'London Fields' Producers Allege Director Violated Contract

London Fields - H 2015
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

The tug of war between producer and director — one controlling the purse, the other the creativity — is reprised in legal strife surrounding a film adaptation of Martin Amis' London Fields.

In September, in the midst of the Toronto Film Festival, director Mathew Cullen filed a lawsuit against Christopher Hanley and other producers. The complaint alleged that Muse Productions and Nicola Six Limited was unwilling to fund the production of the film as they had represented and had made an unflattering edit including imagery of 9/11 jumpers, pornography and mind-control.

Naturally, Nicola Six is throwing back counterclaims over a dispute that provoked some of the film's stars including Johnny Depp and Billy Bob Thornton to withhold their support in Toronto.

Nicola Six has lodged papers in Los Angeles Superior Court that accuse Cullen of breaching an oral contract by failing to deliver on budget and on time despite extensions granted. In late 2013, according to the cross-complaint the parties exchanged drafts of an agreement for Cullen's director services. He was to be paid $300,000 in a "pay-or-play" deal.

"Notably, nothing in the draft Director Agreement that was sent by Cullen's attorney [Eric] Feig, and nothing in Feig's handwritten comments, stated that Cullen would have final cutting authority over the Movie," says the cross-complaint (read here).

Cullen is said to have signed a Certificate of Engagment, and Nicola Six says it believes the draft agreement that was attached to be operative. During shooting of the film, troubles arose. At one point, according to the court document, Cullen allegedly contended that Hanley's wife, being credited here as a co-author of the screenplay, was interfering. At another point, Cullen demanded payment, but Nicola Six says the film went over budget and payments made for things like a cinematographer and camera rental expenses "entirely offset Cullen's salary."

The disputes continued after completion of filming. Cullen is now being accused of having violated DGA rules and his agreement by working on Katy Perry commercials during his time editing London Fields. Nicola Six says that when the film was $2 million over budget and late in delivering the film, it "terminated the director's formal editing rights period and notified the DGA."

And the lack of cooperation on the promotional front is also part of the contract breach claim. This allegedly happened well before Toronto when London FIelds was being submitted to Sundance and Cullen's reps are described as making contentions about the film's copyright. (Nicola Six asserts that the film constituted a work-made-for-hire, which would make the producers the official author.)

Additionally, Cullen is being accused arranging screenings of alternative versions for third parties and committing tortious interference over alleged efforts to discourage the film's stars from performing promotional and post-production services. And much more. For instance, actress Amber Heard's attorney voiced objection to nude scenes in the producer's cut, supposedly part of a "conspiracy" to thwart the release the film. Some of the other actors wouldn't do dialogue replacement.

Toronto pulled the premiere from the lineup, which Nicola Six now claims was induced by Cullen. Nicola Six says this all has jeopardized the distribution and sales potential of the film.

Since Amis authored his celebrated book in 1989, there have been many directors attached to film adaptations. The troubled project features a story told by an unreliable narrator about the impending killing of a promiscuous psychic.

In a statement upon filing, Hanley says, "This case symbolizes a real sad turn in the culture of independent cinema."

Cullen's attorney Alex Weingarten responds, ""The cross-complaint filed by Nicola Six is a desperate and unfortunately expected effort to distract attention away from the tortious conduct of Chris Hanley and Jordan Gertner. It is a fictional representation of the actual facts replete with demonstrably false lies. Mr. Cullen is an artist who is just trying to make a movie. He made every effort to resolve this dispute without the need to resort to litigation but now looks forward to his day in Court.”