Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Public domain tapped out? Try making movies based on historical figures

The beauty of works in the public domain is that audiences instantly recognize them. Familiar names, stories and ideas help sell movies and other ventures.
But when the public domain doesn’t tickle a moviemaker’s fancy, they can use historical figures and events as the starting point for new works of art.
Like public domain works, public figures are free for moviemakers to portray.
Often studios seeking to portray a public figure accurately will license a biographer’s non-fiction book as the basis for their movie. But when filmmakers simply want to have fun with an historic figure, they don’t have to pay anyone.
Consider two upcoming movies on Abraham Lincoln.
Director Steven Spielberg wants to do an accurate portrayal of the nations’ 16th president for his movie “Lincoln.” So, his team bought the movie rights to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals.”
Then there’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” from director Timur Bekmambetov. The fantasy-horror-thriller is described this way: “President Lincoln’s mother is killed by a supernatural creature, which fuels his passion to crush vampires and their slave-owning helpers.”
I didn’t see that in the history books.
Another movie in production has Lincoln fighting a different kind of undead, Shock Till You Drop reports. It’s called “Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.”
Fanciful takes on historical figures are a booming subgenre in the movies today.
In “The Raven,” John Cusack plays author Edgar Allan Poe, who’s brought in by authorities after a killer begins mimicking crimes from his horror stories.
Starz has ordered an historical fantasy series from screenwriter David S. Goyer (“The Dark Knight”) that re-imagines Leonardo da Vinci as a Renaissance-era Tony Stark. The show is titled “Da Vinci’s Demons.”
In another film production, London serial killer Jack the Ripper helps detectives solve a series of murders with supernatural overtones. It’s described as “From Hell” meets “Silence of the Lambs.”
But faithful biopics are still in vogue.
Most recently director Clint Eastwood did a biopic on the FBI’s first director J. Edgar Hoover called “J. Edgar,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Other biopics in production or development are about adult movie actress turned anti-porn crusader Linda Lovelace, Egyptian queen Cleopatra and outlaw couple Bonnie & Clyde.
A film in the works called “Elvis & Nixon” will tell the story of Elvis Presley’s famed meeting with President Richard Nixon in 1970.
The History Channel is planning to air the mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys” about the legendary feuding families. It stars Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton.
Ron Howard plans to produce a Western drama series about Doc Holliday for HBO.

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