January 13, 2012 9:35am PT by Eriq Gardner
Director Who Refused to Turn Over Film to Producer Ordered to Pay $1 Million
Every so often in Hollywood, a dispute erupts so violently between producer and director that the film itself becomes a literal hostage. Producers usually have the legal edge. Witness a decision last week by the Idaho Supreme Court, which confirmed a lower court ruling that a filmmaker who refused to hand over his film must pay more than $1 million in damages to the film's primary financier.
The dispute was over The Hayfield, about a 1867 battle between Montana settlers and a Native American tribe, directed by Randy Starkey and financed by David Richards.
The two are said to have consented to an operating agreement to split proceeds equally on the film, although the agreement was never signed by Starkey.
After a falling out, Starkey allegedly attempted to sell percentage-interests on the film, and he purportedly copyrighted the film script and the film's website.
Minor Miracle Productions, the entity set up by the two, sued Starkey for breach of contract, fiduciary duties, and conversion.
A judge declared Richards the victor and ordered Starkey to hand over the film, pay more than $1 million in damages and turn over the copyright and website.
Starkey appealed on the grounds that this should have been a federal lawsuit since there were copyright considerations and that the judge should have recused himself. But in a decision last week, the Idaho Supreme Court rejected those arguments and ordered Starkey to also pay MMP's legal bill.
"This is a court-sanctioned swindle of me, not Richards," says Starkey in reaction to the decision by a court that he believes was misinformed on the facts in the case. "This case will be appealed and I won't be denied my rights. I will not surrender my copyrights because U.S. copyright law does not require me to do so."
Anybody who watched Entourage might remember the episode where fictional director Billy Walsh wants to protect his film from meddlesome producers at all costs and decides to run off with the film stock. Does this thing happen actually happen in real life? Well, certainly. Not just in this case, but others too.