July 06, 2012 8:03am PT by Eriq Gardner
'Queen of Versailles' Subject Targets Bravo, Magnolia Pictures in Expanding Lawsuit
For those who questioned the legs of real estate mogul David Siegel's lawsuit against producers of The Queen of Versailles, not only is the litigation still ticking but Siegel is now looking to sue Magnolia Pictures and the Bravo cable network for defamation for their role in promoting the critically acclaimed documentary.
As The Hollywood Reporter first reported, Siegel sued director Lauren Greenfield, executive producer Frank Evers and the Sundance Institute on the eve of this year's festival, alleging that a film that purportedly told a "rags-to-riches-to-rags story" hurt his reputation. The film follows Siegel and his wife, who commissioned a $75 million Florida mansion before getting caught up in the housing crash.
The lawsuit didn't seem long for this world upon word that Siegel used very similar language in the film to describe his plight. "This is the reverse of a rags-to-riches story," he said. "This is a kind of riches-to-rags story." And indications at the Sundance premiere, attended by Siegel's wife, were that the Siegels hadn't even seen the film before filing a lawsuit.
Film rights to the hit doc were snapped up by Magnolia, and TV rights were acquired by Bravo, but Siegel hasn't dropped his lawsuit. Far from it.
Last month, Siegel sought to amend his suit for a second time. Siegel begins as he did originally by noting that during the four-year filming process, he provided Greenfield and her crew hospitality at his resorts.
Although he has dropped Sundance as a defendant, he's still objecting to the way that the festival's press release touted the film with allegedly false and defamatory statements including that "their timeshare empire collapses," "their house is foreclosed" and this is a "rags-to-riches-to rags story."
After seeing Queen of Versailles, Siegel also is alleging that the film is "defamatory, derogatory and damaging" in the way it gives the impression that his company Westgate does not pay its bills, the way it connects the layoff of his company's workforce to contractors' claims and the way it portrays him as "essentially broke and out of business, on the verge of bankruptcy."
But the biggest new facet of Siegel's lawsuit is his attempt to drag the distributors into defamation claims.
"At the time that Magnolia and Bravo entered into such agreements [to acquire rights], they knew or had reason to know that the film falsely depicts Westgate's financial status," says the proposed amended complaint.
Siegel is now pointing to the way Magnolia and Bravo have published a trailer for the film on YouTube, made comments about the movie on Facebook and sent out various press releases. In addition, Siegel says that "discovery will reveal further defamatory conduct by Magnolia and Bravo by virtue of their publicizing, and preparation for distribution, of the film."
The defendants are attempting to foreclose any possibility that the lawsuit gets there.
In opposition papers filed last week, Greenfield points to release forms signed by Siegel that purportedly require the dispute to go to arbitration. She says the claims are "futile" and that "this is just a hopeless case" because of the waiver, which not only has an arbitration clause but also "releases and discharges" the filmmakers from claims of "libel, defamation, invasion of privacy or rights of publicity."
Siegel is attempting to bypass such roadblocks by dropping himself as a named plaintiff in favor of his company, Westgate. But the defendants say this is "done in name only -- Siegel is still the primary instigator of this action."
The lawsuit was profiled a few weeks ago by The New York Times, which talked to Siegel. The real estate mogul spoke about the filmmaker's alleged deception before firing off on the paper itself. "“You’re as bad as she is,” Siegel told the reporter. “You roped me into giving this interview.”
As for Greenfield, her lawyer, Martin Garbus, said that Siegel really wants to be portrayed as a hero back on top. “He wants the film to end with music from Wagner and him coming out of the clouds," he said. "He would like a different film from the one she made.”