Julie Taymor's New Film Sparks Fraud Lawsuit Against Ealing Studios Head

A Midsummer Night's Dream Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

A Midsummer Night's Dream Still - H 2014

Less than a week before its release, Julie Taymor's filmed Shakespeare play A Midsummer Night's Dream is the subject of a new courtroom drama involving prominent entertainment producer Ben Latham-Jones who has allegedly "disappeared." He's now being sued for breach of contract and fraud.

The lawsuit was filed in New York federal court on Tuesday by Artful Dodgers in Performance and the Theatre for a New Audience, which collaborated with award-winning director Taymor on a stage production of Midsummer Night's Dream in December 2013. The production gathered much acclaim including by The Hollywood Reporter, which wrote it was "both magical and menacing."

Taymor, who also directed the stage adaptation of The Lion King as well as feature film Frida, became interested in turning her Shakespeare play into a movie, and so was Latham-Jones, a former creative director at Fox who worked on such films as Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine and Walk the Line and now runs U.K.-based Ealing Studios after wholly acquiring it last month.

The new lawsuit against Latham-Jones and Londinium Films paints the picture of a slightly unusual arrangement for Midsummer Night's Dream. Taymor herself isn't a plaintiff.

Latham-Jones allegedly didn't want to set up a production company to produce Taymor's film, but did agree to raise 100 percent of the capital required for the production. Furthermore, he is said to have tasked the plaintiffs with the role as paymaster and agreed to indemnify them against costs and expenses related to the production.

The producer wired an upfront payment of $500,000, but the movie ended up costing twice as much. The plaintiffs say they never got a second $500,000 payment.

Taymor, who was previously engaged in a highly public legal battle concerning authorship and cooperation on Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, went out of pocket for $300,000 to cover payroll obligations with the plaintiffs having to pick up the rest.

With due payments to artists working on Midsummer Night's Dream pursuant to union licensing contracts, plus other expenses, the paymasters say they have made repeated attempts to get the promised money from Latham-Jones.

In response to a letter demand last September, according to the complaint, "Latham-Jones was alternately combative and elusive, by turns denying any obligation, admitting some obligation, and disappearing purportedly to deal with various emergencies of family and friends."

The lawsuit says that in order to enable a release of the film, Taymor and the plaintiffs worked hard to draft a revised agreement that fixed Latham-Jones' funding obligations at only $200,000. The agreement is said to have been executed by signature on May 19, but the complaint adds that "despite the obvious importance of immediate payment, Defendants did not then wire the money."

But Latham-Jones' company is said to have made licensing agreements to have the film distributed around the world and will be due a a 39.5% profit share from Midsummer Night's Dream.

According to the complaint from attorney Jonathan Blackman, "Having thus induced Plaintiffs to continue dealing with them and to forebear from acting on their rights under the Contract until such time as the premieres and distribution of the Film became practically unstoppable, Defendants have now effectively disappeared, doubtless hoping to enjoy the fruits of distribution while withholding payment to Plaintiffs until such time – if ever – Defendants choose to honor their obligations."

In a statement, Latham-Jones says, "The allegations are categorically untrue. The full budget of the film has been paid and certain overages are being settled. I cannot comment any further as the matter is now with my lawyers."

UPDATE 6/11: On Thursday, the plaintiffs filed a motion for voluntary dismissal. According to a statement from Artful Dodgers and Theatre for a New Audience, they "look forward to a speedy and amicable resolution of the dispute." A spokesperson for the plaintiffs declined to say whether or not the dispute has moved into arbitration.