In July 2021, Scarlett Johansson stunned Hollywood with a lawsuit alleging Disney breached its sending contract. Black Widow days and months of Disney+, a move that her attorney said reduced the studio’s box office revenue (and the star’s ancillary compensation). As that legal battle dragged on into the summer, two Black Widow Stakeholders have been quietly searching for what they believe they are owed. The comics creators behind Yelena Belova, the character played by Florence Pugh, spent months back and forth with Marvel to receive money for her appearance in the film.
Writer Devin Grayson and artist JG Jones believe they will each take home $25,000 for her appearance in Black Widow thanks to the paperwork they signed, outlining how much they would receive for Yelena’s movies, TV shows, video games, and action figures. But when Grayson and Jones, who created Yelena in 1999, finally received the payment in November, that $25,000 dropped to about $5,000 without explanation.
Grayson has spent the past year searching for answers on a journey to unravel how Marvel compensates the comic book writers and artists behind the characters that have driven the most successful series in history. People who work with the company describe a labyrinthine system that left creators wondering how Marvel got its numbers.
When he co-created Yelena, Grayson knew Marvel would own the character. But like many creators before her, she signed a deal called the Special Character Agreement, a contract that outlines a payment system initiated by Marvel should Yelena appear in the media. other information. The agreement, signed in 2007, appears to stipulate that Grayson will receive $25,000 for a theatrical film, $2,000 for a TV episode of more than 30 minutes, and $1,000 for a television episode images of 30 minutes or less. For action figures, the deal gives her $5,000 for a single figure released in one year, $10,000 for two, or $25,000 for three or more. For video games, a maximum of $30,000 will be split among all creators whose characters are in the game.
However, hidden in the document is language that gives Marvel full discretion in lowering the payouts significantly, the language Grayson and others spoke to. CHEAP saying is misleading because $25,000 is prominently listed in the paperwork.
“It’s like a Clearing House Publishing House sweepstakes. Friend maybe won $1 million, but you won’t,” noted Grayson, a woman in a male-dominated industry who didn’t want to make waves when she signed the deal. She’s happy to get what Marvel seems to promise her and only spoke up because she believes the company should stick to what it told the creator.
After Grayson received $5,000 of the $25,000 promised in November, she – with the help of an attorney – learned a number of ways Marvel cut that amount.
For starters, Marvel splits the total amount between writers and artists. So by Marvel’s math, most of Grayson can be made out of Black Widow is $12,500 – half of the $25,000 split with Jones, Yelena’s co-creator. Furthermore, if a movie has multiple characters mentioned in the Special Character Deal, the company will share the money with all creators who have skins in the game. In other words, she was told, $25,000 for Black Widow will be shared with all stakeholders, presumably the people behind characters like Red Guardian (played by David Harbor) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz). A Marvel source noted that there’s no cap on the total amount paid to creators for a project, and it could be increased depending on what’s deemed fair. With this, it could have paid out more than $25,000 in total to artists and writers with the claim Black Widow.
Reached by CHEAP, Jones did not share the specifics of his payments, but confirmed that he received the same amount as Grayson’s. He said: “After talking to a number of creators, Marvel financial services seemed like a bit of a decoy and switch. They throw out a large amount, then little by little they reduce the actual payout. “
Another way Marvel narrows down the payouts is by categorizing certain films that appear as “guests.” According to sources, if a character appears less than 15% of the screen time, it’s considered a cameo – and therefore the character’s creators will receive less money. By that standard, Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier, an important figure to Captain America: Civil War, will be considered a cameo; he showed up for 22 minutes (just under 15 percent) of its 2 hour 28 minute run time. Ditto for Captain America, who appeared in less than 7 minutes, 30 seconds Avengers: Infinity War.
One potential money-saver for Marvel is the world of video games, which every year eclipses the box office in terms of entertainment market share. According to sources, Marvel will only pay creators to appear on console games – not mobile games. is the dominant force.
Some people talked to CHEAP says it’s more in the creator’s interest to avoid signing any paperwork with Marvel, noting that the Special Character Agreement gives the company a chance to pay for basically whatever they want. want and include an NDA clause that leaves the creator unspoken. One source, who represents the creators behind a number of A-list Marvel characters, noted that a client who never signed the papers would be better off than one who did. The source said: “He has a lawyer who doesn’t listen to Marvel. (Marvel declined to comment because they did not speak out about individual creator agreements.)
Joe Casey was among the creators who didn’t sign the deal. Co-creator America Chavez, a key figure in $954 million in sales Doctor Strange in Madness’ Multiverse and received no money for her use in the movie. But he wants to speak out in the hope that it can help change the system. “Maybe $5,000 means something to some kids in their 20s who haven’t had a career,” Casey said. “For many of us, who have been in business for decades, that was taken as an insult.”
A few months after Johansson and Disney settled the lawsuit, Yelena Belova appeared on the Disney+ series Hawk Eye, cementing the character’s place as an important figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Under the deal Grayson signed, she would receive $2,000 for an appearance on a TV episode (or $1,000 if she broke up with Jones). When Grayson arrived at Marvel in July, she was told that by their calculations, that wasn’t quite the case. What would $300 an episode sound like?
A version of this story appeared in the July 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.