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It's a Wonderful Life, the Sequel?

Kid Dabb

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By Shawn Dwyer

Wednesday November 27, 2013


It's a Wonderful Life. Yes, the perennial Christmas classic starring James Stewart in his most iconic performance is about to get the sequel treatment.


According to the Hollywood Reporter, independent production companies Star Partners and Hummingbird Productions have put the sequel into active development with an eye toward a theatrical release late next year. Granted, the two companies are outside the studio system, so no shame on Hollywood for trying to capitalize on a favorite classic movie. Yet.


Still, producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth managed to raise $25-35 million for the production, according to Variety magazine. And they even managed to land original co-star Karolyn Grimes to appear in the film. Grimes played Stewart's young daughter, Zuzu, and is reportedly reprising the character as an angel for the sequel.


How did this all come about? Part of the story undoubtedly involves the original movie being in the public domain thanks to seeing its copyright lapse due to a clerical error in 1974. Paramount Pictures does hold home video rights to the original through the copyright of the source material, The Greatest Gift, so time will tell what's to happen with the sequel once it actually goes into production.

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Hey, Kid, did you know that D.W. Griffith tried to talk David O. Selznick into producing a new Technicolor re-make of BIRTH OF A NATION in the late 1930s? Selznick turned him down and produced GONE WITH THE WIND instead.



2.12 MB pdf download, 27 pages of Selznick memos, use "birth" for a keyword search:



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>From the Selznick memos: Furthermore, there is nothing in the

>story that necessarily needs the Klan. The revenge for the attempted

>attack can very easily be identical with what it is without their being

>members of the Klan. A group of men can go out to "get" the perpe? -

>trators of an attempted rape without having long white sheets over

>them and without having their membership in a society as a motive.


This is most interesting, as it displays a clarity of thought which is amazing in it's simplicity.


I get these little flashes of clarity now and then and I am overwhelmed at how we, as human beings, tend to unnecessarily complicate everything.

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*It's a Wonderful Life* is back under copyright and has been for about ten years. Paramount holds the copyright and they are threatening legal action if the filmmakers go through with the film.


The filmmakers thought the film was in the public domain but they were wrong. Since they don't hold the copyright to the film or the characters, the sequel isn't looking anything like a sure deal right now.



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Thanks, Fedya. That got me to looking about and I found this.. on that.


h2. Why It?s a Wonderful Life Comes but Once a Year

It used to be broadcast all the time.


November 20, 2013 4:24 PM

By Matt Alsdorf - The Explainer


This week, to the collective groans of just about everyone, it was announced that a sequel is in the works to the beloved holiday classic It?s a Wonderful Life. Star Partners and Humming - bird Productions are said to be behind the follow-up, though their legal right to do so has been questioned. In 1999, Explainer examined the long, complicated copyright history of the film. The original article is below.


It's a Wonderful Life aired on television last weekend?one of its only 1999 broadcasts. Just a few years ago, the movie seemed to be shown on a different channel almost every day throughout the Christmas season. What changed?


U.S. copyright law determines who may distribute, display, or reproduce a film, a book, a drawing -- essentially anything "fixed in a permanent medium," as the lawyers like to say. Works not covered by copyrights -- including ones with copyrights that have expired and those that never secured this protection --are said to be in the "public domain." These works, like the near-ancient Sherlock Holmes stories and some of Charlie Chaplin's silent films, can be reproduced, broadcast, and sold freely.


It's a Wonderful Life entered the public domain by accident. In 1946, when the movie was filmed, U.S. copyright protection lasted 28 years and could be renewed for another 28 years by filing some paperwork and paying a nominal fee. However, Republic Pictures, the original copyright owner and producer of It's a Wonderful Life, neglected to renew the 1946 copyright in 1974. So, the film entered the public domain. Though a box office flop on release, it became immensely popular on television thanks to repeated showings: Stations programmed it heavily during the holidays, paying no royalties to its producers, and more than 100 distributors sold the movie on tape.


