MANHATTAN (CN) – An award-winning documentary filmmaker claims the cinematographer she hired to help make a longer work out of her short film “Broken Angel” walked off with footage, passed it off as her own, and is using it to raise money for a movie on the same subject.
Margot Niederland sued Amber Tyler Chase and Chase’s company, L’Orage, on copyright, breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims, in Federal Court.
Niederland’s film “Broken Angel” was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 1991 and won a number of awards, including the Kino Award for Short Film and the 42nd Melbourne International Film Festival, according to the complaint.
The documentary was about the unusual Broken Angel building in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. Its owner and creator Arthur Wood built a sculpture shaped like an aircraft on the roof and used colored bottles to make stained-glass windows, among other things.
In October 2006, when Niederland heard that Wood was in danger of being evicted and the building might be leveled, she decided to expand her short film.
She needed a camera operator and e-mailed a group of people for help. Chase responded, she says.
“Plaintiff and Chase agreed to a deferred compensation agreement and that plaintiff would give credit to Chase for her services,” the complaint states.
Niederland says she directed what was filmed, the angle of the camera, the use of light and the focus of the lens.
The Broken Angel building was converted into condominiums.
After working together for several months, Chase suggested they work out a deferred compensation contract, the complaint states.
“As discussion about contractual terms continued, it became clear that Chase was seeking to acquire more than compensation for her services,” Niederland says. “While the contracts proposed by Chase included deferred compensation at a reasonable rate, the contracts proposed by Chase also included terms apparently inserted for the purpose of giving creative control to defendants.
“Plaintiff was not willing to give up creative control over any element of the expansion film. Thus, plaintiff did not accept any of the written contractual offers proposed by Chase. Although plaintiff made counter-offers, Chase did not accept any of them.”
Niederland says that Chase still has “the original tapes used to capture the footage, with the exception of the first tape.” She says Chase gave her DVD copies of “most of those tapes, but not all of them,” and that she can’t turn the DVD footage into a movie because “First, the quality of the video converted from those DVDs is vastly inferior to that of the original footage. Second, the process of converting the DVDs to a format that can be edited is prohibitively expensive.”
Niederland adds: “On information and belief, defendants – without plaintiff’s permission – have made copies of the footage and/or used it to prepare derivative works, including a film about the Broken Angel building that defendants intent [sic] to distribute in the future.”
Niederland sued Chase for this in Brooklyn Federal Court in March 2008, according to the complaint. They entered mediation and the mediator helped them reach a settlement-in-principle but they were unable to reach a settlement agreement, Niederland says.
She says Chase is still infringing on her work and participated in a conference at Columbia University in February 2010 to promote a film about the Broken Angel building. She claims Chase also set up a Facebook page and blog to promote Chase’s film, using Niederland’s footage and a picture she took.
Niederland says Chase is using the Facebook page to raise money to complete what should be her movie.
Niederland seeks an injunction, delivery of the film, statutory and/or actual damages, and costs. She is represented by Roger Netzer, with Willkie, Farr & Gallagher.