Blockbuster Screenwriter Sued for Residuals
LOS ANGELES (CN) - A man who says he helped ghostwrite a sequel to "X-Men," "Die Hard" and other action franchises sued the credited writer of those films for $661,700.
Rob Thomas, neither the "Veronica Mars" creator nor the Matchbox 20 frontman, says he has spent the last 15 years writing screenplays with his best friend and fellow film school graduate John Skipper "Skip" Woods.
As backed up by the Internet Movie Database, Woods wrote or co-wrote "A Good Day to Die Hard," "The A-Team," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," "Swordfish" and other films.
What IMDb leaves out is the secret contributions Thomas made to those films, according to the complaint in Superior Court.
"Woods sometimes introduced plaintiff to contacts in Hollywood as his 'partner,' while refusing to admit that Woods alone wasn't responsible for the scripts under his name," the complaint states. "Woods said that admitting that plaintiff was partly responsible for the scripts would 'destroy his brand' and 'make him look bad.' Since plaintiff's primary source of income was the monies he received from Woods, he certainly did not want to do anything to destroy Woods's brand. So plaintiff reluctantly went along with the arrangement, still banking on the expectation that one of plaintiff and Woods's original movies would get made, with Woods as director and plaintiff as producer, so that plaintiff would get credited and paid as the producer."
Thomas says Woods received millions of dollars for his work.
"Most shockingly, plaintiff recently learned that Woods had lied to him for years about the millions of dollars in residuals that Woods had been receiving through WGA for screenplays that plaintiff had written, co-written, or re-written," the 20-page state court filing states, abbreviating Writers Guild of America.
Thomas says Woods failed to pay him a $375,000 producer's fee for his work on a movie called "Ten," and a total of $255,000 in residuals for working on "Swordfish," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," "The A-Team," and "A Good Day to Die Hard." Woods also allegedly owes Thomas a $31,700 bonus.
Thomas, who claims he was best man at Woods' wedding, says he helped write the filmmaker's 1998 debut "Thursday," and 2001's "Swordfish" for 10 percent of his friend's writing fee.
The partners would typically break stories together with Woods writing a first draft, and Thomas then giving an edit and polish, according to the complaint.
Those roles allegedly reversed during the writing of 2007 action movie "Hitman" because Woods faced a bout of writer's block, according to the complaint. Thomas claims he started to write outlines and first drafts for a 15 percent cut of the writing fee, with Woods taking over editing and polishing duties.
Thomas says he responded to studio notes using an email address under Woods' name. The writer claims that he produced drafts for the "X-Men" and "Die Hard" franchises, plus "GI Joe" and "The A-Team," as well as collaborating with Woods on dozens of other projects. The IMDb credits for the last two "G.I. Joe" movies make no mention of either Thomas or Woods.
On some projects, Woods' alleged contribution was limited to reading drafts and making minor changes.
The lawsuit cites one instance where Woods was hired as an on-set writer on "Live Free or Die Hard."
"When the production staff would give Woods notes for scenes, he would retire to his trailer, then email the notes to plaintiff," the complaint states. "Plaintiff would rewrite the scenes, working from a coffee shop down the street, then email the revised work back to Woods, who would print them out and take them back to the set, as if he had done the work himself."
In 2008, screenwriter David Benioff asked the Writers Guild of America to arbitrate his claim for sole credit on "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," the complaint states.
Woods allegedly showed the Writers Guild that he had made enough changes to merit a shared credit. But Woods won only after Thomas agreed to submit an annotated script of the changes he, not Woods, had made to the script, according to the complaint.
Thomas says that Woods has largely kept him "in the dark" about residuals from the movies they worked on. He says he only learned the truth after he checked the Writers Guild of America website and found out Woods had received $1.3 million in payments.
Thomas filed suit for breach of oral partnership agreement, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, accounting, quantum meriut, and unjust enrichment.
He wants at least $661,700 in damages, an injunction, accounting and imposition of a constructive trust against Woods' companies Blind Squirrel, Blind Squirrel Productions, Outlaw Entertainment Group, and Warmonger Media.
The plaintiff is represented by Brandon Tesser of Tesser Ruttenberg & Grossman.
A representative for Woods could not immediately be reached for comment.