*Republic regained control of the lucrative property in 1993 by flexing a new Supreme Court ruling that determined that the holder of a copyright to a story from which a movie was made had certain property rights over the movie itself.* Since Republic still owned the copyrighted story behind It's a Wonderful Life and had also purchased exclusive rights to the movie's copyrighted music, it was able to essentially yank the movie out of the public domain: It claimed that since Wonderful Life relied on these copyrighted works, the film could no longer be shown without the studio's blessing. (Technically, the film itself is not copyrighted. One could hypothetically replace the music, rearrange the footage, and sell or show the new product --but no one has done this.) In 1994, Republic* signed a "long-term" deal granting NBC exclusive rights to broadcast the movie, and the network typically does so between one and three times a year.


Wonderful Life won't re-enter the public domain for quite a while. Congress has repeatedly expanded copyright protections and made them effective retroactively. Most recently, at the behest of Disney and other large media corporations with soon-to-expire copyrights, Congress added 20 years to all existing copyright claims. They now stand at 95 years for copyrights held by corporations. (The copyright protection for individual writers and artists lasts 70 years beyond their deaths.) Thus, showings of Wonderful Life will remain limited well into the 21st century.


So.. basically, if you want to see the original uncut It's a Wonderful Life, you're going to have to rent it or buy it - for the next 95 years or so anyway. That ****.

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Thank you, lzcutter :) You slipped one in here while I was composing my reply to Fedya.


Now we've got two of us mentioning two different studios having control, which leaves another conundrum :P I had not intended to dredge all this up, I was just curious as to how a Public Domain property (which it is not now) could be monopolized by NBC. This has been answered with the U.S. Copyright Law's recent modifications.

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Apparently the US Constitution allows Congress to pass these new laws. There is actually a mention of the right of people to maintain control over intelectual property they produce, and it's mentioned somewhere in the Constitution before the Bill of Rights.


The Bill of Rights forbids an Ex Post Facto law, but this Copyright law does not seem to be one of those.


An Ex Post Facto law would be one which makes it illegal, retroactively, to HAVE already shown the film for free, 30 years ago, back when it WAS in the public domain. But Congress can't do that. However, it apparently can allow for a later re-copyright AFTER a public domain period, and it can forbid current free showings of the re-copyrighted film.


(Does all that make sense? I think it does.) :)

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LOL! :D No. Really. That was perfectly understandable - to me.


Music can be copyrighted in various forms, yet chords and progressions are not copyrightable. If they were, we'd only have a mere fraction of our current amount of songs.


I believe film stories' source material, such as books, short stories, etc., used to be held separate from the final medium (film, video..), but this recent ruling seems to have combined them - sort of.. in a way. The owner of the rights to the source material can now have a say in the "film's" usage. Now, though, I believe the music and dialog may be rearranged in any number of ways, allowing for new versions to be copyrighted by others for their own benefit(s).


P.S. I've been up since 4 AM cooking for 10 people. I've eaten 4 times, not counting the 4 donuts and 2 colas I had to get me started, and the 2 slices of blueberry and apple pies after dinner(s). I never eat like this and now I feel like I have swallowed a basketball. I may not eat tomorrow - AT ALL!

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What surprised me the most, about 20-30 years ago, was when I heard that "Happy Birthday" was newly copyrighted and the owner wanted payment each time the song was sung, and more money for people singing it on TV and in the movies.


And then there was the case of the Zapruder film where Congress made it legal for the Federal government to steal it away from the Zapruder family, for a payment of a few million dollars.


And a few months ago I read that D.W. Griffith kept trying to get someone to re-make BOAN in Technicolor, and then he died and some guys claimed to own the copyright and tried to get it re-made into the early 1970s, then some Federal court finally ruled the film to be in the Public Domain, with nobody owning the copyright.


