3:58pm PT by Eriq Gardner
'Birdman' Company Mired in Dispute Involving Embezzlement, Loans and Film Credits
Worldview Entertainment, one of the production companies behind the buzzworthy film Birdman, is entangled in an escalating legal mess that has gone from one former executive's claim of being denied an executive producer credit on the Alejandro González Iñárritu film to new allegations filed this past Friday that former CEO Christopher Woodrow has embezzled money from the company.
Birdman stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor trying to mount a comeback on Broadway and escape the superhero role that made him famous.
In late July, former Worldview CFO Hoyt David Morgan quietly filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court that claimed he had invested more than $3.7 million in the company, and after leaving Worldview, entered into an agreement that entitled him to a credit on Birdman. Morgan also alleged that Worldview owed him nearly $1.8 million and that the value of the denied credit was worth an additional $1 million.
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Late last month, Worldview co-founder Maria Cestone provided her perspective on the dispute.
In her motion to dismiss, she stated that when Morgan was let go in June 2013, he demanded all of his investments back.
According to her legal papers, "Unbeknownst to Worldview Inc.'s Board of Directors, then-Chief Executive Officer Christopher Woodrow acquiesced to Plaintiff's demands, negotiating and signing a separation agreement with Plaintiff that not only gave Plaintiff his investments back but also gave him potentially lucrative Executive Producer credits on a number of upcoming films."
Cestone's memorandum goes on to say that Worldview's portfolio of films — which include Eli Roth's The Green Inferno, Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here and Atom Egoyan's Devil's Knot — didn't do as well at the box office as the company had hoped and thus, Worldview didn't have the funds to pay Morgan.
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A separate motion to dismiss filed by Worldview raised the prospect that Morgan and Woodrow were conspiring with each other to injure the reputation and financial standing of the company, but mostly reserved itself to asking a judge to put the case on hold pending arbitration.
Worldview has apparently now come to the conclusion that the fight is worth litigating in open court.
On Friday, a new lawsuit was filed — this time against its former chief, accusing Woodrow of having "embezzled and defrauded Worldview Inc., leaving the company impoverished and imperiled."
According to the complaint, a company "whistleblower" raised the alarm of misappropriated funds, and after Worldview conducted an investigation, it revealed unauthorized compensation, unauthorized loans, improper expense reimbursements and more.
Specifically, Woodrow is accused of paying himself $275,000 when his salary was only approved at $180,000, and further disbursed an additional $229,000 in unauthorized forgivable loans. Woodrow allegedly also spent thousands of dollars in a trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was reimbursed for this as well as $180,000 on his personal credit card. The expenses are said to have been for things like meals, lotions, soaps, phone accessories, jewelry, dry cleaning, medical care, shoes and luggage. He also is said to have used $50,000 in company money to settle a personal lawsuit, nearly $9,000 to remodel the interior of his mother's residence, and more.
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Worldview is suing him on a host of claims including breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment and fraud — seeking all sorts of damages including conveniently enough, indemnification for any damages as result of his conduct.
Woodrow, who left Worldview in June — before the company was slapped with a multimillion dollar lawsuit over owed money and Birdman credit — couldn't be reached for comment.