On Verge of TV Deal, Magician Says 'Illusionists' Partners Left Him Stranded in Venezuela

The Illusionists Production Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Boneau Bryan Brown

The Illusionists Production Still - H 2014

In a federal lawsuit, professional magician Brett Daniels says he has a trick to make vehicles like an antique horse and carriage appear out of thin air, but needed to resort to legal threats in order to get out of Venezuela.

Daniels is the co-creator of The Illusionists, reported to be the highest selling magic show in Broadway history and possibly soon to be showcased in a television broadcast.

In his complaint filed in Wisconsin against other Illusionists producers including Simon Painter and Timothy Lawson, Daniels alleges he was due 10 percent of all fees paid to performers for any Illusionists show in any format. 

"However, after using Daniels’ expertise, contacts, and efforts to get the show off the ground, and after the Show began to achieve international success, Defendants cut Daniels out of the Show and refused to pay him his contractually guaranteed share of the Total Act Fees from at least November of 2013 to the present," states the complaint. "Further, Defendants continue to use Daniels’ proprietary copyrighted illusions in the Show without Daniels’ approval or consent."

Daniels says he invented his vehicle appearance illusion in 1993, has registered choreography and stage direction with the U.S. Copyright Office, and helped lead efforts to create an ensemble magic show that is now performing worldwide. His 10 percent share was first orally agreed to, and according to the lawsuit, later confirmed in writing. As The Illusionists garnered commercial success, Daniels says he set up several meetings in Hollywood, introducing Painter to a well-known TV executive, and that an agreement was made that would entitle him to 25 percent of revenue from a TV special.

In May 2013, he adds, he was told by defendants there was “a very good chance that the Illusionists TV show is going to be bought by a major network.”

That summer, The Illusionists was due to do a South America tour. That's where the craziness allegedly starts happening.

"Specifically, in July of 2013, Defendants insisted that Daniels and the performers in the Show travel to Venezuela for a final set of performances after what was supposed to be the end of the South American tour in Brazil, despite Venezuela being a non-contracted location which was never agreed upon prior to the start of the tour," says the complaint. "Defendants’ insistence on such performances of the Show was unreasonable, as Venezuela was an extremely unstable environment for the production of the Show."

Daniels says the performance never occurred.

"Instead, the Venezuelan government seized the Show, the venue, and all of its stage equipment prior to the Show’s first performance and was holding all such assets under armed guard. This included Daniels’ equipment, which was the largest, most intricate, and most valuable of any other performer in the Show."

Daniels says the defendants "plotted" to send everyone in the cast home from Venezuela. But not him. He was left "to fend for himself against the Venezuelan authorities. Defendants did not even provide Daniels with access to food, water, or medical care for his severe illness during his remaining time in Venezuela."

Five days of being stranded in Venezuela proceeded where Daniels allegedly couldn't get his fellow partners to get him out of the country. 

"Only after Daniels threatened legal action against Defendants did Defendants finally agree to provide Daniels with a plane ticket out of Venezuela," continues the complaint. "At that point, however, Daniels began to realize that Defendants were likely plotting to remove him entirely from the Illusionists."

In a lawsuit which under normal circumstances would gather interest with regards to intellectual property assertions over magic (see more on that topic here), instead there's talk about "death threats" made and a "ruse to delegitimize" Daniels claims. The lawsuit suggests that authorities have been contacted.

Nevertheless, this is still a lawsuit about money where Daniels objects to how he was pushed out of the show, how his illusions were allegedly misappropriated, and how he's no longer getting his full 10 percent. Plus, there's royalties from a possible TV show at stake. Here's the full insane lawsuit alleging breaches of contracts, unjust enrichment, conversion, copyright infringement, trade secret misappropriation and breach of fiduciary duty. Daniels is represented by Gregory Ostfeld and Tyler Andrews at Greenberg Traurig.

The defendants couldn't be reached for contact, but we'll update if we hear anything from them.