matters in the long run, as I saw them go down.
Needless to say, Marvel/Disney tops the shitlist, based on their own activities (which concluded in October with their acquisition of STAR WARS, which ties in to one of the events of 2012 that appalled).
I can and have gone on about this. Suffice to say Marvel/Disney have repeatedly shown their true colors: in any scenario involving a lone individual surmounting insurmountable odds—their favorite fictional narrative construct, the core of the Marvel mythos Jack Kirby co-created—Marvel/Disney legal are Galactus, and there is no Silver Surfer soaring in to save the day.
To top it off—allowing mock movie patriotism/jingoism to trump real-life patriotism from a real-life veteran and patriot—Jack Kirby (Michael Parks) was cut from Ben Affleck‘s ARGO (2012), save for a fleeting screen appearance.
I was so hoping, after the first ARGO trailer, that Kirby‘s real-life role in the ARGO true history would be illuminated—a counter and a ‘fuck you’ of sorts to Marvel/Disney and THE AVENGERS, if you will, and one that average American audiences would see and ponder, however momentarily. Alas, it was not to be; and the art Kirby did do for the fictional movie (concept drawings, not storyboards) were neither emulated nor made an appearance. So, another (inadvertent) dis of Kirby and his heirs, alas…
In the end, any contemporary creator who brings anything of any remote potential value to the Marvel/Disney table is an idiot, given how Marvel has historically treated its “own,” and now how Marvel/Disney has hammered any attempt at redress into the dirt, leaving those who did contribute something of value to the pantheon bloodied and beaten.
“I was watching THE TONIGHT SHOW the night Johnny Carson called Jack Kirby a fraud. I remember yelling at the screen, “You idiot!”
I was also watching the next night, when Carson apologized at length.
It was a total misunderstanding. On the first night, Carson was discussing a flier or similar ad somebody had handed him, advertising a personal experience by Jack Kirby, “king of the comics.” Given his background, and his long years of bringing up new comedians on his show, Carson thought that this guy Kirby was some borsht-belt nobody rooking audiences by trumpeting a prominence he hadn’t earned.
By the next night, somebody had clued Carson in about Kirby’s true claim to fame and he showed genuine contrition over bad-mouthing someone without full knowledge of the facts.”
Of course, Carson never brought Kirby on to the show, either. A missed opportunity, never recuperable.
And lest any fools out there still harbor any misplaced warm-and-fuzzies for Disney in its current corporate incarnation, note how they willingly, spitefully cut the throat of one of their own this year, too:
JOHN CARTER (dropping ON MARS was a dumb move) was a surprisingly rousing, heartfelt, and marvelous sf-fantasy epic.
Why did Disney throttle its own baby just out of the crib?
I’m convinced this was (a) to put Pixar and director Andrew Staton in their “place” in the Disney roster and (b) pissing on the previous regime’s $250 million production to make way for the Marvel franchises (usurping the “boy power” the previous regime perceived in JOHN CARTER OF MARS) and wholesale purchase of STAR WARS they were prepping for this past fall.
Can’t have competing franchises, even if STAR WARS plundered plenty from Edgar Rice Burroughs and Barsoom (including plundering from FLASH GORDON, which had previously plundered John Carter and Barsoom in the 1930s).
The big lesson for Pixar vets: If you make a live-action movie, do it for a rival studio. The obvious corporate “lesson” here: Even when we give you cart blanche and back your pet project to the tune of $250 million+, we will fucking tank you. Brad Bird‘s MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL (2011, and a lesser movie by far compared to JOHN CARTER) was handled properly by Paramount and reaped a bundle at the boxoffice ($694 million+)—Disney wanted JOHN CARTER to fail. Period. They wanted Stanton back in the Pixar pens, doing what “he should be doing.” Period.
After a completely botched non-marketing campaign (that still inexplicably “cost” $100 million alone, though most of my comics amigos mount better marketing campaigns working solo promoting their own work online), 10 days into its theatrical run the current monster head of Disney, Rich Ross (approved by Robert Iger), announced Disney was writing it off—an unprecedented studio move, terminating any chance of the film having legs in theatrical—and killed the movie while making the bed for a rosier quarterly report by ditching CARTER publicly.
It was a final, official, and coldly and cruelly calculated nail in the coffin.
Further cementing the atrocity exhibit that Disney pretended and pretends was a “marketing campaign,” beyond reprint editions of the novels and Marvel comics (JOHN CARTER WARLORD OF MARS), there was absolutely no merchandizing of any kind (meaning they didn’t even give it the “push” an earlier, equally reluctant Disney incarnation tentatively gave to a film they misunderstood and loathed upon its theatrical release, A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, which at least had a toy and books out); and, moreover—we were and are on fucking planet Mars
- (launched on November 26, 2011, the rover Curiosity was en route to the Red Planet even as the film opened),
a hot news item all this year, and Disney didn’t even exploit that obvious reality tie-in!
