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PETER S. BEAGLE VS. GRANADA MEDIA INTERNATIONAL
(RE THE ANIMATED LAST UNICORN)

THE FACTS & CHRONOLOGY


Peter's conflict with Granada Media International over nonpayment on THE LAST UNICORN is, in most ways, a straightforward dispute.
  • Peter has a contract.

  • That contract is currently being violated by Granada, to the tune of a whole lot of money.

What makes things more complicated:
  • Granada is a multibillion-dollar media conglomerate (a part of the ITV PLC empire).

  • The roots of this dispute go back to 1979.

  • Records covering the 20 years between 1979 and 1999 are extremely spotty.

  • Granada has refused to supply credible answers or accurate records relating to any of their financial assertions. (The pathetically incomplete records Granada has condescended to provide indicate that Granada is only the latest in a series of film companies that have breached the contract.)

  • The evidence uncovered so far indicates that Peter has been cheated out of his due share of the income almost from day one back in 1982. What is happening now with Granada is bad enough, and plenty big, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.

  • This is a Hollywood contract we're talking about here, which means that all kinds of complexities involving entertainment law and film business accounting come into play.


CHRONOLOGY

April 1976 — Producer Michael Chase Walker options films rights for THE LAST UNICORN.

October 1977 — Michael Chase Walker exercises his option and permanently acquires the rights.

June 1979 — Marble Arch Productions (MAP), a subsidiary of the English company ITC Films, signs an agreement with Rankin-Bass Productions to finance the development phase of an animated feature version of THE LAST UNICORN.

November 1979 — ITC Films buys out Michael Chase Walker's rights to THE LAST UNICORN and gains additional rights in a new contract with Peter that replaces his previous deal with Michael. This contract specifies what Peter is owed for his LAST UNICORN rights, which is an initial fee plus:
  • 5% of the net profits from all revenues from the animated LAST UNICORN

  • 5% of the gross revenues from all LAST UNICORN merchandising

  • $20,000 for any and every sequel or remake (payment due on the 1st day of principal photography)

  • Various fees for any possible television series adaptations or spinoffs (depending on the length of the program and how it is broadcast or distributed)

The agreement also defines two kinds of sequels: producer-generated sequels to the animated movie, and author-generated sequels to the original novel, with Peter owning ALL rights — including all film rights — in the latter. (This detail wasn't important in 1979, but has become important now.)

November 1982 — THE LAST UNICORN premieres on 648 movie screens in the United States, earning $2,960,727 in its first week. In its second week it expands to 690 screens and earns another $2,565,286, only a 13% drop. (Source: VARIETY magazine's online box office database.) The movie stays in distribution for at least 6-8 weeks around the country. Note: No box office figures for the remainder of this initial release have yet been uncovered, but based on the first two weeks, standard industry rules of thumb would indicate a total US box office between $12 million and $18 million.

1982 to 19?? — Various official bits of LAST UNICORN merchandising are released: sheets, a lunch box, picture books, etc. ITC Films never directly informs Peter about any of them and never sends him any of his contractual 5% share of the gross merchandising revenues.

October 1983 — DAS LETZE EINHORN, the German-language version of THE LAST UNICORN, opens in West Germany. Thanks to an inventive campaign from its local distributor, the film outgrosses the German release of STAR WARS, earning an estimated $4.1 million.

1983 to 1986 — THE LAST UNICORN spreads around the world. The film plays in theaters in Pakistan, Burma, Iran, Cuba, Indonesia, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen, Iceland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Australia, Mexico, France, and Spain. It gets television distribution in Belgium, Algeria, Gabon, Germany, Italy, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Mexico, Korea, Argentina, Japan, Ecuador, and Honduras.

November 1983 to April 1986 — THE LAST UNICORN is aired 20 times on HBO in the United States.

August 1984 to July 1986 — THE LAST UNICORN is aired 25 times on CInemax in the United States.

1985 on — Various editions of THE LAST UNICORN are released on LaserDisc and VHS and BETA videotape in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. The videotape, in particular, is reported to have sold strongly. There are also additional cable television and local station broadcasts.

1993 — PolyGram acquires the ITC Entertainment Group. The US division of the ITC group continues operations under the name ITC Distribution, Inc.

1996 — ITC stops sending contractually-required twice-a-year business activity reports on THE LAST UNICORN to both Peter S. Beagle and Michael Chase Walker. Prior to this, (a) all reports have claimed that the movie was still in the red, and (b) somehow neglected to distribute any share of the merchandising income. Now all reporting stops when Peter and Michael receive a brief letter stating that the movie will obviously never be in the black, so ITC isn't going to bother to report any more.

1998 — Seagram/Universal buys PolyGram and puts the ITC library up for sale.

January 1999 — Carlton Communications acquires the ITC television and film library (approximately 7,500 hours of media), including THE LAST UNICORN.

October 2002 — Carlton Communications and Granada Television announce plans to merge. This effort is delayed by problems winning governmental approval.

September 2003 — VARIETY magazine prints a press release from Carlton describing how well it is doing with THE LAST UNICORN, citing DVD sales and cables TV sales around the world resulting in "more than one million pounds gross revenues."

