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A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has entered judgments totaling $5.9 million in favor of Bruce Willis for a deal the actor made to star in a film titled Wake about a sociopath who attempts to reconnect with his estranged family.
The production was originally handled by Exclusive Media before being taken over by Benaroya Pictures, run by Michael Benaroya (Margin Call, Lawless, The Words). According to court documents, Willis was offered $7 million and 10 percent of backend net profits for a $25 million budgeted film to be shot in Georgia.
The parties, including CAA on behalf of Willis, negotiated an escrow agreement that provided that Benaroya Pictures would deposit set funds at certain milestones. Only $3 million came into the escrow. Willis provided some pre-production services including reading books on sociopaths and encouraging Ben Kingsley to accept an offer to be in the film, and principal photography for Wake began on Feb. 16, 2015.
But Benaroya ran into financing problems, and after it was made known that there was insufficient funds to pay the film crew, the Directors Guild of America put out word that employees could not work further on the film. The movie was shut down permanently.
Subsequently, Willis filed a demand for arbitration at JAMS claiming that Benaroya had breached contract and committed fraud and negligent misrepresentation among other causes.
Last April, an arbitrator ruled in Willis’ favor and rejected the production company’s contention that the agreement wasn’t binding and hadn’t been executed, and that Willis had failed to perform and he couldn’t prove damages.
“Although Benaroya had ten years experience producing and financing films, and is quite intelligent, the evidence paints a picture that he was in over his head,” wrote the arbitrator at the time. “The film business is notoriously challenging, even ruthless, and Benaroya seemed unable to handle the high stakes, at least in making this film. By the end, he was scrambling to put together financing, obviously trying to make good on his promises that he had financing in place. Benaroya surely wanted to obtain the financing, but he never had a reasonable ground for believing that he had. The most likely interpretation of Benaroya’s conduct is that he was negligent in leading on Willis.”
The arbitrator also found Benaroya to be the alter ego of Benaroya Pictures. Here’s the original determination by the arbitrator. Willis was represented by Martin Singer and Allison Hart in the arbitration.
Both sides then went to the Los Angeles Superior Court to fight over whether to confirm or vacate the judgment. Willis prevailed with a judge this month adding costs and attorney’s fees.
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