January 17, 2013 12:26pm PT by Matthew Belloni
'Godzilla' Producers Fire Back at Studio Lawsuit
The producers of the upcoming Godzilla movie reboot are roaring back at the studio trying to boot them from the project.
In an explosive cross-complaint filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, producers Dan Lin, Roy Lee and Doug Davison allege that Legendary Pictures is improperly trying to kick them off a project they brought to the studio in order to avoid paying them agreed-upon producer fees. They are demanding millions of dollars in damages and say they "seek substantial punitive damages to make an example of Legendary so that it and no other studio will in the future treat their producers in this outrageous manner."
The producers cite some potentially damaging e-mails from Legendary executives.
According to the complaint, "Legendary's chief creative executive Jon Jashni (and now president) specifically promised Lee and Lin in writing that if they could secure the rights for Legendary: 'You know you and your partners will be well treated throughout.' "
The cross-complaint (read here) comes a little more a week after Legendary pre-emptively sued the trio seeking a court order allowing the studio to move forward with the project without the involvement of Lin Pictures and Lee's Vertigo Entertainment. Legendary claims a March 2011 contract requires the producers to be involved in Godzilla only if they are "deemed to be engaged" to produce the film. Legendary says the trio did little to justify being included and have not been involved in developing a new script for the project by Walking Dead co-creator Frank Darabont.
But in the new court filing, the producers claim that not only did they generate the opportunity to remake Godzilla by negotiating with Japanese rights-holder Toho, they brought the project amid a rights bidding war to Legendary, which promised in e-mails that they would be producers on the movie. The producers say Legendary orally agreed to a $25,000 developmental fee, fixed compensation of $1.3 million and 3 percent of the first-dollar gross receipts of the film.
Lin, Lee and Davison say that after they reached the material terms of an agreement that they would serve as producers of Godzilla and receive a specific fixed and backend compensation, they went forward and developed the property. A draft longform agreement was sent in 2011 but was never signed. Nevertheless, the producers say they continued to work on the project, relying on the parties' earlier oral agreement.
The script changed, an additional executive producer was brought in, and Legendary -- according to the cross-claims -- went back to them and tried to get them to lower their fees. They refused.
"Unbeknownst to Cross-Complainants, Legendary had hatched a plan to exclude Cross-Complainants from the project," their papers say. "Whether out of greed or to show some sort of creative dominance over Cross-Complainants or merely due to the whim of Legendary's CEO, Thomas Tull, Legendary decided to turn its promise that Lin, Lee and Davidson would be 'well-treated throughout' on its head."
Legendary then informed the producers that the project was moving on without them.
The producers, represented by noted Hollywood lawyer Larry Stein, are countersuing for breach of oral contract and also asserting promissory fraud for not giving them agreed-upon promised compensation. The cross-claims state that "when Legendary was unable to reduce the compensation it owed Cross-Complainants, Legendary attempted to enforce an unenforceable 'pay or play' provision in their own unsigned draft agreement, all while trying to shield their egregious misconduct from a judge and jury by seeking arbitration under a clause that never was discussed, let alone agreed to, by the parties. Yet Legendary has never given any reason whatsoever for seeking to exclude Cross-Complainants from the Godzilla project, and certainly no such reason exists."
The Godzilla case has raised eyebrows in Hollywood because Legendary appears to be flying in the face of the typical industry custom and practice to include producers who generate material on the films that result from their development efforts. Lin and Lee are well-known producers with credits including Gangster Squad and The Departed, respectively. As such, they typically demand large fees on their movies, and sources say Legendary balked at the expense. Studio execs are said to have first asked the producers to reduce their fees, and when they declined, they were informed via letter over the Christmas break that their services on Godzilla would not be necessary.
Legendary is ramping up for a projected spring production star on the movie, which will be directed by Gareth Edwards and distributed by Warner Bros. Lin, Lee and Davison are asking a court to halt production pending a resolution of the legal dispute.