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‘Men in Black’ Director Owes Agent $325,000

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A Director's Guild of America arbitrator ordered filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld to pay a $325,000 commission to his former agent, United Talent Agency, for money he made directing the third installment of "Men in Black."

The 7-page arbitration award filed in Superior Court states that Sonnenfeld earned $3.25 million for directing "Men in Black III," and owes UTA a 10 percent commission under an agreement the agency negotiated with Columbia Pictures in 1995.

Sonnenfeld fired UTA in 1995 and joined Creative Artists Agency, according to the arbitrator's award.

The first "Men in Black" film, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, was released in 1997. Sonnenfeld then signed on for the sequel, "Men in Back II."

Creative Artists Agency agreed to indemnify Sonnenfeld in anticipation that UTA would ask for its 10 percent commission, according to the arbitrator's filing. The document states that CAA paid the $325,000 commission long after the 2002 release of the second movie - in September 2011.

UTA said that it should receive the same commission for the upcoming "Men in Black III."

Arbitrator Howard Weitzman agreed, writing that under terms negotiated between the Association of Talent Agents and the Directors Guild, agents are sometimes entitled to commissions after they part ways with a client.

"The MIB agreement was entered into, and/or at least substantially negotiated, prior to Sonnenfeld terminating UTA," Weitzman wrote. "The evidence shows Sonnenfeld paid UTA commissions on moneys earned from the MIB agreement, and that Sonnenfeld agreed CAA could pay UTA a commission on MIBII. The MIB agreement contains a rolling right of first negotiation which provides that Columbia must negotiate with Sonnenfeld first to direct any sequel or remake of MIB, and it provides the minimum terms on which Sonnenfeld would be hired to direct the subsequent production. It is irrelevant whether the MIB II agreement (or the MIB III agreement) contained new or different terms and conditions. Sonnenfeld's light of first negotiation (and Columbia's concomitant obligation to offer to negotiate with Sonnenfeld first) to direct any sequel to MIB arose from the MIB agreement negotiated by UTA." (Parentheses in document.)

Weitzman awarded UTA $325,000 under the "Men in Black III" agreement and 10 percent of Sonnenfeld's fee for all future sequels or remakes.

The arbitration was held in February.

Bryan Freedman and Steven Stiglitz with Freedman and Taitelman argued on behalf of UTA.

Edward Anderson of Anderson General & Entertainment Law argued for Sonnenfeld.

The arbitration award is dated March 16, 2012.

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