Fight Over Producer's Missed 'Black Swan' Opportunity Gets Nasty (Exclusive)
Film financiers arguing about who is to blame for mishandling financing on Oscar-nominated film
Aaron Kaufman, the film financier sued for allegedly costing his former employer a chance at enjoying millions of dollars and a producer credit on the Oscar-nominated film Black Swan, is finally telling his side of the story. It's a doozy, too, full of allegations that Overnight LLC topper Rick Schwartz mishandled money, behaved erratically, and misappropriated his identity.
In December, Overnight sued Kaufman for $10 million, claiming he misrepresented his knowledge, skill and experience about the financing of motion pictures and committed "gross lapses in judgement" that resulted in non-participation on Black Swan and the destruction of a relationship with director Robert Rodriguez.
Serving Kaufman this lawsuit wasn't easy for the plaintiff. Kaufman didn't answer his doorbell several times in December and January, and eventually, the plaintiffs just mailed a copy to his home. On March 7, a clerk of the court certified that Kaufman had defaulted. A few days later, at a dramatic moment during a film financing panel at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Kaufman was finally handed the court papers.
Kaufman has now hired lawyers, whose first job is to get a judge to set aside the default judgement. If that happens, Kaufman plans to bring a countersuit.
In a declaration to the court filed on Friday, Kaufman tells his version of what happened.
Kaufman says he brought Rodriguez to Overnight, not the other way, and that it was also his job to secure financing for Black Swan, but that in 2009, his relationship with Overnight head Schwartz became strained. (Schwartz is a former assistant to Harvey Weinstein and has producing credits on several big films including The Aviator and Gangs of New York.)
Kaufman alleges that as the result of an audit required by an investor, certain financial irregularities were uncovered at the company, including that Schwartz was "running certain personal expenses through Overnight."
"I questioned Schwartz about it," says Kaufman. "This infuriated Schwartz. Further, Schwartz had a series of bizarre encounters in the industry resulting in erratic and questionable behavior. This behavior included missed meetings with investors, refusal to timely pay me for my services and emotional blowups in front of financiers and bond companies which damaged Overnight's business relationships."
Kaufman says he realized he couldn't continue working with Schwartz. The latter is said to have agreed to let Kaufman go, provided he complete the financing of Black Swan. Later, Schwartz allegedly changed his mind, not allowing Kaufman to do more work on Black Swan, and terminating him.
Schwartz then allegedly sent out e-mails from Kaufman's own e-mail address, pretending to be Kaufman, supposedly intended to damage his relationships in the industry.
If Kaufman manages to set aside the default judgement, he intends to bring counterclaims for breach of his employment agreement, defamation, and identity theft.
We've contacted Schwartz, and if we hear from him, we'll update.