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In literature and lawsuits, the unreliable narrator serves as a foil to trip up readers. Who and what to believe? In the case of a film adaptation of Martin Amis‘ London Fields, it’s “life imitating art,” as a complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court puts it. Here, the director is the alleged unwitting victim of the producer’s fraudulent assurances. True or not, the story being told impacts the film moving forward, as the lawsuit on Tuesday comes just as the defendant was in top gear on the marketing front at the Toronto Film Festival.
Mathew Cullen is the one suing. A director who has never made a feature film until London Fields, Cullen is best known for music videos including Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” which the lawsuit boasts is one of the top viewed of all time.
It was Jordan Gertner who brought Cullen aboard London Fields, a film project that could easily be described as cursed. Several directors including David Cronenberg and Michael Winterbottom have tried to adapt the 1989 novel about the impending killing of a promiscuous psychic. The book, told substantially through an unreliable narrator, opens with the words “This is the story of a murder. It hasn’t happened yet. But it will.”
The film project has been passed around quite a bit, and Tuesday’s lawsuit isn’t the first instance where the project was the subject of a fraud lawsuit. Notably, an investor who advanced money for the development of the film sued last year claimed that rights to the screenplay were wrongfully transferred to Nicola Six Limited, a company named after one of the main characters in the novel, and controlled by Gertner and Christopher Hanley, who were producers on Spring Breakers.
In the new lawsuit, Cullen says he was assured by Gertner that he would be given creative freedom, financial support for an $8 million film and payment for his own services. The parties only came to an oral agreement, but Cullen says the deal points included $300,000 of fixed compensation with 20 percent paid in advance and 60 percent paid during principal photography.
“As principal photography progressed, it became increasingly apparent that Defendants were unable or unwilling to fund the production of the film as they had represented to Cullen,” states the complaint (read here). “Among other things, actors and crew were not paid, leaving some to quit or walk off the set. Also, no compensation has been paid to Cullen even though payments were long overdue and he was out of pocket for significant expenses relating to his work on the film.”
The more pressing issue — the one that reportedly has some of the film’s stars including Johnny Depp and Billy Bob Thornton holding back support in Toronto — involves final cut. The producers allegedly have made their own version, and it’s one that the director is aghast to see. “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,” reads the complaint.
The lawsuit asserts fraud as well as a claim that the contract should be subject to rescission for failure of consideration. The lawsuit also comes with a claim that Cullen’s rights of publicity are being infringed through the promotion of the film with his name attached. The plaintiff is represented by Alex Weingarten at Venable.
The New York Times first covered the controversy and provided commentary from Hanley. “We’re very proud of the work the director did,” the producer told the paper. “I have been through creative battles with every film we have made with every director.”
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