Monday, 9 February 2015

WHEEL OF TIME gets a TV pilot out of nowhere

There was quite a big surprise last night for Wheel of Time fans watching the FXX channel in the United States. Out of nowhere, they were treated to a 30-minute TV "pilot" for a possible TV series based on the books, entitled Winter Dragon. Behold:




The "pilot" was apparently made on almost zero money in just a few days a couple of weeks ago.

"But how?" you may ask, possibly after only a moment's pause to reflect on the gloriously demented decision to cast Billy Zane as Ishamael, the Betrayer of Hope.

Robert Jordan sold the film and TV rights to Wheel of Time back in the mid-2000s to Red Eagle Entertainment, a rights-handling company set up specifically to get the franchise expanded into TV, film comic books and video games. To say they failed spectacularly is an understatement. The Wheel of Time comic book was delayed multiple times and left incomplete. Red Eagle tried to crowdfund a mobile Wheel of Time game but asked for an obscene amount of money and then failed to publicise it anywhere, resulting in an unmitigated disaster. Red Eagle then won back some respect by commissioning Obsidian Entertainment, one of the best video games companies in the business, to work on a single-player RPG. However, they then failed to produce any money to fund the game. They somehow managed to sign a deal with Electronic Arts in which EA agreed to release the game but not fund it, one of the most inexplicably baffling failures of corporate dealing I've ever encountered.

Of course, the real money was in a film/TV adaptation. Red Eagle's initial attempts to produce a film script based on The Eye of the World were not successful, with a few people who managed to read the script declaring it unbelievably awful. With the company running out of money, Red Eagle re-sold the film and TV rights to Universal Pictures in 2008 in return for Red Eagle retaining a production credit.

Those rights were not forever, and on Wednesday 11 February 2015 (that's this Wednesday, people) the rights would have reverted to the Bandersnatch Group, aka the Jordan Estate, overseen by Robert Jordan's widow Harriet McDougal. During the last few months of his life Robert Jordan had become very irritated with Red Eagle's handling of the Wheel of Time project and one of his very last blog posts was spent castigating them. Fan appreciation for Red Eagle's efforts cooled noticeably at that point. At Worldcon this past August, I moderated a Wheel of Time convention panel with Harriet in attendance and she explained that a number of other Hollywood studios were very interested in the property. With Game of Thrones a huge hit, other networks were looking for a fantasy project and as the biggest-selling post-Tolkien epic fantasy series, WoT was clearly the #1 desired property. With less-successful works like Shannara and The Kingkiller Chronicle getting optioned, it's very likely that WoT would be snatched up by another (probably far more competent) company in short order.



This "pilot" appears to have been made specifically to forestall such a move. With this "pilot" made, Red Eagle (Universal's involvement is highly unclear at the moment) may try to argue that they have succeeded in getting the series made and thus can retain the film rights so they can, er, sit on them for a few more years and prevent a series getting made by actually competent personnel. That sound you can hear right now is that of several hundred lawyers reaching for their pencil sharpeners.

Harriet McDougal's response to all of this:

"This morning brought startling news. A “pilot” for a Wheel of Time series, the "pilot" being called Winter Dragon, had appeared at 1:30 in the morning, East Coast time, on FXX TV, a channel somewhere in the 700s (founded to concentrate on comedy, according to the Washington Post).

It was made without my knowledge or cooperation. I never saw the script. No one associated with Bandersnatch Group, the successor-in-interest to James O. Rigney, was aware of this.

Bandersnatch has an existing contract with Universal Pictures that grants television rights to them until this Wednesday, February 11 – at which point these rights revert to Bandersnatch.

I see no mention of Universal in the “pilot”. Nor, I repeat, was Bandersnatch, or Robert Jordan’s estate, informed of this in any way.

I am dumbfounded by this occurrence, and am taking steps to prevent its reoccurrence."
More news as I get it.

Update: The director of the "pilot", Seda James, passed away just a few days ago. Condolences to his friends and family.

Update #2: Red Eagle have commented on the "pilot", confirming that they indeed made it to avoid losing the screen rights. They also confirm that they are pushing ahead with a plan to make a big-budget TV show, apparently because Game of Thrones is a big hit. No further word is given on if a reputable network is interested, or how they may proceed without known producers or writers on board.

57 comments:

Alex Walsh said...

Wow. Just Wow. Not often I'm speechless but that is simply astonishing TV.

Johan Sporre said...

I'm flabbergasted.
Although seeing this I'm actually a bit hopeful that the books could be good TV (though not in this incarnation, which will never go beyond a pilot).

AbusiveUncleJoe said...

