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The last of the Harry Potter films is out and Fandango reported over 5000 shows were sold out before opening day. It’s a likely candidate for this year’s box office champion with multi-million dollar revenues from tickets and perhaps even more from the lucrative licensing and product sales, estimated at over $14 billion by Brand Licensing Europe.  But a recent campaign endorsed by four members of the Potter cast demonstrates that these partnerships can bring risks as well as rewards.

An advocacy group self-dubbed the Harry Potter Alliance has written a letter to the studio behind the Potter films, NBC Universal and Time-Warner asking them to make sure that the chocolate sold in the Harry Potter wrappers meets Time-Warners’ own ethical sourcing guidelines, with copies to Potter author J.K. Rowling, the corporations behind the theme park, and more.

The Harry Potter Alliance has also asked its members, over 100,000 in 70 chapters around the world, to support this initiative by uploading a video on the subject to CNN’s anti-slavery Freedom Project and by purchasing fair trade chocolate and sending the wrappers to Time-Warner.

Evanna Lynch, who plays Harry’s classmate Luna Lovegood, has signed the Alliance’s petition and made a statement in support of the campaign.  Three other actors from the cast signed on this week.

Warner Brothers has agreed to work with the Alliance and assured them that their ethical sourcing guidelines are included as a part of every licensing agreement.  In the US, most of the Harry Potter chocolate is sold in the theme park through a re-license arrangement, and their candy is a tiny fraction of the non-fair trade chocolate sold each year, so their involvement is limited.  But their profile is high and their interest in the brand is strong, which makes them a good target for this campaign.

Harry Potter Alliance director Andrew Slack told me that Warners is “a cut above” the other companies.  He is optimistic about making progress and Warner Consumer Products confirmed to me that they are working toward a solution.  In the meantime, there are a few lessons to be learned about licensing risk.

1. Using an established name or brand to sell your product can leave you open for a judo-like upset, using your own strength against you.  The chocolate companies and theme park paid for a license because they thought the Potter name would help sell chocolate.  The boost the candy got from the name may be overtaken by the reputational hit the name gets from selling the candy. My favorite brand expert is Jonathan Baskin (he’s also my cousin), who says, “This illustrates the complexity of translating an imaginary idea into a concrete product or service. I can’t imagine that the short-term upside outweighs the risks.”

2. “Guidelines” are easy to agree to and difficult to enforce.  Time-Warner may have an excellent ethical sourcing policy for its own products, but insisting on non-enforceable guidelines for licensees without any effort to check independent third-party assessments leaves them vulnerable to this kind of bad publicity.

3. The group that is making the most effective use of the Potter name is the one that did not enter into a license or pay a fee — the Harry Potter Alliance.  It has no official connection to the J.K. Rowling trademarked properties but it has been named a “fan site of the month” by her website and she has spoken approvingly of its activities.  Just as the wizards in the Potter books can’t match the healing properties of the muggle chocolates, businesses who think they understand the best use of brands have a lot to learn from the amateurs on this one.

One of my favorite moments at Comic-Con each year is my chance to catch up with the brilliant and beautiful Winner twins, Brianna and Brittney, whose astonishing mastery of story and vocabulary has produced an extraordinary body of work.  The mirror image identical twins published the first volume of their science fiction series at age 11 and now travel to schools to encourage other young writers.  This year, they conducted a panel for would-be writers and I was very impressed with their advice on everything from getting started (it works best if you start from the end!), working with a partner (they use a pen as a “speaking stick” to make sure they both get a chance to talk), overcoming writer’s block, and finding an objective but constructive third party to provide feedback.  I especially liked their emphasis on the fun of writing, which is, as they reminded the group, the reason to do it.  I highly recommend their booklet on how to write.  And their Strand series is a great book for tweens and teens, and even for adults.

Brendan Wayne of “Cowboys & Aliens” is the grandson of movie legend John Wayne.  He talked to me about visiting his grandfather’s movie sets and acting and doing his own stunts in one of this year’s most anticipated blockbusters.  And it was a blast to compare notes with him on our favorite John Wayne films.

