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A Legal Minute: No Justice For Old Men

Written by Alexander Tucker   // 10/15/2012

Tommy Lee Jones A Legal Minute

No Justice For Old Men: Tommy Lee Jones Lawsuit

A Legal Minute: A little bit of the legal side of the biz you can read in a minute.

There have been plenty of times in my life when I have been surprised.  I mean, it happens to all of us right?  I will admit, some family have been able to keep the secret of a surprise party, and get one over on me.  One thing that I am usually able to sniff out though is whether a film will do well at the box office or not.  It’s kind of uncanny.  But then again, I think you can do that same.  I mean, did anyone really think that A Very Brady Sequel was gonna hit big?  No, and it did not.  But then again, sometimes something hits big that none of us really saw, like The Blair Witch Project, and we are blown away.

One of those films that caught me by surprise was No Country For Old Men.  For every film backed with an actor the caliber of Tommy Lee Jones that does well (Men In Black), there is always another that no one hears about (In The Electric Mist).  So when this film came out, I had limited expectations.  But lo and behold, we were able to see a great story that grossed almost $75 million domestically and $171 million worldwide.  Not bad for a $25 million budget.

For a film with such a small budget (and there are others with significantly smaller budgets that still bring in A list talent), the appeal for the actors is that ability to participate in the back end profits.  What does that mean?  Well, they are promised in their contracts to get a percentage of the gross profits of the film in exchange for a smaller up front payment.  And if the movie hits, they get a significant payday.

This past Thursday, the star of No Country For Old Men, Tommy Lee Jones, filed an appeal in the California Superior Court, appealing an arbitrators ruling that he owes his former talent agency, William Morris Endeavors (“WME”), about $2 million in commissions.  This all came about after Mr. Jones disputed that WME deserved to be paid a commission for work that he thought did not rise to the level of being worth 10% of his payday for the film.  Just so you know how the numbers wok out, Mr. Jones made $15 million from the film and WME stated they were entitled to $1.5 million.  Meanwhile, the labor commission that arbitrated the dispute initially, added almost half a million dollars in fees.

So, now, unhappy with the result the arbitrator stuck him with, Mr. Jones gets to appeal the ruling to the California court system, and he is doing his best of alleging that WME did not perform adequately enough to deserve their payday.  Is it just?  Maybe.  Mr. Jones originally contended that by the time the money for the film was paid to him, he had a new agency, but that did not work at arbitration, and could very well likely not work here.

Roberto “R.C.” Rondero de Mosier is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York and Illinois.  He is a partner at Gonzalez & Mosier Law PLLC.  His practice specializes in Entertainment Law and Intellectual Property rights.  In his spare time he enjoys watching television and films, and writing about it.  Follow him on Twitter @showbizattorney, or e-mail him at rc@gonzalezmosier.com.


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