Mel Gibson Sued by Voltage Pictures Amid 'Professor and the Madman' Legal War

Bruce Davey and Mel Gibson - 2016 6th AACTA Awards - Getty - H 2017
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Mel Gibson and his producing partner are being sued by Voltage Pictures in the escalating legal battle over the yet-to-be-released film about the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Gibson sued first in July, claiming Voltage jeopardized The Professor and the Madman by failing to honor their co-production deal and allegedly engaging in fraudulent behavior.

The complaint describes the project as a "labor of love" and explains that Gibson and his producing partner, Bruce Davey, spent nearly two decades developing the movie, which is based on Simon Winchester's book of the same name.

Gibson claims Voltage failed to live up to its end of the deal by failing to provide a budget, shoot "critical" scenes in Oxford and execute Farhad Safinia's directing deal and that it screened an unapproved cut of the film to potential distributors at Cannes.

Then, in September, Safinia sued Voltage for defamation after it responded to Gibson's suit with a statement to the L.A.Times that "Mr. Gibson and the film’s director consistently failed to live up to their professional and contractual responsibilities to Voltage." He also claims Voltage's unauthorized cut of the film infringes on the copyright in his screenplay.

In a response filing, Voltage told the court Safinia's lawsuit was an attempt "to improperly coerce the financiers of the Picture to shoot additional scenes in Oxford, England, at a cost of approximately $2.5 million."

Now, in a complaint filed Wednesday in California federal court in response to Safinia's suit, Voltage is suing Gibson, Davey and the director for conspiring to "unlawfully hijack control of and/or interfere with [its] ability to exploit the rights to distribute the motion picture."

Voltage wants a declaration that the copyright Safinia is asserting is invalid and unenforceable and that the director committed fraud upon the U.S. Copyright Office. "He cannot bring a copyright infringement claim based on a script that he prepared as a work-for-hire and does not own," writes attorney Jeremiah Reynolds. Voltage also claims that Safinia breached his directing agreement by wrongfully canceling multiple scenes, demanding extra shoots in Oxford when the film was already over budget, failing to deliver a two-hour director's cut and refusing to review the current cut of the film.

Gibson and Davey induced Safinia to breach his agreements and fraudulently register the script as his own, Voltage claims, and "cast a cloud" on copyright ownership making it "virtually impossible" to sell the right to distribute the film.

Voltage is suing Safinia for breach of contract and Gibson and Davey for intentional interference with contractual relationships and prospective economic relations. (Read the filing in full below.)