3:00pm PT by Eriq Gardner
'Birdman' Company's Former CEO Seeks Producer Credits "Worth Millions"
Christopher Woodrow, former chief executive of Worldview Entertainment, is fighting hard to have his name restored as a producer on five films including the highly anticipated upcoming Warren Beatty film. And time is of the essence.
Woodrow is caught up in a nasty legal fight with former colleagues at Worldview, who accuse him of embezzling money. Woodrow, who says he raised over $125 million for Worldview to finance films like Oscar-winning Birdman, believes his former company's lawsuit to be "a pre-emptive strike" against his own claims, which he delivered in a $55 million lawsuit last October.
Over the last month, Woodrow's attorney, Michael Pinnisi, has been demanding that Worldview return Woodrow's personal items, provide advance payment of indemnification, and perhaps most pressing, restore producer credits.
In a March 9 email to opposing counsel, Pinnisi highlighted two films in particular where credits were "at greatest risk" — Child 44, a Daniel Espinosa-directed film out in April starring Tom Hardy and Joel Kinnaman, and Triple Nine, a film slated for September starring Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet and Aaron Paul. Woodrow says he deserves to be credited as an executive producer on each. He also claims the right to an executive producer credit on The Search and Tulip Fever as well as a producer credit on Beatty's film, which doesn't yet have a title.
In his own affadavit, Woodrow described his situation and said that Worldview closed its offices on the last business day before Birdman received four Oscars. "Within months after I left ,they had destroyed nearly everything I built," he said.
Woodrow speaks of the great value of producer credits and nods to a million-dollar lawsuit filed by a movie producer whose name was misspelled in credits and adds that money damages can "only partially compensate for the loss of a producer credit."
A hearing at New York Supreme Court was scheduled for March 31 to take up the matter before things went awry.
In Pinnisi's March 9 email, the attorney wrote, "Mr. Woodrow would prefer that your clients act on their own to restore the most at-risk credits. However, if we do not receive word very soon that your clients have directed the relevant filmmakers to restore Mr. Woodrow’s credits as set forth above, please note that we intend to contact the filmmakers directly to advise them about the Order to Show Cause, and about the timing of the hearing it sets, and to request that they hold open the possibility of changes in the Worldview credit block until after the issue has been heard and decided by the Court."
Two days later, Worldview's attorney Matthew Quinn responded that Woodrow had failed to identity a factual basis for his claim. The ousted CEO was faulted for not identifying with any specificity who made promises of film credits, whether such promises were oral or in writing, nor details about any agreements with the filmmakers. Then came a warning.
"Please be advised that our clients strenuously object to Mr. Woodrow or his representatives 'contact[ing] the filmmakers directly,'" wrote Quinn. "Such contact would constitute, among other things, tortious interference with any contracts between our clients and any such filmmakers."
The court hearing was not put on hold because of this reason alone, but because the parties were told to complete a mediation session.
But the release of Child 44, which takes place in Stalin-era Soviet Union, will hardly wait for the red tape bureaucracy of the legal system. Pinnisi is begging the judge to put the hearing back on the calendar.
"Certain of those credits can be saved now, but only if action is taken very quickly," he wrote to the judge on Wednesday. "A delay of as little as a few weeks could cause some or all of those rights to be lost irretrievably... Those credits are not only worth millions of dollars, they have intrinsic benefits to professional reputation and future income potential that will be irreparably harmed if they are not restored. If those credits are lost Mr. Woodrow will require great compensation for them, and presently the Plaintiffs have indicated they have no intention to pay anything toward a settlement."