7:47am PT by Eriq Gardner
Ivanhoe Pictures Was Allegedly Launched Through Conspiracy
Odessa Rae has lodged an expansive lawsuit against Ivanhoe Pictures, the film and television company run by billionaire mining mogul Robert Friedland that has deals with Fox International Productions, Blumhouse Productions and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.
Launched in 2013, Ivanhoe Pictures aimed at financing and producing global productions with a particular focus on Asian markets. According to Rae's complaint filed in L.A. Superior Court, the company has committed fraud, civil conspiracy, contract breaches and tortious interference to get off the ground.
Rae says that four years ago, she entered into a partnership with producer John Penotti, whose past films include In the Bedroom, A Prairie Home Companion, Uptown Girls and Swimfan. The plaintiff says she used extensive contacts in Asia and help set up meetings, including arranging for Penotti and Singapore-based Friedland to meet, and "once the partnership had substantial value and was on track to form a successful financing/production company...defendants then set about a strategy to usurp the resulting highly value partnership opportunities; cut [Rae] out of the partnership, conceal those activities from Plaintiff; and form a new entertainment company without Plaintiff."
After an alleged oral agreement was made to be co-partners, and an entity called the Global Entertainment Initiative was established, Rae says she began introducing Penotti to financiers and other elites. The first was Terry Wong, whose family owns TVB, the largest television network in Asia. Then came Daniel Fung, the former solicitor general of Hong Kong. Through Wong, came Ray Chen, who acted as a liaison to Friedland. Later came meetings with Dede Nickerson, the head of production for Sony Pictures in China, Creative Artists Agency and William Morris Endeavor, various Chinese companies and Legendary Entertainment, billionaire philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
During this time, Rae says, commitments from prominent award-winning producers were secured, presentations were made, a one-page letter agreement for GEI was drafted by Penotti, and there were even discussions to rename the company Ivanhoe Pictures.
In December 2012, the wrongful conduct allegedly began.
That month, Penotti is said to have traveled to China for a film project that had nothing to do with the new venture.
"Unbeknownst to Plaintiff at the time, on information and belief, Defendant Penotti met with Defendant Friedland to discuss the GEI/Ivanhoe venture," states the lawsuit.
Rae says Penotti was evasive when asked about it. More secret meetings between Penotti and Friedland are said to have occurred at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and thereafter. Kelly Carmichael (producer of My Week With Marilyn and Nine) was brought into the Ivanhoe fold just as Penotti and Rae were meeting with Todd Remis, an investment bigwig who produced Magic Mike.
In September 2013, a press release about the launch of Ivanhoe Pictures was sent out. Rae has no current involvement in the company. She alleges that Penotti led her to believe she'd be brought in and compensated for her contributions. "However, Defendant Penotti has become continually and increasingly evasive and now refuses to engage in a good faith discussion and/or negotiation," says the lawsuit.
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment is now working with Ivanhoe on a joint venture to produce local-language films in China, South Korea and India, and Penotti has been tapped as president. Ivanhoe also has a 10-picture India slate with Blumhouse and a $130 million co-financing pact with Fox.
Rae, represented by litigator Charles Harder, is seeking an examination into Ivanhoe's books, an accounting to determine what is owed, exemplary and punitive damages.
"These claims are an invention," says Ivanhoe's attorney Orin Snyder. "We look forward to disproving them in court, where the truth prevails over fiction."
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Ivanhoe for comment.