Michael Jackson Estate Settles Dispute With 'Thriller' Director John Landis

Michael Jackson John Landis - H 2012
Getty Images

Michael Jackson John Landis - H 2012

The estate of Michael Jackson tells The Hollywood Reporter that it has put the finishing touches on a deal with director John Landis and producer George Folsey Jr. that resolves litigation concerning net profits on the late singer's "Thriller" video as well as a fight over a previously planned musical theater production of the hit song/video.

In January 2009, Landis and Folsey sued Jackson and his company, Optimum Productions, claiming they were still owed money for work on the 14-minute video. Then, Jackson died in June of that year, prompting anyone with a debt to file a claim on his estate. Hundreds of claims were made, including from Landis and Folsey, who alleged that $2.3 million was owed.

Most of those claims have been resolved. In July, the estate told a Los Angeles Superior Court that it had made enough money to pay off the estimated $500 million of debt that Jackson left when he died.

Paying down the debt was one of the chores of executors John Branca and John McClain. Resolving old litigation has been another.

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As part of Jackson's litigation with Landis, the director also asserted that he owned at least 50 percent of the "separated rights" to the "Thriller" video, which he said entitled him to "dramatic rights" derivations like stage adaptations.

Before Jackson's death, the King of Pop had made a deal with The Nederlander Organization to produce a musical version of "Thriller," which originally was made into a 14-minute music video in 1983 at the cost of $800,000 and went onto to become what many consider the most successful music video of all time. In the lawsuit to stop the production, Landis said that Jackson had gotten about $400,000 for the right to do this.

But that specific production never got off the ground, and in 2010, Nederlander sued the estate for preventing it from mounting a stage musical despite its deal. (Instead, the estate licensed a traveling Cirque du Soleil show called Immortal, which has been very successful.)

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Meanwhile Landis' claims continued, but the sides eventually were able to reach an agreement, on which a probate judge has already signed off.

On Friday, the estate released a statement to THR indicating that the settlement had become firm:

"The Estate of Michael Jackson, John Landis and George Folsey Jr. have reached an amicable settlement of the actions that were pending in the Los Angeles Superior Court relating to the legendary short motion picture Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' and the documentary The Making of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller.' The settlement terms are confidential."

This wraps up litigation over "Thriller." Earlier this year, the estate also made a settlement with Ola Ray, the actress who played Jackson's date in the music video.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner