Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood: A Novel looks back at the world of 1969 Los Angeles recreated in the director’s 2019 film, delving into the history of stuntman Cliff Booth. The character, portrayed by Best Supporting Actor award-winner Brad Pitt, served as a good friend to former cowboy picture star Rick Dalton, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. Booth serves equally well as an example of why protecting ancillary rights should be on every filmmaker’s list of deal points when negotiating distribution and other key agreements.
Ancillary rights are rights related to a particular intellectual property. In the case of a film, they include rights such as novelization rights, soundtrack rights, music publishing rights, and merchandising rights. Each of these rights can be separated and sold or licensed to the same or different parties and in domestic and foreign territories. But before doing so to finance development or production of a film, consider whether and how to split ancillary rights to best preserve options. Most domestic distributors, for example, will demand ancillary rights as a condition of taking on a film to cover their increased distribution costs.
The novel based on Once Upon a Time came after the film became Tarantino’s biggest domestic box office opening. As demonstrated by its prompt rise to the top spot on Amazon, a guaranteed audience for an ancillary work like a novel exists for such a property. This obviously makes the film’s novelization rights extremely valuable.
But all serious independent filmmakers should recognize the importance of ancillary rights. After all, it would have been almost impossible “once upon a time” to predict the success of Tarantino’s Hollywood story when the picture was in development. Filmmakers should assume that their own ancillary rights (which they, as creators of the underlying work, control at the outset) could one day be equally valuable——and attempt to negotiate accordingly. You might never imagine a successful book or other related work based on your film. But you should never give control of the possibility away unless as part of a coordinated effort to fully and successfully exploit your creative product.
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