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Former professional heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner’s 1975 fight against Muhammad Ali inspired Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky, and now he’s preparing to fight a former business associate who he said used confidential information to create an unauthorized movie about his life, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.
The fighter granted Tollin/Robbins Productions LLC exclusive access to create a motion picture of his life story called The Bleeder, which stars Liev Schreiber as Wepner, and is set to be released this summer.
Wepner is suing Mary Aloe, claiming she was entrusted with confidential and proprietary information while attempting to secure financing for the film and used it to create a copycat project, according to the lawsuit.
“We were certainly shocked to find out about the competing project and we are more than prepared to do everything we can to rectify the situation,” said Wepner’s attorney Lincoln Bandlow of Fox Rothschild LLP. “This is his legacy and his story, and for someone to try to muck that up is just really sad.”
According to the suit, Aloe was hired in 2013 to secure $5 million-$6.5 million to fund the film, in exchange for 5 percent of the equity sourced and an executive producer credit.
“Almost immediately after they were hired, however, Aloe and Aloe Entertainment began to deviate from the parties’ oral agreement and the confirmed terms,” Bandlow wrote in the lawsuit. “Among other things, Aloe incessantly peppered Plaintiffs with emails and phone calls — sometimes in excess of two dozen per day — with requests from purported investors to adjust the budget, interview the cast, and/or otherwise compromise the confidentiality and integrity of the project.”
Aloe and her company ceased efforts to obtain funding, according to the suit, and plaintiffs eventually found funding on their own.
Late last year, plaintiffs learned about another movie based on Wepner’s life called American Brawler. It was produced by Aloe, Robert Simmons and Daniel Grodnik, who are also named as defendants in the suit.
“Comparison between the two scripts, sizzle reels and marketing materials makes it clear that Defendants used portions or all of Plaintiff’s script, budget, production schedule, sizzle reel, and other production materials to develop their own copycat film, which Defendants apparently intend to release before the Authorized Wepner Film,” Bandlow wrote in the suit.
The lawsuit also claims American Brawler producers tried to lure Schreiber and screenwriter Jeff Feuerzeig away from The Bleeder to work on their project.
The lawsuit seeks punitive and actual damages and an injunction that would halt production, promotion and distribution of American Brawler.
Aloe deferred comment to her attorney Richard M. Rosenthal, who emailed a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
“This lawsuit is completely meritless and lacks adequate factual or legal basis,” he wrote. “My clients intend to vigorously contest the allegations which have been made against them and to file a countersuit at the appropriate time.”
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