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Woody Allen says Amazon has no right to terminate a deal for the production and distribution of films.
In 2014, Amazon was looking to make a big move into original content and entered into a deal with the filmmaker for a series titled Crisis in Six Scenes. Then came a series of more agreements for four movies. These were rich pacts that, according to new court documents, guaranteed Allen’s company Gravier Productions minimum guaranteed payments totaling between $68 million and $73 million.
However, Allen’s career took a turn upon a 2016 column by Ronan Farrow in The Hollywood Reporter, and later, the rise of the #MeToo movement. A daughter’s allegations of sexual abuse got renewed attention.
And Amazon got cold feet.
In a breach of contract lawsuit filed Thursday in New York federal court, Allen says that in June 2018, Amazon attempted to terminate its agreements with Allen.
“Amazon has tried to excuse its action by referencing a 25-year old, baseless allegation against Mr. Allen, but that allegation was already well known to Amazon (and the public) before Amazon entered into four separate deals with Mr. Allen — and, in any event it does not provide a basis for Amazon to terminate the contract,” states the complaint (read here). “There simply was no legitimate ground for Amazon to renege on its promises.”
Allen says that pursuant to the agreement, he and investors have put $20 million into financing the production of A Rainy Day in New York, starring Jude Law and Selena Gomez, but that Amazon is refusing to make guaranteed payments on the film. He alleges being owed $9 million in such guarantees plus additional amounts based on the success of the pic. Allen also alleges that Amazon committed to a theatrical release for a period of at least 90 days.
“Despite repeated requests from Plaintiffs, Defendants have not identified any provision in any of the Allen Film Agreements giving Amazon Content the right to terminate — and, in fact, no such provision exists,” continues the lawsuit being handled by attorneys at Quinn Emanuel. “In short, after Defendants used Mr. Allen to promote and build Amazon Studios’ standing as a full-fledged film studio, they discarded him, repudiated the Allen Film Agreements, and refused to honor their commitments to him or Gravier.”
The lawsuit stresses that when Amazon first signed Allen, the then-head of the company’s studio, Roy Price, told everyone that Amazon would be the “home” for Allen for the rest of his career. Of course, Amazon has had a change of management in the intervening time. Price himself had to resign from Amazon following allegations of sexual harassment by one of the streamer’s top producers.
“In December 2017, Amazon Studios’ executives Jason Ropell and Matt Newman met with representatives of Mr. Allen and Gravier and discussed the negative publicity and reputational harm Amazon Studios had received because of allegations made against its former President, Mr. Price, and its association with Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company,” states the complaint. “The Amazon executives proposed a meeting in Seattle with Amazon.com Executive Vice-President Jeffrey Blackburn to discuss marketing for the film. Although that meeting did not take place, Mr. Ropell, Mr. Newman, and Amazon Studios’ Associate General Counsel, Ajay Patel, confirmed to Mr. Allen and Gravier’s representatives in January 2018 that Amazon Studios would release A Rainy Day in New York consistent with Amazon Content’s contractual obligation to do so, but requested that Mr. Allen and Gravier agree to ‘push back’ the scheduled date for the release of the film to 2019.”
Allen was fine with that.
But six months later, after the completion of postproduction work, the termination notice came that informed Allen that “Amazon does not intend to distribute or otherwise exploit the Pictures in any domestic or international territories.”
Although Allen questions the contractual basis for the termination, he does say that Amazon informed him that its performance under the agreement had become “impracticable,” because of “supervening events, including renewed allegations against Mr. Allen, his own controversial comments, and the increasing refusal of top talent to work with or be associated with him in any way, all of which have frustrated the purpose of the Agreement.”
As a result, Allen alleges substantial damages, not only on the failure to receive minimum guarantees and promotion, but also his ability to work with highly regarded individuals in the industry and meet his own commitments to outside investors and foreign distributors.
Besides claiming breaches of various contracts, Allen alleges Amazon has violated an implied covenant to deal fairly and in good faith and that Amazon has been unjustly enriched through his involvement in helping bolster the value of its film business. He is now demanding the $68 million in guarantees and further monetary damages. Here’s a copy of Allen’s agreements with Amazon.
Amazon has yet to respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit. As the litigation moves forward, the corporate giant could premise a defense around “frustration of purpose,” a legal doctrine concerning unforeseen events that undermine a party’s principal purpose for entering into a contract. The question would be: Do resurfaced allegations against Woody Allen qualify?
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