LOS ANGELES (CN) – Screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald says Mel Gibson played upon “their common Catholic faith” to defraud him of millions of dollars and wrongly demand writing credit for the screenplay of “Passion of the Christ.” Fitzgerald, a professional screenwriter, says Gibson promised that Gibson would not make any money on the film and would distribute any profit to those who worked on it.
The complaint alleges a classic case of Hollywood accounting. Gibson first said the movie would have a $4 million to $7 million budget, but later claimed to have spent $110 million on it, according to the screenwriter.
“When Ben agreed to write the screenplay of The Passion for Mel Gibson,” says the complaint, “he became, unbeknownst to him, ensnarled by a conspiracy of ongoing fraud, including its integral cover-up, perpetrated by Gibson and his associated, channeled through a complex of Gibson company conduits, and employing a series of stratagems, all with the express purpose of depriving Ben of the full fruits of his efforts as the screenwriter of The Passion.”
Fitzgerald claims that in discussing the project, “Gibson told Ben that, because he was so rich, if the movie was made and distributed, whatever money might be made would be distributed among the people, excluding Gibson, who worked on the picture because he, Gibson, did not need the money. Nor, Gibson states, did he want money on the back of what he considered a personal gift to his faith.”
Fitzgerald also sues Vicki Christianson, Icon Productions, Icon Distribution, Marquis Films, and Airborne Productions. He says he is an experienced and successful screenwriter, having written the screenplays for, among others, John Huston’s movie of the Flannery O’Connor novel, “Wise Blood,” and TV movies based on Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” and Melville’s “Moby Dick.”
He claims Gibson told him “The Passion” would be “a small four to seven million dollar film … and accordingly the amount available for a writer’s fee was relatively small. He also stated that Gibson would not take any money from the film.”
But he says Gibson’s entities and alter egos actually took at least $17 million just “in producer fees and costs of production related payments.”
He claims that after he sent Gibson the first draft – on Sept. 11, 2001 – and hand-delivered a second draft, “Gibson called Ben and told him he loved the script and that it moved him to tears. Even after Ben had written and Gibson had read the script, Gibson in fact repeated that very same oath, that whatever money might be made would be distributed among the other people who worked on the film.”
Fitzgerald claims that “because of his deep and personal religious convictions, which he believed to be shared by Gibson, and because of his passion for the project, Ben forewent pursuing other scripts and exclusively devoted the following years of his life to The Passion, without requesting or receiving any additional compensation.”
He claims he was promised $75,000 if he got sole writing credit – which he says he deserves because he was sole author – and another $75,000 “production bonus” if the film “broke even” financially. But he claims he was duped into letting Gibson share writing credit because he desperately needed the “production bonus.”
He claims production documents show the film cost $50 million to make, though Gibson’s company Icon Productions, reported costs, including advertising, as $110 million.
The 21-page filing in Superior Court continues with a long list of Hollywood accounting tricks Fitzgerald says Gibson used to cheat him. Fitzgerald is represented by William Zeltonoga and Richard Ross.