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Uma Thurman lying on a bed, smoking a cigarette with a gun and pulp magazine within reach, is no doubt an iconic image, but who really deserves credit for what adorns the movie poster for Pulp Fiction? Thanks to the fact that Disney and Miramax employees somehow can’t locate key paperwork, a federal judge is now hearing more about the marketing for Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece. At stake is ownership of this famous piece of cinematic history.
Firooz Zahedi, a noted photographer whose images of celebrities have been in Los Angeles galleries, is the claimant. He snapped Thurman at his private studio on April 7, 1994, and now he’s after Miramax for using his work on “untold thousands of consumer products.”
According to Miramax, though, Zahedi was fulfilling someone else’s vision, and he worked under a work-for-hire agreement. The rub? The documents have gone missing. A Disney employee, per a declaration from a Miramax layer, says there’s no way that the Pulp Fiction VHS would have been released without having cleared the cover image while Zahedi’s legal team has its own studio insider coming forward about how “Miramax’s business practices in 1994 did not include procuring executed photographer contracts.”
Zahedi got $10,000 for his work — which he says was “far below” his standard fee. He accepted, he adds, because he liked the script and was promised he’d have the freedom to execute his concept. The photographer says he directed a “seedy motel room” set and “was inspired by ‘film noir’ pulp fiction books of the 50’s and 60’s as well as the archetypal ‘femme fatale’ characters.”
Miramax, which is raising ire how Zahedi has suddenly “come out of the woodwork” to claim ownership (it’s challenging the photographer’s ability to do so after so much time), tells a slightly different story. Before Zehedi was even engaged, a marketing team at Miramax discussed ideas, came to the concept of using Thurman as a femme fatale character with props on a bed, and created a set of sketches. Then, Zahedi was hired “following the layout as created by Miramax,” and eventually, the film poster got approval from higher-ups including Harvey Weinstein not to mention Tarantino and his production partner Lawrence Bender.
Zahedi responds all he got was “ideas,” and that he was the one who had “all creative decisions” about how to fix those ideas to the photographs. “Zahedi has always been credited as the author of said photograph, even on the award the Film’s publicity campaign received,” his lawyer adds. “After the Film’s release, in 2003, Miramax registered the Poster with the Copyright Office, representing in its application that it was not claiming authorship or ownership of the Zahedi Photograph.”
U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee will hold a hearing on the matter on Oct. 22.
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