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Dueling lawsuits over the film adaptation of Martin Amis‘ London Fields could head to mediation, after a California judge on Friday denied a motion to dismiss the countersuit.
The legal fight began in September, when the director of the thrlller, Mathew Cullen, sued the film’s producers for fraud, claiming they didn’t pay him and hijacked the final cut of the movie, including elements that turned it into something he doesn’t want his name attached to.
“Among other things, these elements include incendiary imagery evoking 9/11 jumpers edited against pornography, as well as juxtaposing the holiest city in Islam against mind-control,” states his complaint against Christopher Hanley, Muse Productions and Nicola Six Limited.
The legal dispute caused London Fields to be dropped from the Toronto International Film Festival lineup, which drew the ire of producers who countersued in November.
Nicola Six claims Cullen breached his contract by failing to deliver the film on time and budget, and working on a Katy Perry music video and Exxon commercial while he was supposed to be exclusively dedicating his time to editing the film. Nicola Six also claims Cullen engaged in a conspiracy with the pic’s stars and their agents to harm the producer’s cut of the film.
“Cullen’s improper lawsuit and the withdrawal of the Movie from TIFF had a severe negative impact on the Movie’s domestic distribution prospects,” states the countersuit. “Nicola Six and its investors have incurred more than $12.5 million in costs on the Movie, more than $4.5 [million] over the amount originally budgeted for the film, due in large part to Cross-Defendants’ breaches and tortious conduct.”
Cullen’s attorney Alex Weingarten filed a motion to dismiss the cross-complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, arguing his client was being sued for filing a lawsuit which is protected activity under the First Amendment.
Los Angelea County Superior Court judge Lisa Hart Cole kicked off a Friday morning hearing by describing the matter at hand as a “very complicated SLAPP motion,” after issuing a nearly 4,500-word tentative ruling to dismiss.
Weingarten reiterated his argument that the activity Cullen is being sued for is protected by the litigation privilege.
“We’re being sued because we filed this lawsuit and because we discussed with others the issues that gave rise to this lawsuit,” said Wiengarten. “What we’re being sued for here is exercising our First Amendment rights.”
Cole said the case is complex and she needs more information before dismissing any of the claims.
“The court would have to find that any type of dispute in the entertainment world is in anticipation of litigation,” she said. “I have no idea what the witnesses are going to say. I do have to look at it in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.”
The judge then made her tentative ruling to deny the anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss final.
There’s a case management conference set for Aug. 25, but the attorneys indicated Friday that they will try to make progress in resolving the case through mediation before then.
Nicola Six is represented by Louis Petrich.
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