Most creative jobs performed for major corporations — including the vast majority, if not all music videos — are considered to be "works for hire," which is fancy talk for "whatever you create will be owned by the company that commissioned and paid for it". If you're a director and you want to do a music video with the record label's money, there's almost certainly going to be a contract in which you relinquish most of your rights and any claim to money made from the video. Sorry, kids. Welcome to the working week.
But, John Landis is not any old director, especially not the John Landis of 1983, when he was coming off a string of staggeringly successful movies. Animal House. Blues Brothers. An American Werewolf In London.
And Michael Jackson didn't contract him to make a simple promo clip. It was "Thriller," a 14-minute mini-movie that premiered in theaters and is still probably considered the most famous, if not the best, music video ever.
So, Landis had clout, and he got a pretty unusual contract — which thanks to the legal system and the internets, we can now view as an addendum to a just filed complaint by Landis. That contract granted him an upfront fee plus 50% of all net profits derived from the video and the associated documentary that was produced.
Apparently, Landis has been waiting quite some time for that royalty money and has filed suit to get a real accounting of how much he is owed. Good timing, since Jacko has reportedly just sold the creative rights so that Thriller can zombie dance it's way onto Broadway.
So, if you want to see a piece of history, click through to see the 1983 contract for Thriller. Should be of interest to anyone in the video production world, regardless of where you fall in the always bubbling debate over music video profit sharing between labels and directors.
Read the Landis v. Jackson complaint (aka Levitsky Productions, Inc. v. Optimum Production)