So, you’re a UK-based film club/film society/cinema and want to show a Russ Meyer film at your venue? Splendid! You truly haven’t seen all those big heaving bosoms until you’ve seen them on the big screen, where they belong.
Tracking down screening rights to cult films can often be quite a laborious process, especially films made independently; since, however, Meyer retained the copyright to most of his films, it is relatively cut-and-dry here. The issue of who can grant licenses to legally screen the films in the UK, however, is somewhat more thorny. I’ve written the below in a FAQ format that should be easy to follow for both new and experienced film programmers.
If you’re new to film programming and the below text confuses you completely, I would highly recommend getting in touch with the Independent Cinema Office, who offer excellent advice to both cinemas and amateur programmers alike.
Can I license the Russ Meyer film I want from Arrow Films/Video, since they released it on DVD?
Until earlier this year, it was possible to put on a screening – as long as you didn’t mind showing from DVD in most cases – of basically any of Russ Meyer’s films in the UK (1964’s Fanny Hill, a German-financed director-for-hire job for Meyer, is an exception as its worldwide rights are much more complex. But who in their right mind wants to show that?!). As well as having released an essential, comprehensive DVD boxset of Meyer’s work, Arrow Films also held theatrical rights to many of these films, licenses for which would be granted via Park Circus. This enabled Meyer’s work to stay active on the repertory cinema circuit well into the 21st century, often 50 years after these films were produced.
Unfortunately, Arrow‘s rights to the Meyer films lapsed in early 2013, which means that most of Meyer’s films are now unavailable to screen (at least easily) in the UK.
I still really want to show the film. Is there someone else who can grant me a screening license?
To clarify for those who don’t know much about copyright: the primary worldwide rights holder for most of Russ Meyer’s films is RM Films International, who sublicensed the UK rights to Arrow. Now that Arrow‘s rights have expired, RM Films are by default the UK copyright holder, at least until they sublicense the films to someone else. If you want to show one of the Meyer films previously distributed by Arrow, you will have to approach RM Films via the following contact details:
RM Films International
P.O. Box 3748 Hollywood, CA 90078 tel. (323) 466-7791 firstname.lastname@example.org
This writer contacted RM Films for a statement on UK rights availability, but a response from either Janice Cowart or Julio Dottavio was not forthcoming. If you do get a reply from them, it’s worth bearing in mind that their price would probably be considerable; think about your budgets, and whether the expense, time and effort to put on such a screening are factors you’re happy to incur. (Incidentally, Park Circus‘ site still lists a few Meyer films as being available for the UK; this is erroneous, and I would not recommend attempting to book the films through them.)
Are there any Russ Meyer films not owned by RM Films International that I can screen instead?
There are two main exceptions, however, and it’s no coincidence they are both titles not included in Arrow‘s boxset. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls and The Seven Minutes were both made for 20thCentury Fox, who own all rights to both films in perpetuity, including for the UK. You can organise single screenings of both films via Hollywood Classics, who handle theatrical and DVD rights on library titles from Fox, MGM and other studios.
Are 35mm prints available for either of these films?
No 35mm prints of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls are in active circulation in the UK, but one was shipped from Fox in LA specifically for a Somerset House screening in 2012; this may also be available should you want to pay for it. There are no materials available in the UK to screen of The Seven Minutes (not even a DVD or a DigiBeta tape), so unless you know where to find a print or you’re happy to screen one of the many fuzzy bootlegs of the latter, BVD is your easiest option for legal UK-based big-screen Meyer thrills. A license to screen either film from Hollywood Classics will usually cost you a £100 minimum guarantee (MG) and a 25% take from the box office, not including print hire or transport if this is applicable.
I want to screen BVD but in a pub/alternate screening space from DVD than a cinema. Does this require a different type of screening license?
If you are just screening BVD from DVD in a pub or similar venue and require a ‘non-theatrical’ screening license, you can also book it via Filmbank (which will normally cost around £100 inclusive of VAT), or it will be covered by an MPLC license.
I know where to find a 35mm print of one of the Meyer films previously released by Arrow. Can I screen it anyway, without a license?
Unfortunately not. Ownership of a film print is very different from ownership of the film’s copyright.; you will still need permission from RM Films to show the film, even if you own a print or have permission from someone who does.
If I don’t get a response from RM Films, can I just go ahead and screen the film anyway?
You can try, but it is at your own risk. If you are caught out by RM Films, there is nothing to stop them from demanding a penalty fee from you (even after the screening has taken place), or even threatening legal action. Having had a US-based rights holder do this to me in the past, I would strongly advise against it!
One hopes that RM Films will eventually sublicense the rest of the Meyer oeuvre back to Arrow (or some other enterprising UK distributor) so classics like Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Supervixens can be put back on UK screens.
RM Films International: http://www.rmfilms.com/
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls on Hollywood Classics: http://hollywoodclassics.com/Movie/Beyond_the_Valley_of_the_Dolls
The Seven Minutes on Hollywood Classics: http://hollywoodclassics.com/Movie/Seven_Minutes_the
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls on Filmbank: http://www.filmbank.co.uk/film_details.asp?id=50620
James Flower runs Savage Cinema, a London-based cult night that has shown films such as William Friedkin’s SORCERER, the UK premiere of Bill Gunn’s GANJA & HESS and a night devoted to British filmmaker Philip Ridley. By day he works for UK independent film distributor Soda Pictures, and by night he thinks about how to win the annual FrightFest quiz, after coming second place in 2013.