Amazon and MGM really want to make a Buckaroo Banzai television series, but in order to make it happen, MGM is suing Banzai creators Earl M. Rauch and Walter D. Richter over who owns the rights.
In a lengthy document filed last week (see below), MGM states that it owns the rights to everything Buckaroo Banzai, even though Richter and Rauch claim differently. This isn’t the first stage of the lawsuit, as the rights issue has come up time and again going back to at least 2008 (and maybe before).
In August of this year, Kenneth Keller, the attorney for Rauch and Richter sent a letter to MGM outlining a portion of their claims. As reported by the Hollywood Reporter:
“We are not claiming the limited rights which MGM might own with respect to the single motion picture, Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, although as is discussed below, there are certainly serious questions even as to the chain of title with respect to that picture and MGM’s rights associated with it,” wrote Keller. “What my clients own are the overall rights to the world of Buckaroo Banzai, and all of the characters, themes and ideas associated with that world.”
Keller went on to explain that in 1981, MGM entered into an agreement with Rauch’s loan-out company for a single episode, but nearly a decade earlier, the script writer had created characters, successfully pitched Richter, and had sketched out five stories — “The Strange Case of Mister Cigars: A Buckaroo Bandy Mystery”; “Lepers from Saturn — A Buckaroo Banzai Adventure”; “A Buckaroo Banzai Thriller — ‘Find the Jet Cart,’ Said the President”; “Shields Against the Devil — A Buckaroo Banzai Thriller”; and “Forbidden Valley.”
WHAT!? How is this the first time I’ve heard about these other Buckaroo Banzai stories? I think that is the real headline. Buckaroo Banzai last appeared in comics in 2007 with “Return of the Screw” and “No Matter Where You Go” from Moonstone Books. I don’t know if MGM authorized that or if it was a deal with Richter and Rauch, though I think that will come up in this lawsuit.
In an interview with MovieFone in 2011, W.D. Richter seems hazy on the rights, claiming that is why a sequel was never made.
I believe MGM owns the theatrical rights. The other big insanity for Buckaroo is that the paper trail for the rights is almost impossible to follow. Warner Bros. wants to do an adult animated version of Buckaroo. PolyGram sold it to MGM as a big bundle — all these films move around. And then, finally, you’re sitting at a studio that you found out purchased part of someone’s library and they are reluctant to do anything with the title because they don’t know for a fact that David [Begelman], who was a notorious double dealer, might not have sold the international rights in perpetuity to some guy in Bangkok. And even if they are enthusiastic about doing a sequel, they’ll say, ‘our legal department is saying we don’t have a clear chain of title here, so we’re not going to stick our heads up, invest money, and then discover that some guy says, “Oh, by the way, I have all the international rights.’” – via Giant Freakin Robot
This isn’t the first time Buckaroo Banzai was being considered for a television series either, as in the late 90s FOX was pursuing a show. Nothing happened with that, though if you look around, you’ll find some pretty cool Jet Car test footage.
Show how this lawsuit affect Kevin Smith. In a lengthy Facebook video, Smith says he doesn’t want to work on a show if the creators can’t be involved, or will not get anything from it. For now, he’s stepping aside until it is all worked out.
SMotivation #3: Do the Right Thing
Posted by Kevin Smith on Monday, November 28, 2016
So there you go – just when we thought we were going to get a series from one of our favorite creators, who has a real love for the source material, this hiccup comes along. Will things change in the future? We’ll find out as this lawsuit moves forward. Hopefully Smith and company can all get together to make this happen sooner rather than later.