Sony wins rights for Jackson film

Sony Pictures Entertainment received court approval to bring Michael Jackson to the big screen, and it set a release date on what just may be the toughest weekend of the year at the U.S. box office.

The court’s authorization, announced Monday in Probate Court by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff, allows them to edit more than 80 hours of rehearsal and behind-the-scenes footage into a movie.

The deal was negotiated last month by Sony Pictures and its sibling unit, Sony Music Entertainment, with the Michael Jackson Estate and AEG Live, producer of the late singer’s planned London concert series.

The film, like the concerts, will be called “This Is It.”

Although several studios expressed interest, Sony emerged the winner by agreeing to pay Jackson’s estate and AEG Live at least $60 million for the film rights.

“High School Musical” director Kenny Ortega, who was directing the concert series, is in negotiations with Sony to produce and direct the movie, his representatives at Paradigm Talent Agency confirmed. His job will consist primarily of honing the footage into a movie in just two months.


“The world will see what our team was so fortunate to experience, which was the full commitment, passion and creativity that Michael put into the project,” Ortega said in a statement.

As part of the deal, Sony will deduct the cost of making the movie from the $60-million minimum. After covering its costs for distribution and marketing, it then will split the rest of the film’s revenue with the Jackson Estate and AEG via a complex formula that was redacted from a copy of the agreement filed in court.

Sony Pictures will release the film Oct. 30 as a worldwide event. Though the studio will undoubtedly try to tie it to Jackson’s Halloween music video “Thriller,” it will be a challenging weekend at the domestic box office because Halloween falls on a Saturday, typically the biggest moviegoing day of the week.

Many of the fall’s best movie release dates are already crowded with releases. The only other movie currently scheduled to open Oct. 30 is a Weinstein Co. comedy, “Youth in Revolt.”

Along with the rehearsal and behind-the-scenes footage, Sony obtained the rights to include some 3-D sequences that were going to be shown on video screens during the “This Is It” concerts. The movie will feature a career retrospective and interviews with friends and collaborators.

AEG also tried to sell the rights to a television special for $20 million but wasn’t able to reach a deal with any network.