Weinstein Company forced to rename 'The Butler' (UPDATED)

Posted by · 6:46 pm · July 2nd, 2013

UPDATE (7/5): Okay, this is probably due an update by now. Fireworks on and offline over the holiday, it seems. Weinstein appealed, Lee Daniels begged (and got a private reply, which I’m stunned hasn’t shown up somehow in the reporting given the pettiness of all of it) and now this Hollywood Reporter story pretty much lays out WB’s beef. Straw/camel’s back for them. Waiting on Weinstein retort.

EARLIER (7/2): Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” the Precious” director’s follow-up to 2012’s sultry train wreck/masterpiece (depending on who you’re asking) “The Paperboy,” showed up here and there in our uncovered Oscar Contenders section earlier this week. I get a “Bobby” vibe from the film (and hey, I actually liked “Bobby”), but whatever. We’ll see what it is when we do, but in the meantime, the film has some unexpected branding decisions to make.

Deadline reported yesterday that Warner Bros. was seeking to block usage of the title “The Butler,” claiming copyright on a 1916 short film. I guess it turns out the film violated Title Registration Bureau rules by using “The Butler” and judgment was swift, levied today: The Weinstein Company has to find a new title for the film. The clock is ticking, too: the term has to be removed from all marketing by midnight tonight, so hang onto those posters, movie theater workers. They might be worth something.

After WB was awarded ownership of the title, the Weinsteins lawyered up with attorney David Boies, with whom the company has recent history.* Crying foul, they issued the following statement:

“The suggestion that there is a danger of confusion between TWC”s 2013 feature movie and a 1917 short that has not been shown in theaters, television, DVDs, or in any other way for almost a century makes no sense. The award has no purpose except to restrict competition and is contrary to public policy.”

It doesn’t sound good for TWC. Look at the bright side, though, Here’s an opportunity for marketing to gift the film with something less, er, forgettable than “The Butler.”

Per the official synopsis, the film tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man”s life and family. Forest Whitaker stars as the butler with Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more. Academy Award-nominated Lee Daniels (“Precious”) directs and co-wrote the script with Emmy®-award winning Danny Strong (“Game Change”).

The Film Formerly Known as “The Butler” arrives in theaters August 16.

*It was recently reported Boies put up millions to save production on the film “Jane Got a Gun” with his daughter, actress/producer Regency Boies (the embattled production will be jointly distributed by TWC and Relativity Media.

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