Ricky Schroder Film Production Lawsuit Shows Need for Experienced Counsel
Disputes over creative motion-picture production rights are an unfortunate, yet common reality throughout the entertainment industry, with stories in television shows like Entourage and Episodes being classic examples of art imitating life. In yet another real-life drama, actor Ricky Schroder, of NYPD Blue fame, has filed a lawsuit against producers Jack and Joseph Nasser and their production companies in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that they tried to extort him for money after he backed away from a job to direct, write and star in a remake of the 1938 movie “The Black Stallion.”
The Movie Conflict
According to a report by Courthouse News, Schroder had entered into negotiations with the defendants in 2010 to create an adaptation of the classic movie based on the Nassers’ representations that they owned the rights to remake the film. Schroder allegedly agreed to write the script, direct and star in the film, while the Nassers would serve as producers and essentially be responsible for procuring funding for the project. Schroder claims that Joe Nasser even sent him a transcript of the original film’s dialogue, but Schroder never used it for “creative reasons.”
The parties allegedly reached an impasse regarding the production schedule and budget. Schroder claims he told the producers that he needed $1.6 million to make the movie on an 18-day shooting schedule, but the Nassers could only come up with $600,000 and wanted Schroder to shoot the film in 12 days. As a result, no progress was made between Schroder and the Nassers on the Black-Stallion project.
According to the complaint, months later Schroder decided to make a completely different film entitled “Wild Hearts,” which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in using his own funds. But the Nassers later claimed “Wild Hearts” was very similar to “The Black Stallion” — so much so that they claimed ownership in Schroder’s film. Schroder claims that his wife and daughter came up with the idea for the movie, and that it bears no resemblance to “The Black Stallion,” other than the fact that both movies involved a wild stallion. He argues that his movie was not based upon, derived or adapted from, or an expression of the movie he was slated to make with the Nassers. Schroder further claims that he tried to mitigate the dispute with the Nassers by proposing they enter into a distribution agreement to handle the film’s distribution, but the Nassers allegedly asked for fees “that were considerably higher than is standard in the motion picture industry.”
Schroder further alleges that he was not able to secure a film distribution deal with any other motion picture distributors because of the Nassers’ false claims that Schroder had no copyright interest in his film. With no distributors wanting to do business with him, Schroder filed his lawsuit against the Nassers.
Knowledgeable Entertainment Lawyer Important to Anyone in the Movie Business
This unfortunate story exemplifies the need for legal representation in negotiating and implementing creative deals in the entertainment industry. Artists (whether they are actors, directors or producers) need to gain a precise understanding of what they are contractually obligated to do and how they may properly terminate particular professional engagements without violating their agreements. An experienced entertainment attorney can tailor contract language to help facilitate this process and advise the client on how his or her decisions may affect important legal rights.
Contract Negotiation Can Be Tricky
Contract law has a number of nuances that can change with each case, especially considering the nature of how offers, counteroffers and the negotiation of the terms and provisions of agreements are viewed in a legal context. For example, a counteroffer is generally considered an offer made in response to a previous offer by the other party during negotiations for a final contract. Invariably one party may believe that a contract is finalized with the changes that were proposed, while the other party may merely view it as an unaccepted counteroffer, which generally carries no obligation to fulfill the additional terms (or to agree to the original offer).
In the Schroder case, the parties apparently had several disconnects, as they did not reach final agreements on all the terms governing their relationship. While they may have reached an accord on some of the production aspects (i.e., writing and directing the film), the costs of producing the film were still not agreed to and they also disagreed over whether the film could be shot in 12 days (compared to 18 days).
An experienced film-industry attorney can provide professional, unbiased counsel on the negotiation and documentation of motion picture production agreements, marketing and endorsement deals, and other contracts that require a number of important steps to be taken before the contracts are finalized and contractual obligations arise.
Article provided by Entertainment, Intellectual Property, Internet & New Media Law Group
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