I hope that was sarcasim, It is extremely offensive to fans of the books.

catwhowalksbyhimself said...

It's called an ashcan copy and is actually an extremely common practice. Usually ashcan's aren't actually aired like this, but apparently the contract required it. Another good example is the Fantastic Four movie made in the 90's and never intended to be released, just to retain the film rights by ensuring a film was made. In this case its remarkable only because most people are ignorant of it, but it's not unusual not is it considered a bad thing to do.

Bruce Tillman said...

This is a nightmare.

Adam Whitehead said...

"Astonishing" simply means to shock or astound. It's one of those words, like "remarkable", that has taken on a positive aspect when actually it can be taken as a good thing or a bad thing.

I'm pretty certain Alex was not genuinely blown away by the quality of this production :)

Anonymous said...

I... there are no words. This is INSANE. Not only was this crappy episode made just to retain rights, I don't doubt that the fact they aired it will cool interest from other, more competent, production houses who may get the rights in the future. REE is just horrible

Adam Whitehead said...

"but it's not unusual not is it considered a bad thing to do."

In this case, it is. Red Eagle are DESPISED by the entire WoT fanbase. Robert Jordan spent almost his last public utterance trashing them. They have done almost nothing with the franchise in the decade they've had the rights to it. When it comes down to the fact that there are other, more credible companies waiting in the wings to take a swipe at the project and there was just two days left before Red Eagle lost the rights forever, for them to pull this move is quite astonishing. To do so with informing Harriet shows a staggering lack of respect to the estate or the fanbase.

Now, just maybe Red Eagle will partner with a company who hire some top drawer actors, directors and writers and we end up with a really good TV show. I see little evidence of this happening so far.

Adam Whitehead said...

That's "without" informing Harriet.

Andrew said...

Well it looks like a Fox network so we can expect about 13 episodes or so before it is unceremoniously axed.

Anonymous said...

Pretty funny/sad stuff. Usually when we talk about hail mary copyright saves, we have to go back to the 1994 Fantastic Four film. This is something even beyond that. It looks like Red Eagle actually had to buy the airtime to show this pilot, since it was in the middle of infomercial space.

Anonymous said...

Sad, but it's the darker side of Hollywood. As you mention, RJ himself was concerned of REE and showed his disappointment (putting it mildly). It's extremely dirty from a fan's perspective. And what are REE's motives? They've done NOTHING (I include the pilot in this statement) with the rights, what do they believe they have to gain at this point?

Terez said...

Hey Wert, that was RJ's very last blog post, not one of the last. Wilson took over for him on the next blog because it was determined that RJ's medical regime was making him too viperish to post.

Catherine Michael said...

I think WB's Harry Potter Production team or the LOTR's production team would make awesome movies out of the WOT series. I would love to see the WOT series produced even if RE had to get a percent out of it just to get the ball rolling. It is puzzling that they would try so hard to hold onto the rights if they have no intentions (and no funding) to produce any form of contractually mandated products.

Anonymous said...

"what do they believe they have to gain at this point?"

That's the thing. That they would do this hints at the huge amounts of interest there must exist. WoT hits a lot of big hollywood requirements. It is a proven property. It has enough classic fantasy elements to comfort the formula brigade.

But it also is distinct in the number of female characters and the amount of agency they wield, and this works perfectly in the current climate where viewers are finally beginning to care about that, and are paying money to watch women be kickass/funny/important.

And unlike GoT, there's actually an excess of completed material to work from.

Jennifer Sedai said...

So, where was the explosion that created Dragon Mount?

Why is REE trying to taunt us fans, who want nothing more than a good show based on our favorite series? Why not sell the rights to someone competent? That would make us fans happy, it would give REE money, and it would provide a competent company the ability to produce something worthwhile and enjoyable. Whoever gets to produce a WoT tv series, if done competently, will make millions, since there are already so many many fans, and it's just a really good series.

Jeffrey R. Hawboldt said...

That looks terrible, I'll pass. Game of Thrones is way better.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That was terrible! Just terrible.

William Hazen said...

Nothing Mr. Anonymous? LMAO! You have no clue. All I can say is that it will all come out in the wash. The attempts to paint Red Eagle as villains stretches the facts into the realm of Fantasy and is the only truth I can tell for now. And yes I know more than 99.9% of you and no I am not Mr. Selvage.
I been watching for over ten years folks with a financial stake (Authors, Comic Book People, and others) spin Red Eagle into some kind of evil organization and vilify the principles with every name in the book. Red Eagle and Mr. Selvage in particular have not fought back preferring to be ethical and responsible shepherds for the project spending tremendous amounts of time and personal resources and have come very close to make WOT the kind of project it's fans deserve. Those folks who have been touted as victims and heroes by some would have left them with nothing after over a decade of hard work. Yeah thats Hollywood folks. Sol Zaentz as the original rights holder to LOTR waited over 20 years for the movies to get made and still he had to sue to get his money. I can guarantee you that Harriet won't have to sue to get hers when Red Eagle gets this done. She just wants it all, and I don't blame her, because thats "Hollywood".

Anonymous said...

What was Jordan thinking when he sold to REE? They had no credits then and have no credits now. Their website consists of a single news post... from January 2009.

Ben Ferreira said...

So... the frumious Bandersnatch got shunned... just as the poem foretold...

Still I can easily see how the shoddy work put into what is a brilliant story would cause such upset. Hopefully a positive can be made out of thus

Anonymous said...

They put it on air for public attention they know it sucks but they showed big studios that we want it. Now they retain the rights and attract people that can make it good thus both companies make money and red eagle becomes a company that can do big budget productions so everyone wins

Colin said...

The worst part of that entire pilot was the end. Way to fucking take the most important part of the Prologue and just make lews grab a fucking dagger and off himself rather than erecting dragonmount. That right there shows there lack of respect towards the series

Anonymous said...

Remember folks, this has been confirmed by FXX that someone simply paid for airtime, a la an infomercial. There wasn't any sort of broadcast agreement reached. Depending on the wording of the contract, there may be some wiggle room with regard to Bandersnatch getting the rights back as they should at this point.

Anonymous said...

Does it bother anyone else that Ilyena has dark hair in this, her title is Ilyena sunhair, why the hell does she have dark hair? They even call her sunhair in the pilot.

MystiKatt said...

No it won't go beyond this joke of a pilot. If I hadn't read the series I'd be like wtf? He walks around calling his wife for like 10 min? It was basically the prologue word for word? This supposed "pilot" made me sad. That the beginning of the Wheel of Time was made this way...it's just disrespectful. I love A Song of Ice and Fire but it doesn't come close to the Wheel of Time. If someone takes the time to do this right it will blow "Game of Thrones" away.
That pilot was a farce. I'm disgusted.

MystiKatt said...

The I'm just thoroughly disgusted with the whole mess

Anonymous said...

Well if enough of watch the pilot online then they, REE, can claim that as interest and use those numbers to justify the sale and relicense of the property to another studio just like they did before with Universal. It's another cash grab. the pilot was terrible and as a long time fan of this series I take it as an insult. I feel sorry for Harriet and the rest of the fan base for having to keep putting up with REE and their mishandling of one of the genre's greatest series.

Anonymous said...

Andrew FXX while yes is a Fox station, it was put on FXX as a paid sponsor spot, so FXX nor Fox actually get any rights to it.. it was you know like an infomercial.

Stephen Samuel said...

They might just be trying to hold the rights hostage. as pointed out: this is/should be one of the hottest properties out there.
"so what will you pay me to release this property?"

Anonymous said...

It's time for someone to take that piece of shite "red eagle entertainment" off this planet. They ruin everything they touch. They're just a couple of slimy lowlifes trying to scam money for doing nothing.

K.R. Smith said...

I'm confused. If they actually sold (as opposed to licensing) the rights to Universal, then REE no longer holds those rights at all. That seems to be what the estate is saying. If that's the case, having an ashcan copy means nothing. In fact, it might get REE in trouble for infringement of an IP they no longer own.

I'm almost hoping this is the case, so their incompetence can bite them in the butt for once.

Alex Walsh said...

You're right Adam, it's astonishing in the strict sense of the word :)

catwhowalksbyhimself can't think it's usual to cast someone like Billy Zane in an ashcan?

Ghost said...

Sad but not unheard of. Remember Fallout Online or the DC/Alan Moore dispute over Watchmen? Both cases are pretty similar to this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Even if they used the extra time to develop a good property, it would still fail for them. Too much bad blood and bad reputation. They are in a no win situation. But they are big enough dicks that they wont let another studio win either.

Anonymous said...

So, 10 minutes of calling for his wife, 5 minutes of Billy Zane being cryptic, 5 minutes of Billy Zane being NOT cryptic, 10 minutes of commercials.

Freelancer said...

It's a "Dog in the Manger" move. Basically, they have never had a clue how to handle this story in any media: TV, film, game, comic. But if they can't earn a dollar from it, they sure aren't about to let a competent organization earn one. This 'pilot' is surely them spitting in the soup.

JohnBTG said...

That was a brilliant move by Red Eagle, and despite the negative feelings by some fans, this may very well provide the impetus to get the Wheel of Time books made into a TV/film series.

As for the choice of Red Eagle not to inform Jordan's widow, so what? It wasn't a serious attempt at a series, and everyone knows it. It was simply an attempt to keep the rights for a series whose time has come. She can get over it.

And Adam Whitehead, you don't speak for the "entire WoT fanbase" and their opinions. Red Eagle has just made a move that is going to benefit all WoT fans. Maybe the pilot was crap, but it's also the first step toward a real series.

Now Red Eagle (and Universal, if they are involved) will have some evidence that a WoT series could actually succeed, allowing them to generate the money needed to produce a quality series.

You are looking at this completely bass-ackwards. That piece of crap pilot is a good thing, if you only had the sense to realize it.

P.S. Terry Brooks' Shannara series is better than the WoT, even if it may not be as popular. Not only is it superior, it's been around since 1977 and is a longer series. Another series that is better than the WoT series is L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Saga of Recluce series. The WoT series is good and I enjoyed them all, but it's not the best.

Anonymous said...

If Red Eagle sold the rights to Universal in 2008, how would producing this "pilot" (presumably w/o Universal's help) aid them in retaining the copyright?

Dan aka Isgrimner said...

I'm still irritated that REE ripped me off on the comics. I subscribed and paid up front, but only got maybe 3 comics if I recall and never got the rest or a refund.

That being said, I'm not sure WOT would translate well to films or a television series. I don't see them meeting the production cost to do it justice. They would have to cut out a lot, though some of that could work well.

Wouln't really care for a Shannara series either. If I had my pick I would like to see Tad Williams' Memory Sorrow and Thorn done.

It was also a treat to go back to that old Jordan blog post and see his dig at crappy Terry Goodkind.

HOTMAMMA said...

I have always hoped that Universal would take advantage of the rights they held over this series, as WoT would make an excellent show that could blow GoT out of the water. Then I saw this! I get that the pilot was only made in order to retain screen rights, but it is offensive to us WoT fans because of how much we admire the author and his work.,Honestly, this whole mess makes me feel like I should give up on ever seeing my favorite story of all time appear on TV.

Adam Whitehead said...

The SHANNARA TV series is in production right now for (somewhat randomly) MTV. It started shooting last week in New Zealand. That's not a theoretical, it's actually happening.

Anonymous said...

I think this makes it very clear that REE is a darkfriend....

Anonymous said...

For people who haven't read the series, it didn't make for an accurate representation of how good the books could be as a show. Hopefully enough intrest will be drawn to its marketability, so that not only will it be done, but done right. In the right hands, it has the potential to be bigger than GoT with longevity equal to, or greater than, the Star Trek franchise.

Dor Hachmon said...

29 minutes 15 of them adds and tv commercials
where's the dragon mount ? what they hadn't had money to spend of CGI ? i really hope hbo or a big network as such will take this project and will do WoT correctly
this one has no meat to chow on
but i liked that the evil titanic guy was there the other looks like jerrard butler

Anonymous said...

While the "pilot" came out of nowhere and can be seen as a bit of a shock, people really shouldn't be in complete disbelief. REE is a business. They want to make money. If they themselves cannot put together a production of WOT, then they are going to do what they can to maximize their profit. Especially with the popularity of GOT and with Shannara coming along soon, it is a good business decision for them to keep hold of the rights and see what offers they can get. While fans are outraged, they probably don't care too much about that (especially if their endgame is to sell the rights elsewhere).

It's the best business decision for them. If I was part of REE my recommendation would probably be to do the same thing. It could be possible for Harriet to pursue litigation under grounds that REE broke the contract of "good faith", but I imagine that will be awful hard to prove, especially when precedent has been set in the past in favor to the side of REE.

Bibliotropic said...

I managed to watch about half of it before getting bored with the lackluster acting, and wondering who took pains to scatter so many freaking dolls around like that. It looked like they were practically going for a word-for-word adaptation from the script but couldn't be bothered to put in some hints at the truth, like bloodstains on a doll, while he was wandering through the house. For all that it was cobbled together quickly and was obviously done without a focus for quality, there was enough attempted with setting and customes (barely) to make it so that a few other small details could have improved so much...

Pharena said...

Yes the horror. Giving good money to Robert and Harriet for the license and then having the audacity to actually following the rules of the contract they paid for. What ever is the world coming to.

I always find it really unbecoming when people try to choose both the greedy and the populist option at the same time. You took the money Harriet, now you have to own it.

Anonymous said...

C'mon, Pharena, be more subtle! I've been playing 'spot the sockpuppet' in this comment section for a while now but you're not even trying at this point.

Anonymous said...

