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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

John Singleton Sues Paramount for $20M

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Producer John Singleton sued Paramount Pictures for $20 million, claiming the studio and its MTV Films subsidiary reneged on a deal to finance two of his movies in exchange for the right to distribute his film, "Hustle and Flow."

Singleton and his production company Crunk Pictures say "Hustle and Flow" was "the hit" of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and sparked a "competitive bidding war for distribution rights."

Singleton produced "Hustle and Flow," which was written and directed by Craig Brewer.

Singleton says that despite the fact that "several major U.S. studios were offering plaintiffs advances in excess of $10 million" for the movie, he accepted Paramount's offer of a $9 million advance, because "defendants sweetened their offer by promising plaintiffs the right to 'put' two (2) pictures to Paramount within the ensuing five (5) years."

The complaint states: "The gist of the 'puts' was that as long as the budget of each of the two pictures did not exceed $3.5 million each, and as long as the producer fee for each picture did not exceed 7.5 percent of the budget, Paramount would finance and distribute the pictures. Obtaining the 'puts' for two additional motion pictures from Paramount was material consideration for plaintiffs to agree to convey the distribution rights in 'Hustle And Flow' to defendants.

"Based on defendants' promise that Crunk would have two 'puts,' Singleton stopped entertaining offers and ceased negotiating with other interested distributors, including at least one that was offering an advance that was substantially higher than that offered by defendants. Instead, Singleton accepted Paramount's offer, and defendants proceeded to distribute 'Hustle And Flow,' which received critical acclaim immediately upon its release, was nominated for two Academy Awards, and went on to win an Academy Award, enabling Paramount to reap an enormous profit on the back of the picture's resounding appeal and enormous critical and commercial success."

Eighteen months later, Singleton says, Paramount snatched up distribution rights to Brewer's next movie, "Black Snake Moan," which Singleton also produced.

"Unfortunately, when Crunk attempted to exercise its right to 'put' the two pictures to Paramount, Paramount began asserting self-imposed, nonexistent conditions on the 'puts' that prevented Singleton from making the pictures and frustrated his enjoyment of the very contractual right that had persuaded him to reject the other bidders on 'Hustle And Flow' and go with defendants in the first place," Singleton says in his Superior Court complaint.

"For example, when plaintiffs attempted to exercise their right to 'put' the two pictures to Paramount, Paramount for the first time informed plaintiffs that it was Paramount's position that the put pictures had to be delivered to Paramount within the five years after the date of the agreement (i.e, by January 22, 2010), that the put pictures had to be fully completed films rather than films in production, and that the put pictures had to be scripted full-length theatrical or direct-to-video motion pictures. None of these conditions is contained in the agreement, and defendants actively concealed and failed to disclose these conditions to plaintiffs at the time that plaintiffs and defendants were negotiating the terms of the agreement."

Singleton says he sued Paramount reluctantly: "Though he has been one of the preeminent film makers in the entertainment industry for over twenty (20) years, this is the first time that Singleton has brought legal action to make sure he is not taken advantage of and his rights are protected. Singleton has been forced to bring this action because despite his good faith efforts, defendants deprived Singleton of the core contractual benefit for which he had bargained, prompting Singleton to seek what is just, fair and equitable, and to teach defendants that they cannot make false promises to fraudulently acquire distribution rights to valuable assets and reap vast economic reward without repercussion."

Singleton alleges fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of contract and breach of faith. He seeks damages of at least $20 million, plus special damages, and disgorgement of profits from the "wrongful exploitation" of "Hustle and Flow" and "Black Snake Moan."

Singleton has written and directed several major movies, including "Boyz N The Hood" and "Poetic Justice." He directed the blockbusters "2 Fast 2 Furious" and "Four Brothers."

"Hustle and Flow" stars Terrence Howard as a pimp who pursues a career as a rapper. Howard was nominated for an Academy Award, and the movie bagged an Oscar for Best Original Song for Three 6 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp."

 A Paramount spokesperson told Courthouse News the company was "hoping that John Singleton would produce two more pictures before his agreement with our studio ended in 2010, but that did not happen. Instead, he went on to direct 'Abduction' for Lions Gate. Paramount fulfilled all of its obligations and his claims have absolutely no merit."

Singleton's attorney, Martin Singer with Lavely & Singer, challenged Paramount's version of events.

"As Paramount well knows, John Singleton did not begin work on 'Abduction' until long after the puts expired," Singer told Courthouse News. "For Paramount to try to make his work on that film an issue now - having never raised it before - is typical of the lengths to which the studio will go in its desperate attempt to evade its legal and moral responsibilities."

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