October 2003 — Connor Cochran, Peter S. Beagle's business manager, calls and writes Carlton to point out that something is obviously wrong: during the same period that Carlton claims more than a million pounds in LAST UNICORN revenue, they have paid Peter nothing based on his rights contract.

November 2003 to April, 2004 — Connor exchanges letters and phone calls with Carlton. The details of the Carlton position keep changing, but the bottom line doesn't: the company’s rep firmly insists that Carlton owes Peter nothing. This executive also says that the VARIETY article was "a bit of PR fluff" and that rather than nearly $2 million worth of income, they've so far had only $274,000 in LAST UNICORN revenues. When asked to show supporting evidence for this claim, however, Carlton does not respond.

Note: Carlton does eventually admit that Peter is owed his share of whatever LAST UNICORN merchandising has been done since 1999. Subsequently Carlton sends two checks totaling just under $900. This implies that their grand total for six years of merchandising has been only $18,000, which seems extremely small. When pressed for supporting documentation, Carlton does not respond.

February 2004 — The long-delayed Carlton/Granada merger finally takes place, forming ITV PLC. The subdivision of the company dealing with THE LAST UNICORN is now called Granada International.

April 2004 — THE LAST UNICORN is finally released on DVD in the United States.

May 2004 — Connor goes to London to meet with three Granada executives. Connor makes various proposals regarding solutions to the current problems. The Granada executives refuse to admit there are any problems. At this meeting they do tell Connor that 31,000 DVDs have been sold in the UK so far, and that in the United States more than 140,000 DVDs and 100,000 videotapes have been sold in the previous month.

June 2004 to June 2005 — The stonewalling continues. At Granada, in the wake of the merger, executives come and go. Responsibility for the animated version of THE LAST UNICORN passes to Nadine Nohr (Managing Director) and David Johnson (Operations & Finance). Connor asks film producer and friend James Dowaliby to step in and speak on Peter's behalf, since Dowaliby and Nohr already know each other from previous work in the business. Despite repeated phone calls, emails, and one in-person meeting, however, Dowaliby is unable to effect any progress.

June 2005 — Dowaliby sends a final letter to Nadine Nohr and David Johnson. In this letter he makes it plain that Peter is prepared to proceed with legal action if necessary. Through a misdirected internal Granada communication, Dowaliby learns that Granada's representatives are far less confident of their position than they have claimed.

July 2005 — It takes Granada two weeks to officially respond to Dowaliby's letter, and when they do it is another content-free stall: a brief email from Nohr's assistant. All it says is: "I am writing to acknowledge your letter which we are in the process of considering. We will respond to you as soon as possible."

August 2005 — Connor lays the groundwork for possible legal action. He also contacts Lions Gate Films, the Granada-licensed American distributor of THE LAST UNICORN, to suggest that they release a special "collector's edition" DVD with restored video and sound, special extras, widescreen presentation, and special extras for the film's fans.


August 26, 2005 — Several things happen:
  • Having heard nothing from Granada in six weeks, Connor and Peter conclude that it is time to (a) proceed with legal action and (b) go public. Granada is a multibillion-dollar media conglomerate. Peter can't afford to fight them for his rights by himself, but with the backing of his many fans it will be a different story. The first http://www.conlanpress.com/youcanhelp page is written and posted.

  • Lions Gate gets back in touch. They are interested in the possibilities of a Collector's DVD project and want to talk further. They reveal that they have so far sold 310,000 DVDs of THE LAST UNICORN, and also a large number of videotapes, all without any advertising or promotion.

  • Based on this information and other discoveries, the "youcanhelp" page is revised and strengthened.

  • Connor and Peter make public announcements about the situation at ELF in Orlando and DragonCon in Atlanta.

  • The Peter S. Beagle Support Fund is set up so fans and concerned individuals can donate and help Peter raise the money he needs to continue.

September 2005 — Despite multiple emails and phone calls, in both directions, no progress is made. Granada states that their “finance department does not think” they owe any money to Peter, but in the same communication admit that they have no record of any earnings the film made prior to the 1999 acquisition. Which makes their claim laughable on the face of it.

October, 2005 — Granada executives express displeasure over the existence of this public campaign.

November, 2005 — No progress is made.

December, 2005 — A single ITC participation statement for THE LAST UNICORN surfaces. It covers the period from project inception through June 30th, 1986. This is the document on which Granada appears to be basing its claim that the film has never been in the black. Unfortunately for Granada, however, the numbers in this document literally do not add up, raising many more questions than they answer. (There is, for example, a charge against earnings of more than $3.3 million for original theatrical marketing expenses — but the detailed breakdown page for theatrical marketing expenses lists less than $150,000! Preliminary research indicates that the lower number is the correct one. If this and other findings hold, then THE LAST UNICORN was in the black within a year or two of its 1982 release.)



Follow this link for actions you can take to help.

Follow this link for a list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding Peter S. Beagle vs. Granada Media International.


— Connor Cochran, December 2005
 
   

 

 

 

 
    — All text and photos © 2005 Conlan Press.