No update on the slander lawsuit REE vs Harriet?

Desmond Pollard said...

I wrote this to Red Eagle, I encourage anyone else to do the same:

To whom it may concern,

Its fairly obvious here that you guys own the rights to a substantial investment if managed properly. This being said, airing a 20 minute prologue that you made in a basement is hardly a reasonable way to manage it. Don't worry I get it, you want to keep the rights and by airing something (however cheaply and poorly) You maintain those rights. I don't know whats going on between you and Harriet but frankly it is evident that she and your team are not getting on. This is beside the point, she should be entitled to the royalties of this production and you owe it to Jordan to not disgrace his work. Not to mention the fact that he mentions her in everyone of his books! Let me be clear, I don't care how you do it, but If this story isn't converted with big budget into something that is respectful of the work invested by Jordan, (IE like game of thrones) then you will have ruined the legacy of a mans life. Maybe you do hate him. I do not know the history but destroying a legacy that could bring joy to millions of people is something I hope you consider long and hard about. After seeing what you did with the prologue, I beg you on behalf of millions who love this series to consider selling and making sure that somehow Harriet is involved in the process. As his inspiration and co-writer
she deserves that much. Life is full of shitty relationships, don't make this one ruin something that could bring so much joy. Maybe your plan was to hold onto this until someone gave you a great offer, maybe it will become a reality now? who knows. Either way I employee you fix this before 15 million fans come knocking,

D

Anonymous said...

I will simply say this, in order to keep the rights they made this travesty of a pilot and aired it in a manor demonstrating they cared little for the fans. They had 7 years to do something more and they failed. I don’t care if they somehow get the funding to make a big budget version of this series. I will not watch it if it has their name attached to it in any way. I can already see them going the direction of the Sword of Truth fiasco and will not waste my time on another utter disappointment. They need to surrender the rights to this series so someone more competent can produce it, or they might as well accept failure since I can be certain I’m not the only fan forever disappointed by their lack of effort here.

Anonymous said...

This is utter garbage.

Talentless people, barren of imagination who dare to destroy one of the greatest series of novels in the world - with a pathetic pilot.

I'm glad they can't get anywhere in their bid to continue destroying the series with their pathetic demands and law suits.

The only reason they're suing his wife is because their pilot sucked so badly, they can't make any money from it - good!

I hope they can never make another one and that ownership goes back where it belongs - to the Robert Jordan Estate.

Gordon Schultz Hill said...

I dislike the attempt to screw the rightfull air to Robert Jordans estate by trying to make a cheap tv pilot! I live the books and would love to see a properly done tv series or movies based on his books but only if legally authurised!!!!!!!!!!

Charles Clark said...

There is a lot of negativity and specuation going on about this news article. When I first saw this on the wertzone about a year ago, I saw all the complaining and bad vibes aout this subject and it discouraged me from even checking out the pilot. I just watched it last night and I think it was pretty good! There were quite a few advertisements though I liked it. Whether or not there will ever be a movie based on TEOTW remains yet to be seen. If they do adapt this series to the big screen I say forget a tv series and make it into a movie! One thing I can add is that if you have not seen the pilot yet and have doubts check it out for yourself and then decide!

Now about this whole mess with red eagle sueing Harriet, she should have known better than to slander red eagle at a public level. She was in the wrong about that. She knows it and so does everybody else. Yes some people might think the pilot film was chessy and that it did not live up to everybodys expectations but I personally liked it!

And Adam stop trying to stir this up into some kind of crap where it is like some kind of political scandal! I like checking out the wertzone for news about different books and different authors not about this lawsuit garbage, so get with the program and the news that people really want to hear!

Adam Whitehead said...

Well, Harriet won that round. Red Eagle withdrew their complaint and a final ruling on who holds the rights is expected in the coming months. My suspicion is that, without another leg to stand on, Red Eagle instigated legal action purely to give them a gambling chip: withdraw the complaint (and the months of further litigation that would have ensued) in return for a producer's credit on the final deal that does go forwards. It's a fairly standard, if cynical, Hollywood gambit.

As for what stories the blog will cover, the film/TV adaptation of WHEEL OF TIME will be one of the biggest pieces of news in the genre and also one of more under-reported. So yes, the blog will continue to cover the story as news develops.

Anonymous said...

I waited to watch. Please pluck out my eyes. To have such an amazing story turned into a 20 minute piece of @#$%. This is not Shakespeare nor mid evil soap opera. This story and books started in early 90' before it was popular to make these books.

What I am writing is my opinion, not liable. Red Eagle is ruining it. Cut off their heads and put them on spikes already and get the f N movies made.