Weinstein Co. Sued for $50 Million; Filmmakers Say They Were Paid to Keep Quiet Before Oscars
Harvey and Bob Weinstein are fighting the makers of "Escape from Planet Earth."
The Weinstein Co. was sued today by two animated filmmakers who claim that Harvey and Bob Weinstein botched the release of computer-animated movie Escape from Planet Earth and then paid $500,000 in hush money to keep the dispute quiet on the verge of the Academy Awards.
The complaint, filed in New York Supreme Court, paints a portrait of "two out-of-control movie executives...who sabotaged what should have been a highly profitable movie through a potent combination of hubris, incompetence, profligate spending, and contempt for contractual obligations."
Specifically, the Weinsteins are alleged to have bought the rights for Escape from Planet Earth, about an alien prison break from Area 51, from writer/director Tony Leech and film producer Brian Inerfeld.
When the plaintiffs signed the deal, they expected a fortune. The duo had success with the 2005 Weinstein hit Hoodwinked, and their follow-up was supposed to be bigger. Leech-Inerfeld signed a deal whereby they allegedly were to receive at least 20% of Escape's adjusted gross profit, which they estimated would be worth close to $50 million in back end participation alone.
Instead, the film has languished in a turbulent development process.
Leech claims that the Weinsteins have repeatedly unlocked the script and forced him to rewrite it no less than 17 times despite the fact that reconfiguring animated characters is not so simple.
Harvey Weinstein is also said to have disagreed with the casting of Kevin Bacon in one of the roles and paid Bacon $25,000 not to take the job.
In addition, TWC is alleged to have "eviscerated" the movie's budget by keeping 200+ animators on payroll to essentially sit on their hands as Leech says he tried in vain to get a locked script.
The two sides kept arguing, according to the suit, with the tab purportedly running to $19 million on an animated film with no script. That figure doesn't include up front money to Leech and Inerfeld, which the lawsuit says the Weinsteins refused to pay. The expenses then became so high that the plaintiffs allege the Weinsteins had to go outside for fresh capital, securing new funding by mortgaging TWC's copyright to Escape.
But even this money didn't satisfy things, according to the suit, so TWC allegedly advised the plaintiffs that if they wanted their past due money, they would have to relinquish their right to gross profit participation. The plaintiffs characterize this demand as extortion.
Lawyers for Leech and Inerfeld say they knew they had a big lawsuit on their hands and when they contacted TWC with legal demands, TWC allegedly made a bold move, upon counsel from its famed litigator David Boies, paying the plaintiffs $500,000 "merely so that Plaintiffs would delay filing this action and instead agree to TWC's request for a private mediation that would take place after the Academy Awards." TWC, of course, won four Oscars including best picture for The King's Speech on Sunday.
The Weinsteins are vigorously denying the allegations.
"This is a completely frivolous lawsuit," says TWC attorney Bert Fields. "The pleading contains little more than false, gratuitous, slanderous, preposterous and totally irrelevant personal attacks on TWC and its principals."
Fields says that Leech and Inerfeld were let go after they refused to make the picture the Weinsteins wanted, and were paid $2 million, as called for in their contract. Fields says that the plaintiffs' threat to "go public" is "unethical and reprehensible" and says, "I can't wait to get them under oath."
Boies has also gone on the offensive.
"This is an irresponsible and baseless lawsuit filed as part of an attempt to extort millions of dollars from Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Company," he says. "Plaintiffs and their counsel threatened to attack Mr. Weinstein and the Weinstein Company publicly unless paid $5 million, an amount that bore no relationship to any possible amount in dispute. When their demands were refused, this lawsuit and their accompanying press campaign resulted. Plaintiffs and their counsel should be ashamed of themselves."