Michael Keaton Blamed in Lawsuit for Ruining Movie

The producer of "The Merry Gentleman" says Keaton failed in his directorial debut by going fly fishing during the editing, causing a problem at Sundance and failing to properly promote the picture.
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Michael Keaton

In a new lawsuit, the production company behind the 2008 film, The Merry Gentleman, offers up the familiar tale of hiring a Hollywood star in hopes of hitting it big, only to be held hostage by the star's whimsies.

The complaint filed in Illinois federal court targets Michael Keaton, who first agreed to co-star with Kelly Macdonald in a film about a professional killer who develops an unlikely relationship, and then took on directorial duties after the screenwriter scheduled to helm the project got sick.

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The film eventually got moderate praise, but along the way, Keaton allegedly was very difficult. After premiering at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the movie grossed less than $350,000, and now the production company (Merry Gentleman LLC) is pinning the blame on its star who it believes didn't live up to his contractual obligations.

According to the complaint (read here), problems on the film started happening in the editing process. The producer says that Keaton wouldn't hire an editor during the production of a film shot in Chicago, and lapsed in his responsibilities towards daily footage.

Editing facilities in Santa Monica were set up, but the producer alleges that Keaton then announced that he was leaving for Montana to go fly fishing.

Eventually, he returned and a "first cut" was delivered in August, 2007. The product was said to be less than satisfactory to all, including Keaton. He was then given "another shot" at a re-edit, but concurrently, the producer had the screenwriter, Ron Lazzeretti, prepare his own version -- known among the group as the "Chicago cut."

Keaton cut off communications thereafter, says the lawsuit.

The producer thought that Keaton's second edit was an improvement, but preferred the "Chicago cut," submitting it to Sundance, where it was accepted, and premiered alongside In Bruge, another film about a professional killer which eventually grossed nearly $26 million at the U.S. box office.

When Keaton learned that Merry Gentleman had been accepted at Sundance, he allegedly approached the festival's director and said he would only attend if his version was screened. According to the complaint, "Sundance informed Merry Gentleman LLC that unless Keaton would appear at the festival, Sundance would withdraw the opportunity to show the film at the festival."

After investing $4 million in the picture, the producer felt it had no choice and says it entered into a "Settlement and Release" with Keaton's loan-out company to show at Sundance. The producer says the agreement offered nothing more to them than Keaton performing his pre-existing contractual duties. In anticipation of the settlement potentially barring its claims, the lawsuit gives a couple of reasons why the settlement is invalid.

After the Sundance selection, Keaton is then stated to have picked music to be in the film, and after being advised that it wasn't in the budget, insisting that his selections were "in," resulting in a budget overrun of $400,000 (itself more than the film's eventual ticket sales.)

The film is also set during Christmastime, but because of Keaton's alleged refusal to perform his directorial duties, it couldn't be released in time for the 2008 Christmas season. (It was released the following May.)

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Notwithstanding all of this, the lawsuit admits that the film got good reviews. Roger Ebert called it "original, absorbing and curiously moving"; The New York Times' Manohla Dargis called it an "austere, nearly perfect character study"; David Letterman said he loved it.

But the producer is upset that Keaton didn't properly promote it. The lawsuit cites one appearance he made on ABC's Good Morning America, where Robin Roberts asks a question, and Keaton responds that he "ha[dn't] even seen it for awhile."

The production company is looking for damages without offering any estimate.

A spokesperson for Keaton declined comment.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner