When “The Dark Crystal” was released in 1980, there were studio head tremors. Gentry White’s Theatricals, an innovative New York company that was then considered an elite small theater company, was adapting Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal” to the stage, and HBO put out the film version. Henson himself had threatened to shutter the workshop and sell all rights to “The Dark Crystal” before it premiered. Yet, even today, Theatricals has a reputation as a first-class company and creators.
If you are producing a show that is going to have a massive production with scenic elements, costumes, puppet production, etc., what do you do when you are trying to protect your intellectual property? It was an issue confronting White at the time. Many of our P.A.D. (picture assets creative consent) issues come up in licensing licensing agreements. In “The Dark Crystal,” had we not had the singular Smee puppets in house, the production company could have sued.
That is a huge issue for everyone, and it’s such a multifaceted and complicated question that there is not just one right answer. The onus is on creative teams to set their own policies around managing their creative properties. Should they be the ones to protect their intellectual property? The question becomes more complex as the rights get closer to the stage. But on a play or musical stage or big theatrical production, these rights are considered more material. Where all the issues get more complicated, is that the performance of the property, though by someone’s normal standards is not very exciting, is seen by some as being more valuable. In some cases, it can be a conflict between a director and his collaborator.
However, in “The Dark Crystal,” we had a complete list of all the characters and backgrounds and backgrounds of each creature. We had to be sure that we did not mix in your character that you might have to take out because it was just too much in the movie. So we did not mix characters from different movies in the show. We may have used changes to language or choreography, or even different design elements, to set the stage from the movie. By setting the stage, we protected the character’s characters.