Disney failed utterly to “sell” the fact that the Burroughs MARS had been plundered by pop blockbusters from STAR WARS to AVATAR. I didn’t see one ad saying, “from the creator of TARZAN,” did you? I mean, Disney=Tarzan for most of this generation, who have never laid eyes on a TARZAN anything that wasn’t Disneyfied. Disney “marketing” failed to push that this was the wellspring—it all started on Mars, so to speak. Most of you reading this here could cook up a better marketing campaign in exchange for a hot breakfast this morning! This left average, head-in-the-sand unknowing audiences able to honestly believe and say, “this is a copy of AVATAR“ or “I saw this in STAR WARS—yawn.”
How a movie can reap $300 million+ internationally and still be prematurely mischaracterized as “a bomb” by Hollywood pundits and the assholes who rule is scandalous.
This shows how bankrupt the studio system is, and should put paid to any creator’s dream of ever making any mark with Disney—currently, under Iger, a world media power in simple acquisition-and-conquer mode (again: Marvel, STAR WARS).
Why make or back what you’ve made, if you can just buy more pre-sold industries?
- I highly recommend anyone interested in finding out more give Michael D. Sellers‘ John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood (2012) a read; despite Sellers’ own suspect history, and the shortcomings of his narrative (including no mention of NASA’s mission to Mars, a major oversight), it’s a recommended overview and essential reading for those tracking such matters.
Sellers misses another obvious point: there’s no analysis of how the current studio system inflates the budgets of all effects films with systematic “constantly shooting/revising” in ways that would have made the rigorously-scheduled-and-budgeted Ray Harryhausen/Charles Schneer features of yore impossible to make in their own day and ages.
Fuck Disney, and fuck Marvel, and fuck STAR WARS anything.
I’ve had it with any further emotional investment in anything that smacks of any of those three corporate entities, now handily made one.
* Meanwhile, the Marvel/Disney judgment against Ghost Rider co-creator Gary Friedrich stands as warning to all freelancers: stop selling sketches or making any form of income from trade at conventions involving corporate-owned characters, or be prepared to pay the piper.
I personally advise all freelancers to simply stop, full stop, sketching or indulging any non-licensed commerce involving any Marvel character or conceptual property.
Despite the “no no that’s not what it means” blather from current Marvel management, the year wrapped up with this bon mot,
- a “love letter” from Marvel legal to the creators/proprietors of creator-owned properties once published by Marvel‘s once-generous Epic Comics creator-owned imprint
(on the public record, Starstruck creators Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta), with a cease-and-desist notice that included demands for a full accounting of decades of income and commerce trading on their own property.
Marvel/Disney legal could care less what management says to comfort freelancers.
You’ve all been given fair and public notice. 2012 began with the bombshell judgment against Gary Friedrich, and ended with a legal attack on Epic Comics creators who fully own their own work.
And act accordingly in 2013.
Some freelancers, like James Lowder, suggested contract language to cover this
but I can’t see how Marvel/Disney would ever countenance, much less condone, such an agreement. I certainly didn’t see any momentum on that front, to say the least.
And speaking of no-leverage-positions in freelancing:
* On the freelancing front: While the creep of odious work-for-hire contract terms into the mainstream book trade continues unabated—most often under the guise of “author retains all copyright” clause followed by terms deeding the work to the publisher “for the life of copyright,” meaning forever, long after you are dead, and amounts to work-for-hire sans work-for-hire language—the most obscene abuse of corporate contract language I witnessed in 2012 was the ongoing practice of forcing freelancers who are simply showing their work for the first time to a potential client to pre-emptively (a) de-value and (b) sign over all rights to their work, before the interview even takes place.
Until recently, I simply declined to submit or work with publishers who would pre-emptively send me forms requiring I, essentially, sign away all rights before they even looked at what they asked me to send them. (This was particularly appalling when a publisher would approach me to bring them something of my own—followed by a contract stating nothing of the sort had happened, and that I was the one initiating contact.)
Of late, the sort of “submission release” that freelancers are presented with increasingly makes it inadvisable, impossible, and/or insane to even consider responding to inquiries from various publishers and media firms. It has become truly infuriating.
I now have a short form I can send an editor or potential client to cover these legal bases without signing away all my rights up front, but as my legal counsel stated when providing it, “This is a rather quixotic and probably pointless task, because [freelancers] have zero negotiating power in this type of situation; in effect it’s the publisher’s way or the highway. Besides nothing will alienate a potential client more than a prospect who refuses to sign their company’s boilerplate.”
There must be some legal language that cover their corporate asses while acknowledging (a) they asked me to submit something or work with them, and (b) that the mere act of having an interview or folio review doesn’t necessitate my capitulating all my copyrights or ownership to them before we’re even setting a foot in the door.
I could provide multiple examples from contracts and submission forms in my files (the first I ever saw came from Dark Horse Comics in the 1990s), but will restrict this public post to language already shared online, specifically
specific wordings in now-standard animation studio portfolio review contracts, as posted in late November 2012 to this online blog by Mark Mayerson:
- Here’s the link to the original Mark Mayerson post, and be sure to read the comments thread, please.