Oh, and about 30 years ago I heard several news reports that said some music copyright owners had been selling the Girl Scouts some campfire songbooks for many years, and then all of a sudden the owners of the books wanted the Girl Scouts to pay an extra fee every time they used the books to sing songs out of them, while gathered around their campfires. One fee for buying the books and another fee for singing the songs in the books.

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>Will the title be "It's a Wonderful Afterlife"? :P


Ba-Dump-bump-tssss LOL! :)




I recall that Happy Birthday thing. Never followed up on it, but now that I think about it, when was the last time I heard it on the radio, tv or recent film..? I believe a non-performance singing of the song wouldn't be subject to royalties. By non-performance, I mean non-professional or private usage, i.e., not performed professionaly, for an audience, or other end recipient - for pay or no (that's oversimplified). Private usage is not subject to royalties - singing in the shower, birthday parties, etc., (also oversimplified).


Re: BOAN - Is this a film that should not be remade, considering our current collective social position? A scene-for-scene remake may not be presentable in a pure entertainment form unless it's presented in a semi-documentary fashion - IMO.


Re: Zapruder film - I have mixed feelings on this. Without getting too far into that, I do feel it was evidence in a murder case, which should speak for itself. If it had been my film, I would have offered it willingly - and gladly, expecting it to be returned sometime down the road when they could make no further reasonable use of it. Then I would have expected it to be returned to me, as the rightful owner. It's not their property. It's evidence. I'm not law-minded so I can't say if there may have been, or is now, a legal method supporting their actions surrounding this film.

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As I'm a bit late to the party here, sorry, but how did this baby here segue into the topic of the Zapruder film?


(...just a wild guess here, BUT have you guys heard if in this proposed sequel there's, say, maybe a scene like when Bert the cop says "Stand back" as he indiscriminately fires his service revolver into Pottersville's town square after George punches him, but in the sequel he hits two innocent bystanders with one "magic bullet" or somethin'???) ;)

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>As I'm a bit late to the party here, sorry, but how did this baby here segue into the topic of the Zapruder film?


Oh.. it was something like not being allowed to sing happy birthday to a guy who had just been shot after his savings & loan went under because of the Klan selling the copyrights to Paramount. .. or something. I know happy birthday was in there somewhere.


Me and Fred don't waste any time, we just get right off it :P

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>Wiki has an interesting article about Happy Birthday. Seems there are still lawsuits going on about it.


That was good. This song may now be in the public domain as it's being disputed

citing U.S. copyright law.


The difficulty in (legally) collecting royalties on copyrighted properties can be illustrated in the many rock bands which have (and still do) performed "cover songs" to mostly small, local audiences as they build their groups up from basement/garage bands to professional groups in clubs and such. Good luck trying to get royalties there.


>From Wiki article: The first book including the "Happy birthday" lyric set to the tune of "Good Morning to All" that bears a date of publication is ?The Beginners? Book of Songs,? published by the Cable Company, a piano manufacturer, in 1912.


This just shows how far back this cable company problem goes :)

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>So, the film entered the public domain. Though a box office flop on release, it became immensely popular on television thanks to repeated showings: Stations programmed it heavily during the holidays, paying no royalties to its producers, and more than 100 distributors sold the movie on tape.


As young Violet Bick said, "What's wrong with THAT?"


I think the entire "royalties" issue that reaches beyond the death of all involved in the actual creative process is a disgrace.

My kids will inherit my name, my tools and if they're lucky, my talent. WHY should they continue to be paid for what I created?


The only reason IAWL flourished is BECAUSE it was free for all to enjoy.

I could see studios *restoring* a PD film and selling their restored version; they invested time & money and many would be interested in viewing or buying a restored version. And this would open up all sorts of new competition (or creative process) where those are rewarded for doing a good job.


I think free enterprise is what fuels creativity. Those who just sit back and are paid from OTHER'S creativity are just leeches. And all art really belongs to the public anyway.


What good has come from those who hold on so tightly, that no one even gets to SEE these films wrapped up in royalty battles? They are simply forgotten.

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