buckaroo banzai

Fans might be in for a bit of a disappointment, as it seems that the Kevin Smith-spearheaded ‘Buckaroo Banzai’ series, slated to be available on Amazon has hit a legal snag.  Back in October, we reported that the writer of the original movie, Earl Mac Rauch and the director, Walter Richter had challenged the production, claiming that they, not MGM, the studio that made the movie, actually own the rights.  Indeed, Rauch created the concept of ‘Buckaroo Banzai’ about a neuroscientist/rock star/adventurer and his team of experts who battled paranormal threats, with plans to create a whole series of movies.

Unfortunately, the first movie tanked and was largely forgotten aside from a passionate fanbase.  Rauch has since continued Buckaroo’s adventures in comic book form, but had a whole second movie plotted out, ‘Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League’, which Smith  had hoped to bring to life for the show’s second season.  Things were moving fairly quickly on the Amazon show until Rauch and Richter began sending MGM cease and desist orders, claiming that they owned the rights to the concept, not the studio.  Now MGM has retaliated by filing a law suit against the creators.

In their filing, MGM (the “Plaintiffs”) state that Rauch and Richter (the “Defendants”):

“have now asserted in multiple letters to Plaintiffs that they, not Plaintiffs, supposedly own the exclusive right to produce and distribute a Buckaroo Banzai television series.  There is now a substantial controversy between the parties with great immediacy. MGM seeks to develop its new television series without Defendants’ interference. Accordingly, Plaintiffs bring this action to seek a declaration of the rights and legal relations of the parties with regard to Buckaroo Banzai.”

In August, Rauch and Richter’s attorney Kenneth Keller delivered a five page letter to MGM’s counsel, Robert Rotstein at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, stating:

“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.  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.”

Indeed, Rauch didn’t simply write ‘Across the 8th Dimension’, but provided MGM with outlines for five separate ‘Banzai’ stories in 1981 (which was then being considered for TV instead of theatrical), but MGM passed on the additional stories and, according to this cease and desist letter, only signed for the single ‘Across the 8th Dimension’ screenplay plus revisions.

“Critically… MGM passed on the opportunity to option or obtain any rights in Mr. Rauch’s larger property, including the other four episodes which he had written to the point or any other rights to the world of BUCKAROO BANZAI.  The Agreement itself specifically defines what MGM was contracting to acquire — a screenplay (based on a single episode of Buckaroo Banzai) and two revisions — and the rights associated with that screenplay.”

Through its filing, MGM is seeking a legal declaration that MGM owns the copyrights to ‘Buckaroo Banzai’ and that Rauch and Richter cannot prevent them from creating the Amazon series.  They are also asserting that Rauch signed away his rights to the work he submitted, including the five original story outlines and that because of statue of limitations, Rauch and Richter are barred from pursuing any claims of ownership.  There is also a provision to stop the two creators from making further claims that MGM does NOT own the rights, as the two have provided interviews to various websites and made claims to that effect on social media.

MGM asserts that Rauch and Richter have known since 2008 that the studio was planning a TV series and that in 2011, the pair submitted their first declaration of ownership and the two parties have been going back and forth ever since.

Are you disappointed in this development?  Do you think Rauch and Richter have a legal leg to stand on?  Or do you just hope some agreement is made so that this show gets made?

Source: The Hollywood Reporter