'Fast and the Furious' Producer Sues Universal Over Spinoff

"Fast Five"
Jaimie Trueblood

The action pic has grossed $366.5 million internationally -- compared with a domestic cume of $202.1 million. It was huge in Australia thanks to "revheads"; Germany was another big market.

In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, producer Neal Moritz takes credit for being one of the driving forces behind the blockbuster franchise based on The Fast and the Furious and alleges that Universal Studios has breached an oral agreement for the forthcoming spinoff Hobbs and Shaw.

According to the complaint, Moritz enjoyed fixed compensation, bonuses, backend participation and pay-or-play protection for the first eight films of the franchise. His last written agreement allegedly entitled him to participate in sequels or remakes.

Moritz says after the completion of photography on The Fate of the Furious, he and screenwriter Chris Morgan came up with the story idea to focus on the relationship and unlikely alliance between characters Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw and "shift the storyline more toward a buddy cop film with international spy aspects."

The two allegedly pitched Universal chairman Donna Langley the idea in spring 2017.

"Shortly thereafter, and on information and belief, Universal locked down Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham for the lead roles in Hobbs and Shaw, with first-dollar-gross deals," states the complaint. "At or around that same time, Moritz had conversations with the President of Universal Pictures, Jimmy Horowitz, where they discussed Moritz's producer deal for Hobbs and Shaw. Hertz orally promised Moritz that his producer deal on Hobbs and Shaw would return to a first-dollar-gross deal, and would be the first-dollar-gross option from his last producer deal with Universal." 

Under that deal, Moritz gets $2 million in fixed compensation against a 6 percent gross participation, dictated by a specific formula.

Moritz says he worked on production for the following year and a half. He met with potential directors, worked on casting, and says he contributed to the film's themes, story, plot and character development. He also says he took three trips to London in connection with the film.

Howard Abramson, Moritz's transactional lawyer, is said to have pushed for a draft written agreement, with Universal executives communicating that it would be forthcoming and based on the alleged oral understanding.

"Less than one month later, Abramson received a first draft of the Hobbs and Shaw agreement from Universal," states the complaint. "This draft included the first-dollar-gross deal to which the parties had orally agreed. However, it also included an onerous Over Budget Adjustment provision, which had the potential to dramatically change Moritz's backend participation, and a new soundtrack provision that sought to dramatically reduce Moritz's participation. The parties had never discussed or agreed that the financial terms of the Hobbs and Shaw producer deal would be anything other than the first-dollar-gross option that had been contained in his last producer deal, which was the FF8-10 Agreement. This was an obvious attempt by Universal to change the oral producer deal."

Moritz also alleges that Universal adjusted the vesting schedule for his pay-or-play clause, which means he'd be paid if terminated.

Negotiations continued. Universal allegedly told Moritz' lawyer in August it wanted to change the deal to a post-breakeven pool, amounting to profit participation after the film recouped its expenses. Moritz later told Universal he would consider the pool for an increase in upfront cash and box office bonuses.

Then, in early September with the parties still at odds and Moritz saying he had continued to work on the film, Abramson received a letter from Universal's deputy general counsel stating, "Universal is under no obligation to involve Mr. Moritz in the production, nor to compensate him in connection with it."

Moritz was also advised by Universal's lawyer he shouldn't render any services in connection with the film until an agreement was reached.

"This was obviously a blatant and abusive attempt by Universal to force Moritz to accept a dramatic reduction in his producer deal on the eve of filming," the lawsuit charges.

Moritz is now seeking an enforcement of the oral agreement plus monetary damages. Here's the full complaint.

Universal hasn't commented yet about the lawsuit.