I’m so excited about your movie!

We’re in the same boat!  I love the story.  I love the mash-up of the two genres.  It’s a classic Western told the only way we could tell it today since you can’t really do cowboys and Indians without insulting history and culture.  You get to tell the tried and true Western in such an exciting new way, the story we love to tell about the human spirit overcoming greater odds.  It’s really fun, Daniel Craig jumping, riding, and shooting, Harrison Ford, in and of itself making the movie exciting.

The movie takes place in the 1870’s, a small town run by Harrison’s character, Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde.  And Daniel is Jake, a kind of a loner drifter who seems to have amnesia, and we proceed to be attacked.  We don’t know what it is and it is very time period specific so we don’t have electricity or cars or computers to fight back with.  And then these flying objects come in and we have to figure out what’s going on and then take care of business.  That’s where it really gets fun, when we go after them on our horses.

And you did your own stunts!

Every single one of them.  I have to thank two people, Bobby Aldridge for helping me get on a horse and really understand what a stunt guy does and Terry Leonard for making sure I didn’t look like an idiot and making sure I didn’t make my grand-dad look like a jerk. Terry was second unit director and the first film he ever worked on was “Rio Lobo” with my grandfather.  He took care of me like a big brother and made sure that I was safe and willing to challenge myself.  I was riding flat-out on that horse getting cactus stuck on me but having a lot of fun.  I did a lot of stunts that were really just dumb, but it was great.

But you were an experienced rider already, right?

I would never denigrate those real cowboys out there by saying I was experienced.  I had been around cowboys but this was a whole other level of riding.  Taking on these things was a whole different level of physical demand and those guys really helped me understand what it is to be a stunt man.  I barely scratched the surface but a bunch of stunt guys when I did my bigger stunt (I can’t tell you the details!) shook my hand and said they were proud.  I was really proud that they acknowledged it.  You don’t get their respect unless it is the real deal.

I also had a bar fight with Daniel Craig.  He and Olivia Wilde were just great about wanting to do their own stunts.  It was pretty amazing.

How did it feel to look in the mirror and see yourself in cowboy gear?

Our costume designer, Mary Zophres, is incredible.  She was up for an Oscar last year for “True Grit.”  For wardrobe, you just hope it will fit and work right, but she added so much, really helps you create the character, helped the story.  We were able to step into another time period and understand what it was like to wear those clothes and how it affects you.  She was fantastic.

What are your favorite of your grandfather’s movies?

The Shootist,” because he was so dang good in that.  It was his last film and I visited him on the set.  “The Cowboys,” “The Quiet Man,” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is always at the top of my list.  I still am amazed at how good he was.  “Liberty Valance” is such a great story about doing the right thing, not always being the right guy but doing the right thing.

 

I had a blast at the Archie Comic panel.  Everyone there was a nice and friendly and enthusiastic as you would hope to find in the idyllic environs of Riverdale.  But there is very big news.  In its own nice and friendly and enthusiastic way, Archie Comics is one of the most innovative companies at Comic-Con or anywhere else, on every level from distribution to story.

I was delighted to hear that Kevin, Archie’s first gay character, is so successful he will have his own comic.  I love the way that in the first issue, they show that Kevin was not always the handsome, confident kid who becomes class president at Riverdale High.  We get to meet some of his close friends from middle school and see that he had his awkward stage, too.  Even more amazingly, Archie’s future stories will include visits from Sarah Palin and Barack Obama — who will share a soda at the malt shop — and NY Giant Michael Strahan and even KISS in a four-part miniseries!  With separate series for Archie as a tot, a child, a teen, and a married man, they say they have “a metaverse as rich and plentiful as anything at Marvel and DC,” with “a flowchart from that wall to that wall.”

The Archie folks are very proud that they were the first to have “day and date” availability of their comics online and they are dedicated to making them accessible on every platform from iPhone app to Android and Windows 7 to Nook and Kindle, with 3 million downloads of their app so far.  Their long-time partnership with Ronald MacDonald House will be supported with the 75th anniversary issue, with all proceeds going to help sick kids and their families.