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Billy Joel Biopic Gets Greenlit Despite No Music, Likeness, or Name Rights

Written and directed by the son of Cold Spring Harbor producer Artie Ripp

billy joel biopoc greenlit no rights michael jai white
Billy Joel, photo by Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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    He is the entertainer, but he won’t bring to you his songs. A biopic about the great piano pop-rock maestro Billy Joel has received the green light despite not having any rights to the artist’s music, likeness, or even name.

    Entitled Piano Man (natch), the production is coming from Michael Jai White (he of Undercover Brother 2 and Spawn fame) and his Jaigantic Studios. However, Joel’s rep told Variety that the musician is not involved in the film in any capacity, and that there’s no intention to grant the project rights to any element of Joel’s personal life story.

    And here’s the real kicker: The whole thing will be written and directed by Adam Ripp, son of Artie Ripp, the man who signed Joel to his first record deal and produced his debut album, Cold Spring Harbor.

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    Infamously, Ripp botched the LP’s mastering, causing a rift between producer and artist. Ripp had signed a 22-year-old Joel to an incredibly unfriendly 10-record contract, but after Cold Spring Harbor, Joel brokered a deal to sign with Columbia. Even still, Ripp retained publishing rights to Joel’s catalog through 1986’s The Bridge, reluctantly selling them back to Joel only after threats from Columbia president Walter Yetnikoff.

    Said Artie Ripp in a statement, “Billy Joel has been a part of my life since my father signed him to his record label when I was 4 years old; his music is ingrained in my DNA and it’s been a dream of mine as a filmmaker to explore and celebrate the untold story of how Billy Joel became the Piano Man.”

    Though producers said music needs are “yet to be determined,” Jaigantic did acquire the rights to Irwin Mazur, Joel’s first manager who discovered him at 16 years old. The story will thus follow “Joel’s” discovery by Mazur in the ’60s through a 1972 performance that caught Clive Davis’ attention. For point of reference, Joel’s big break, Piano Man, was released in 1973.

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    Mazur and Ripp are also executive producing Piano Man, as are White, Mayne Berke, and Donovan de Boer for Jaigantic.

    Bowie fans have seen how this type of rights-less, soulless biopic can turn out, so it’s probably best if this one says goodbye to Hollywood.

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