'Birdman' Company's Ousted Chief Aims to Launch New Fund Amid Legal War

Birdman Mag Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Birdman Mag Still - H 2014

Christopher Woodrow, former CEO of Worldview, was sued for embezzlement but in his own lawsuit accuses execs of hacking into his personal email

This story first appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

An escalating legal war between ousted Worldview Entertainment CEO Christopher Woodrow and his former partners at the New York production company behind Birdman and other films isn't stopping Woodrow from pushing ahead with a new fund that intends to reveal its first project at the American Film Market in early November.

Woodrow, 37, had just landed in Los Angeles on Oct. 14 for business meetings when he learned from an email news alert that Worldview had sued him for allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars, including charging personal trips and renovating his mother's home on the company's dime. Woodrow, who owns a 37.5 percent stake in Worldview, retaliated the next day with his own $55 million lawsuit stating that, among other claims, he was wrongfully terminated in late May and defamed and that his personal email account was hacked by Worldview executives.

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The dueling lawsuits, filed in New York Supreme Court, provided an inside view into the unraveling of the high-flying film financing company. Worldview bankrolled more than 25 films, including Birdman, Warren Beatty's untitled upcoming movie and Nicole Kidman's Strangerland. Woodrow founded Worldview with Maria Cestone in 2007 and helped raise more than $125 million, and he brought aboard Franklin Templeton heiress Sarah Johnson Redlich as a partner.

But tensions apparently dominated the Worldview offices in midtown Manhattan when many of its titles, including 2014 releases The Immigrant and Blood Ties, underperformed at the box office. Redlich, who loves walking the red carpet and attending film gatherings, even skipped the Cannes Film Festival this year, despite the fact Worldview paid $1 million to co-sponsor the amfAR benefit. Woodrow flew home from Cannes to learn he was being suspended and temporarily replaced by COO Molly Conners, whom he joked had died in a bizarre April Fool's Day email that startled colleagues.

A war of words apparently escalated this summer, leading to Worldview's suit accusing Woodrow of paying himself $275,000 when his salary was approved at $180,000 and disbursing another $229,000 in unauthorized loans. Woodrow allegedly spent thousands of dollars on a trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was reimbursed for $180,000 on his personal credit card. The expenses are said to have been for such things as meals, lotions, jewelry, shoes and luggage.

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Woodrow has yet to address the claims in court, but a source close to him says he never had an employment agreement and that his salary was set at $300,000. He also got a $30,000 bonus for every film deal he closed, but often, payment was deferred. In turn, he'd charge personal purchases against that money. And the Halifax trip is said to have been to meet with Worldview investors who live there. As for the lotion? Worldview's Cannes party gift bag.

While his reps declined comment, those familiar with Woodrow's plans insist his new fund is real. And he's trying to escape his legal morass by buying Worldview outright.