Charity Fumes at Documentary Filmmaker

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A film production company “affiliated with a charitable foundation founded by a public high school teacher and her students” sued a director for $2.1 million, claiming he was years late in submitting a work-for-hire, and didn’t even complete it.
     Bookmark Productions, based in Long Beach, sued Daniel Anker and Anker Productions in Superior Court.
     “This is an uncomplicated case,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff is a film production company affiliated with a charitable foundation founded by a public high school teacher and her students. The foundation is focused on improving the lives of disadvantaged public school students through novel teaching methods and creative, expressive writing. Plaintiff hired defendant, a film director, on a work-for-hire basis to create a documentary film about the teacher and her students’ stories and the foundation’s work. The agreement gave the plaintiff production company sole ownership over the film.
     “After years of delay and cost overruns by the director, he finally delivered the film in incomplete form,” the complaint states. But it was “poorly reviewed by various film industry insiders,” so Bookmark “exercised its contractual right to re-edit the film. Rather than focus on the task for which he was hired and rather than participate cooperatively in the re-editing process, the director placed his ego above the needs of the plaintiff, the foundation and the population it serves, and submitted, without authorization and in breach of the agreement between the parties, the incomplete, poorly reviewed, and unapproved version of the film to a variety of film festivals as if it were plaintiff’s final, approved film and also refused to turn over to the foundation its proprietary source materials as required by the agreement. The director’s conduct breached the agreement, greatly damages plaintiff and the foundation and harmed the film’s credibility and commercial viability.”
     Bookmark, a partnership between Freedom Writers Foundation and Liveplanet, says Anker’s refusal to deliver the master copies of film used in the documentary forced it to use “only the footage they had on hand.” It says that caused further delays and additional costs.
     Then, Bookmark says, Anker “disparaged” the production company’s edit, asked that his name be removed from the film, and insisted that he had the right to approve any further changes.
     Bookmark says it asked Anker to withdraw his submissions to the film festivals and hand over a list of the film festivals he’d sent the film to. But Anker “failed to provide proof that he had withdrawn his version of the film” and “did not produce a complete list of all of the festivals to which he had submitted,” according to the complaint.
     As a result, it says, “Bookmark was forced, at great financial cost, time and effort, to contact each of these festivals directly to urge them to either withdraw Anker’s version of the film from festivals or screen Bookmark’s approved, re-edited version of the film in place of Anker’s unauthorized version.”
     Bookmark says it still does not know “the full list of film festivals to which Anker submitted his version of the film without Bookmark’s authorization.”
     It adds that “the existence of two competing versions of the film in the film festival circuit and marketplace severely damages the film’s commercial value and prospects for successful distribution.”
     Bookmark says it fired Anker in February. Since then he has sent “badgering emails,” asserting his right to approve changes to the movie, it says.
     The complaint says the film cost $2.1 million to make and that “Anker’s conduct has stripped Bookmark of the opportunity to recoup its costs.”
     It wants the $2.1 million back, and punitive damages for breach of contract, slander of title, interference with prospective economic advantage, and conversion.
     Bookmark is represented by Robert Tauler with Greenberg Traurig, of Santa Monica.

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