8:30am PT by Matthew Belloni , Eriq Gardner
'Birdman' Company's Former CEO Declares War With $55 Million Lawsuit
The former CEO of the company behind Oscar contender Birdman has sued his former employer for $55 million in an escalating legal war.
Christopher Woodrow, who until this summer was the leader of independent film company Worldview Entertainment, sued in New York state court Wednesday morning alleging conversion, breach of fiduciary duty and defamation, among other claims. He is seeking to liquidate the company.
“I have stood by patiently and quietly over the last four and a half months while baseless and meritless claims were made against me, often publicly," Woodrow says in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter provided in conjunction with the lawsuit. "With the filing of this lawsuit against Worldview Entertainment and its principals today, I am happy and relieved to know that my story will finally be heard in a court of law and the truths pertaining to the operation of Worldview will come to light."
Worldview targeted Woodrow first, claiming in its own suit on Friday that the former executive embezzled funds, abused expense reports and otherwise left the company "impoverished and imperiled" during his tenure as CEO. Woodrow exited the company abruptly earlier this year, leaving many in the independent film community to wonder what had happened.
Worldview, which launched in 2007 with $125 million in funding, has backed several films, including Eli Roth's The Green Inferno and Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here. The company was also prepping Warren Beatty's long-anticipated next film. But Birdman, starring Michael Keaton and hitting theaters this weekend, is its most high-profile film.
"It's a shame that Worldview's most successful film to date, Birdman, a legitimate Oscar contender, is being released the same week that we find ourselves engaged in a lawsuit," Woodrow continues. "Instead of directing our attention, focus, and resources toward this amazing film, we are instead engaged in a legal battle. It's all very unfortunate considering that [our] design for Worldview from the onset was to make profitable and relevant films.”
In the legal war to date, Worldview claimed that Woodrow had improperly taken almost $1 million in company funds by paying himself beyond his salary and improperly expensing things like lotions and his mother's house. The company's board members have also accused him of making a secret deal with former CFO Hoyt David Morgan to repay him millions and give him executive producer credit on films including Birdman. Morgan is pursuing his own lawsuit against the company and its co-founder Maria Cestone.
Woodrow, who formerly was vice president at Citigroup Global Markets where he managed a portfolio of over $100 million in assets, mostly focuses on the aftermath of whatever happened to cause his departure from Worldview.
He says that in May, he was denied access to the company's office and his personal property. He says he was suspended with pay for 30 days for unspecified professional misconduct. He says he would later learn about allegedly false assertions about how he had misappropriated funds through press releases and an attorney's text message that he had engaged in a pattern of "corporate theft."
"The allegations by Defendants have never been substantiated despite due demand," says his lawsuit. "Defendants have damaged Woodrow's reputation in the entertainment and entertainment finance community."
He is also accusing his colleagues of breaking into his personal email account "to interfere with attorney client relationships as well as personal business relationships."
He says all of this comes despite Worldview and its board members violating operating agreements governing the company and not providing notice of meetings, resolutions or other matters relating to the management of the company. A 50 percent owner, Woodrow is unhappy about the situation, which he believes threatens to deny him producer credit on a host of projects including the Beatty film.
"Woodrow has recently discovered that Defendants have taken action to delete his 'Producer or Executive Producer Credits' from the Pending Films," states the lawsuit.