'Voltron' dispute spawns lawsuit

Indie producers sue animation rights holder

Japanese animation property "Voltron: Defender of the Universe" has become the subject of a legal battle between a group of indie producers and a family company that controls the property.

In a suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, indie producers James Young, Ford Oelman and Mark Costa of banners Animus Films and NHO Entertainment allege that St. Louis-based World Events, which holds rights to the television property, and its partner Kickstart Prods. negotiated illegally with other producers during what the producers say was an exclusive period.

"World Events secretly conspired with Jason Netter and Kickstart Entertainment to find investors and make the movie without NHO and Animus during the terms of the exclusive deal," the suit says.

The plaintiffs are suing for breach of contract, fraud and interference with contractual relations, and are seeking various forms of damages.

World Events and Kickstart volleyed back on Tuesday, with a spokesperson for the defendants saying "this lawsuit is frivolous and without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously," adding "fortunately, these baseless claims do not in any way encumber the film or any other Voltron project, and we are excited to proceed on the long-awaited Voltron feature film with our partner Atlas."

The producers, who were working to develop the property with Mark Gordon (who is not part of the suit), say they began work on the project in 2004, bringing on writers, seeking financing and clearing a chain of title for the property.

But while they were doing that, they claim, World Events and Kickstart were peddling the project to others behind their backs. The producers also say they have not been sufficiently compensated for the work they did for World Events.

In July, Charles Roven's Atlas Entertainment acquired rights to develop a "Voltron" feature. The plaintiffs are not contesting the right of World Events or Kickstart to sell the property at that point, and a suit probably won't threaten a feature.

But the suit does higlights the work indie producers do on a project, and the way that work is recognized when and if that project comes to fruition. "We want the movie to get made," Young said. "We just want to make sure we're involved in some way and are compensated."

Credits have become a popular battleground for producers who say they are disenfranchised, particularly in the indie and specialty world, where many cooks can work on a project before it reaches the screen. In 2006, Bob Yari famously battled producers of "Crash" over credit on the eventual Oscar winner for best picture.

"Voltron" has been on Hollywood's radar for years, but the project has taken a long path through development, with potential deals for Lionsgate, New Regency and Relativity all falling through before Atlas boarded it this summer.