Mark highlights the current Sony submission release, specifically this clause:
Subject to applicable law and except as otherwise expressly provided in any other agreement that you (or your employer if you are not employed by SPE) may have with SPE with respect to the resources made available on this Site (a “Base Agreement”):
• You agree that any intellectual property or materials, including but not limited to questions, comments, suggestions, ideas, discoveries, plans, notes, drawings, original or creative materials, or other information, provided by you in the form of e-mail or electronic submissions to SPE, or uploads or postings to this Site (“Submissions”), shall become the sole property of SPE to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law and will be considered “works made for hire” or “commissioned works” owned by SPE;
• To the extent that any Submission may not constitute a “work made for hire” or “commissioned work” owned by SPE under applicable law, you hereby irrevocably assign, and agree to assign, to SPE all current and future right, title and interest in any and all such Submissions; and
• SPE shall own exclusive rights, including any and all intellectual property rights, and shall be entitled to the unrestricted use of Submissions for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without acknowledgment or additional compensation to you.
In the event applicable law operates to prevent such assignment described above, or otherwise prevents SPE from becoming the sole owner of any such Submissions, you agree to grant to SPE, and this provision shall be effective as granting to SPE, (with unfettered rights of assignment) a perpetual, worldwide, paid-in-full, nonexclusive right (including any moral rights) and license to make, use, sell, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, communicate to the public, perform and display the Submissions (in whole or in part) worldwide and or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed, for the full term of any rights that may exist in any such Submissions.
By making Submissions, you represent that (i) you have full power and authority to make the assignment and license set forth above, (ii) the Submissions do not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party, and (iii) SPE shall be free and have the right to use, assign, modify, edit, alter, adapt, distribute, dispose, promote, display, and transmit the Submissions, or reproduce them, in whole or in part, without compensation, notification, or additional consent from you or from any third party.
In the comments thread, Alan Cook added…
Thanks first of all for pointing this out. Like you said though this seems boilerplate to me.
“In the event that You submit Your Portfolio as requested, You hereby acknowledge and agree that You will not receive any compensation for submitting Your Portfolio; that You are submitting the Portfolio voluntarily (and not in confidence or trust); that no confidential or fiduciary relationship is intended or created by reason of the submission of the Portfolio or otherwise; and that the Portfolio (and any individual element in the Portfolio) may be identical or similar to material that is or may be in development at DreamWorks. You agree that You understand that the purpose of this policy and these terms is to avoid the possibility of future misunderstandings or disputes when projects developed independently by DreamWorks might appear to be similar to others’ creative works.
Nothing herein, or in the submission of the Portfolio, shall place DreamWorks in any different position from any other member of the public with respect to the Portfolio. Accordingly, any part of the Portfolio that could be freely used by a member of the public may be used by DreamWorks without liability to You or any third-party claiming rights from or through You. You hereby acknowledge and agree that DreamWorks’ use of material identical or similar to the Portfolio, or containing features or elements identical or similar to those contained in the Portfolio, shall not obligate DreamWorks to negotiate with You, nor entitle You to any compensation or other entitlement, if DreamWorks determines, in its sole and absolute discretion, that DreamWorks has an independent legal right to use such other material (for example, because such features or elements were not new or novel, were not originated by You, or were or may hereafter be independently created by or submitted to DreamWorks).”
” Notwithstanding the above, Participant hereby waives any and all rights to any stories, ideas, drawings, opinions, and any other creative materials posted to the Fox site. Participant authorizes Fox to utilize, in any manner it sees fit and for eternity, the materials posted on the site, which shall become the property of Fox. Participant releases Fox from any and all claims or liability (now known or hereafter arising) in connection therewith, and agrees to indemnify Fox in connection therewith pursuant to the terms of Paragraph 3 below. Participant agrees and acknowledges that participation in the Fox site shall not give rise to any confidential, fiduciary, implied-in-fact, implied-in-law, contractual, or other special relationship between Fox and Participant (other than the contractual relationship between Fox and Participant entered into by virtue of Participant’s agreement to these Rules of Conduct.)”
In our current ongoing Recession/Depression, this is only going to get worse, folks. “You’re lucky to have a job” sentiments from those who don’t freelance fail to acknowledge how difficult freelancing usually is in the best of economic times—and this environment is increasingly toxic before our foot is even in the door.
I don’t have a solution for this, other than:
(a) don’t sign such a release, which means no portfolio review. Or
(b) only include material you have no future plans for in your portfolio, which means you’re not putting your best foot forward, which means you won’t shine.
As my legal counsel noted, submitting a replacement agreement will likely terminate any chance of your getting an interview right from the get-go.
This is a lose/lose situation, and highlights how toxic the freelancer’s position has become in corporate America circa 2012.
PS: Never underestimate the willingness of “talent” to sell itself short. We have a generation of creators coming up who are convinced corporations have the right to fleece all mankind, including creators, past the marrow. Just look at the shilling both pros and “fandom” ruthlessly indulges daily online—which brings me back to the bile unleashed on the Kirby heirs amid the massive masturbatory celebrations of THE AVENGERS movie online.
Happy Fucking New Year.
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