LOS ANGELES (CN) – A former FBI agent who spent 20 years tracking down stolen art claims a would-be filmmaker hijacked his movie deal by demanding more than $100,000 and production credit on a movie based on the agent’s autobiography. Robert Wittman’s nonfiction book, “Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures,” was a bestseller. He sued Paul Stojanovich Jr. and Blinktip in Federal Court.
Wittman worked in the Philadelphia Field Division of the FBI from 1988 to 2008. During that time, he says, he “recovered more than $300 million worth of stolen art and cultural property, resulting in the prosecution and conviction of numerous criminals.”
In March 2008, Wittman says, Stojanovich, CEO of Blinktip, contacted him, seeking a consultant for a film project to be called “Black Market Art.” Wittman says he provided “hundreds of hours of consultation services” to Stojanovich for the project.
Wittman’s book about his work was published in June 2010, written by him and John Shiffman, a staff writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer and a 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Wittman says he “received interest from various Hollywood-based producers to acquire rights to create one or more derivative works, including but not limited to a theatrical motion picture, from the book … and from plaintiff Wittman’s life story.”
Wittman says he told Stojanovich to make an offer for his book and life story rights before another producer purchased them, but Stojanovich did not.
“In or about late June 2010, plaintiff Wittman reached an understanding in principle with a prominent production company based in Los Angeles named GK Films for it to purchase an option to produce a theatrical film, among other rights, based on the book and Wittman’s life story,” the complaint states.
Wittman claims Stojanovich “communicated to plaintiff Wittman and … his attorney and literary agent that he … demanded a substantial sum of money and a production credit on any motion picture based on the book and/or the life story rights.”
Wittman says Stojanovich’s demand is “groundless because defendant Stojanovich has absolutely no copyright, common law, or other legal interest in the book or life story rights. As a result of the Stojanovich demand, GK Films has put the proposed contract to acquire certain production rights to the book and life story on hold, pending resolution of said demand.”
Wittman says Stojanovich’s attorney sent him a letter on Nov. 4, repeating the demand, and “demanding a response from plaintiff Wittman no later than November 8, 2010. Defendant’s attorney threatened legal action if a response from plaintiff Wittman was not received by November 8.”
Wittman seeks a declaration that Stojanovich and Blinktip have no interest in his book and life story, and are not entitled any compensation from any movie or work based on Wittman’s life and book.
He is represented by Javier Rivera with Fox Rothschild.