July 02, 2014 2:54pm PT by Austin Siegemund-Broka
'Think Like a Man Too' Producers Dissolve Production Company, Face Lawsuit
The production company behind Kevin Hart’s comedy hits Think Like a Man, Ride Along and About Last Night is closing its doors, and its founders, Rob Hardy and William Packer, are facing a lawsuit from a shareholder.
The decision to dissolve Rainforest comes after Packer established Will Packer Productions. In 2013, he signed a three-year first-look film deal and two-year overall television deal with Universal, which first partnered with him on Ride Along. His new company’s first production, with Screen Gems, was the June 20 sequel Think Like a Man Too, which topped the North American box office its opening weekend and was executive produced by Hardy.
Hardy, for his part, has become a prolific television director, shooting recent episodes of Arrow, Bones, Criminal Minds, The Vampire Diaries and its spinoff, The Originals.
“The two of us have been friends for over 20 years and will continue to support each other personally and professionally,” Hardy and Packer said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Our respective personal careers have taken us in different directions, and we have decided it is necessary to dissolve Rainforest Films.”
The split is, however, one of the causes of a lawsuit filed by Rainforest shareholder Bernard Bronner on the same day Think Like a Man Too hit theaters.
Bronner, the publisher of Upscale magazine and the president and CEO of hair- and skincare company Bronner Bros., claims that despite his seat on Rainforest’s board of directors and his owning about a third of the company, Hardy and Packer voted to shutter it without consulting him. He also alleges that they withheld profits and financial information from him.
He is suing Packer, Hardy, Rainforest-affiliated TRF Productions LLC and Rainforest Productions as a nominal defendant for breach of fiduciary duty, misappropriation and waste of corporate assets, gross mismanagement, and abuses of control.
The suit will proceed as filed despite the dissolution of the company, Bronner’s lawyer D. Tennell Lockett tells THR. “It doesn’t affect the legal positions, and it won’t require Mr. Bronner to withdraw the case,” he says. “The process was improper, and that’s fairly clear in the complaint.” Hardy and Packer have yet to file a response, and a hearing has not yet been scheduled, Lockett says.
Bronner first became involved with the Atlanta-based Rainforest when he funded the company’s second film, Trois, released in 2000. He invested $500,000 and raised another $300,000 to complete and distribute the film, the lawsuit alleges, then purchased his stake in the company. He was named marketing vp and appointed to Rainforest’s board of directors, and he “served as a business mentor to Messrs. Hardy and Packer,” he claims, introducing them to his business network, providing them rent-free office space and organizing media coverage of Rainforest.
Trois made $1.2 million at the box office. But while Bronner and other investors were promised a return and profit on their investment in the film, Bronner claims by mid-2010 the investors had only recouped half. The suit says that Hardy and Packer withheld and falsified financial documentation to make Bronner think the film had yet to turn a profit.
Furthermore, Bronner claims that while the company began to produce higher-grossing films (Stomp the Yard, Takers, the Kevin Hart comedies), the founders falsely told him the company was earning little to no profit in order to avoid compensating him properly.
He has leveled direct allegations of oppression and fraud against Hardy and Packer.
Bronner has other issues with the duo's operation of the company as well, contending that without his or other shareholders’ approval, Hardy and Packer decided each could personally retain 100 percent of the profits derived from work done outside the company but in the company’s areas of competency. They raised their annual salaries to $175,000, diverted $400,000 for Packer’s personal use and transferred ownership of Rainforest’s name and trademarks to Hardy — all without approval or a shareholder vote, the lawsuit contends.
And on May 15, Hardy and Packer announced their decision to hold a shareholder meeting on the dissolution of Rainforest — a vote Bronner contends he, as a director, needed to have approved. Those claims are the basis for derivative allegations, on Rainforest’s behalf, of breach of fiduciary duty, gross mismanagement and unjust enrichment, among others.
He seeks damages as well as the restoration of Rainforest shareholders and board members’ voting rights and direction that his share in the company be purchased. He is requesting a trial by jury.
“Bernard was a valuable supporter at a key time for Rainforest, and we remain grateful for his assistance. We also understand his disappointment about the shareholders majority vote decision to dissolve Rainforest,” Hardy and Packer said in their statement to THR. “We wish only the best for Bernard and all the other Rainforest shareholders. When the emotionalism subsides, we hope Bernard will feel the same and realize that his frivolous course of action is personal, misguided and petty."