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If Martin Scorsese ever directs Silence, based on an award-winning Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo about the persecution of a Jesuit missionary in 17th Century Japan, it will happen after an almost epic amount of litigation and dealmaking.
In August, Cecchi Gori Pictures sued Scorsese for failure to live up to an agreement to direct Silence. The famed director agreed way back in 1990 that it would be on his to-do list. For various reasons, the project was delayed, and after seeing press reports that Scorsese’s next film would be Wolf of Wall Street, Cecchi Gori decided to bring Scorsese to court.
In reaction, Scorsese’s reps called the lawsuit “shocking” and the claims “absurd,” but Scorsese’s lawyers have now filed court papers that confirm much of the complicated back story with some additional information. In the last two decades, there’s been two prior lawsuits and five deal amendments over this film. Scorsese says he has already given the plaintiffs $3.5 million to wait on Silence.
Now, the biggest questions are (1) his contractual obligation on the movie and (2) whether he’ll have to pay more money for further delay.
So why has it taken 22 years and counting for Scorsese to direct Silence?
The director confirms that in 1990, he entered into a written agreement to provide his services on the film. In 1998, there was an amendment to the agreement where Scorsese agreed it would be his third picture after Kundin.
Scorsese then directed Bringing out the Dead in 1999. He directed Gangs of New York in 2002, The Aviator in 2004, The Departed in 2006, Shutter Island in 2010 and Hugo in 2011.
In 2003, Hollywood Gangs Productions, a company owned by Gianni Nunnari, the former president of Cecchi Gori, sued Scorsese for breaching the 1990 deal and the 1998 amendment. In a partial settlement, Scorsese’s Silence deal was amended a second time, which “set forth the parties’ rights and duties in the event that Scorsese directed one or more other motion pictures prior to directing [Silence].”
Thereafter, Scorsese’s Silence deal was amended a third time — and then a fourth! To get Cecchi Gori to hold off on Silence so he could make other films, Scorsese says he paid the company to wait. According to new court filings, the director’s lawyers say, “Defendants have, to date, paid Plaintiffs over $3.5 million, consisting of Defendants’ fixed fees and contingent compensation in connection with Scorsese’s work on The Departed and Shutter Island.”
Scorsese says he was finally preparing to make Silence in 2007 only to see Nunnari sue Cecchi Gori claiming film rights to the novel. Scorsese says that although he wasn’t directly a party to the lawsuit, “as a result of the claims alleged in that lawsuit, there was a cloud on the title to the Picture and Defendants were prevented from producing and directing the Picture” until the rights issue was resolved.
In March, 2011, a court confirmed that Cecchi Gori held the rights. Thereafter, the parties — including Scorsese — amended the contract for a fifth time, which allegedly partially superseded the original 1990 agreement.
Scorsese says, “The 2011 Agreement is the operative agreement, and the only agreement that is relevant to Plaintiffs’ alleged claims in this action.”
According to the language of the 2011 deal, “[Scorsese] agrees to direct [Silence] as his next feature-length theatrical motion picture following Hugo, provided that financing for the Picture is available from third parties to allow the Picture to commence formal pre-production not later than April 2012.”
Scorsese’s lawyers emphasize that latter part.
In a demurrer intended to strike much of Cecchi Gori’s lawsuit, Scorsese says that the plaintiff’s failure to allege the material terms of the agreements or attach a copy to the complaint makes the plaintiff’s claims defective.
Besides this procedural point, the parties have a real disagreement on the financing situation when Scorsese opted to direct Wolf of Wall Street instead of Silence.
According to the August lawsuit that was filed by Cecchi Gori, Scorsese represented in late 2011-early 2012 that “financing was in place for Silence; that the project would commence pre-production imminently; that the film would be produced in 2012…”
But Scorsese now says those allegations are “contrary to the plain language of the 2011 Agreement which states that Scorsese was still attempting to procure financing at the time the 2011 Agreement was executed, and that the commencement of production in 2012 was contingent on such financing being made available.”
In other words, Scorsese says that without the money lined up, he wasn’t contractually obligated to finally get started on Silence.
And if he’s wrong? Scorsese has already paid $3.5 million to hold off on Silence so he could first direct The Departed and Shutter Island. According to Cecchi Gori, Scorsese owes an additional $1.5 million, the value of a producer’s fee, and 20 percent of his back-end participation on Hugo. And now, Cecchi Gori wants damages for Scorsese’s decision to put Wolf of Wall Street ahead in the pecking order. Potentially, that’s a lot to pay to stay Silence all these years.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @eriqgardner
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