Terrence Malick Movie Investors Sue to Get Money Back

"The New World"
20th Century Fox Films/Courtesy of Everett Collection

With the "Batman" franchise wrapped, Bale is making his next two movies with filmmaker Terrence Malick, "Lawless" and "Knight of Cups." The two first worked together on "The New World" in 2005.

A few years is but a blink of an eye in Earth's 4.5 billion years of existence. But some film investors have now lost patience over Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time, alleging in a lawsuit that the reclusive director has forgotten about making a film project that he once described as "one of my greatest dreams."

According to a complaint filed in New York federal court on Friday, Malick was supposed to direct two 45-minute Imax films and a 90-150 minute feature film version of Voyage of Time. The Oscar-nominated director envisioned the project as "portray[ing] the events of our cosmic history, as well as the state of the earth now and the prospects for its future."

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Famed for his transcendental filmmaking style, Malick isn't the most prolific of directors. Malick, 69, has accomplished just six films to date. Voyage of Time was to be one of his upcoming projects, but after raising $3.3 million for it, investors now demand the return of money and intellectual property, plus want to be compensated for lost profits.

Seven Seas Partnership is the investment group suing Sycamore Pictures for breach of contract. The defendant has now reacted to the lawsuit by saying the claims are meritless.

In the lawsuit (read in full here), the investors believe that Malick has become too distracted, saying that instead of devoting his time to Voyage of Time, he has "dedicated his energies to four other films in the last five years."

In this time, Malick completed Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt, as well as To the Wonder. Two other films, including Knights of Cups, starring Christian Bale and Natalie Portman, are listed on IMDb as being in post-production.

As for Voyage of Time, a planned documentary with Pitt attached as a narrator, Sycamore and Malick have allegedly already spent $3.3 million of investment money as well as $2.5 million from a not-for-profit foundation "with nothing to show for it."

An Academy Award-winning special effects artist has quit the film "because no amount of special effects could cover up the fact that no movies existed," according to the complaint.

The film had planned shoots around the world in the Southwestern U.S., Hawaii, Iceland, Monterey, Chile, Palau and elsewhere, and some raw footage was completed, although not an "Early Man Shoot" on the Solomon Islands. Malick told the investors they were "looking for people in Papua New Guinea that embody the ferocity of our distant ancestors."

The investors, ferocious in their own right, refuse to wait around forever.

They say that in 2012, with deadline for the films on the horizon, Malick began asking for more time and money. To consider the request, the investors say they wanted "unequivocal assurance" that he would "finally focus" on the pictures. Malick allegedly refused to give this, and the film company's lawyer is described as claiming that the movie would be made but for the investors' own alleged contractual breaches.

Seven Seas then wanted to inspect documentation related to the film, but Sycamore allegedly refused to to allow access.

The investors state their belief that the money was "co-mingled with other financial assets to support the production of other films by Malick."

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"In other words," says the complaint, "SSPL was an unwitting investor in films produced, directed, and released by Malick, for which SSPL received no compensation, obligation for repayment, or equity interest in any entity."

Seven Seas is represented by Winston & Strawn.

This isn't the first time that a legal dispute has broken out over deadlines and deliveries on a Malick film. Two years ago, the UK distributor of Tree of Life fought over what constituted a finished film. The dispute was later settled.

Malick couldn't be reached about the latest allegations.

In a statement, Maura Wogan at Frankfurt Kurnit, representing Sycamore, says, "The claims of Seven Seas are without merit. The film was on budget, on schedule, and all funds were used appropriately. Additionally, Seven Seas' decision to file this lawsuit under the cover of darkness and go public with accusations before presenting Sycamore with a copy of the suit itself speaks to the weakness of the allegations."

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner