SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (CN) – Albany-area business executives claim a screenwriter-director has delayed a movie, and asked a state judge to confirm their vote removing the man from the board of the LLC that’s trying to make the murder mystery.
The executives, investors in plaintiff Dancehall LLC, sued Tennyson Bardwell and Daydreamer Films LLC, in Schenectady County Court. They claim that Bardwell has “placed his self-interest above his fiduciary duties to the company and its members by blocking any reasonable possibility that the film could be financed.”
The film, “Dancehall,” is to be based on a novel of the same name.
The investors, who hold a 50 percent stake in Dancehall LLC, claim the LLC was organized in 2009 to make the movie. They ask the court to uphold their removal of Bardwell as one of three managing members of the group.
They also seek an injunction barring Bardwell or his Daydreamer Films from asserting any ownership interest in the screenplay to “Dancehall” – which Bardwell wrote – or any right to direct or produce the film.
The investors claims that without booting Bardwell from the production, they will not be able to get outside financing before losing an August window for production in Lake Placid, the resort area in New York’s Adirondack Mountains that is key to the film’s story line.
“If the film is going to be made in 2012, it is imperative that financing must occur in the next several weeks,” the complaint states. “Because the outdoor scenes in Lake Placid have to be completed prior to September, pre-production and pre-pre-production steps must be taken in the spring and early summer if the film is going to be made this year.
“Each year that the film remains uncompleted makes it more likely that the film will never be made.”
The investors say they have ponied up close to $1.4 million for the movie, and loaned Dancehall LLC nearly $200,000. But almost all of that has been eaten up by expenses so the company “is virtually insolvent today, yet is not close to having a film that is ready for pre-production,” according to the complaint.
The investors say the movie was supposed to have an $8 million budget.
“Dancehall,” the novel, was written by local author Bernard Conners, an FBI agent in the 1950s who later became a publisher of The Paris Review. He subsequently led British American, a business in suburban Albany with far-flung interests in soft-drink manufacturing, real estate development, property management, book publishing, and TV and film production.
Conners based the murder mystery on the real-life discovery of “the lady in the lake”: the surfacing of a young woman’s body from the depths of Lake Placid in 1982, several decades after her death, and the subsequent questions about whether she was murdered or had committed suicide.
The book, published in 1983, was optioned for film. But by the time one of the organizers of Dancehall LLC, Edwin Graham, contacted Conners about the movie rights in 2009, that option had expired.
Dancehall LLC was set up with three managing members: Graham, who works locally in nonprofit management; Ann Marie Lizzi, a friend of his who has had a career in television advertising and production; and Bardwell, with whom Lizzi had worked on the film “Dorian Blues,” an award-winning coming-of-age movie.
Bardwell’s other writer-director credits include “The Skeptic,” described on his website as a psychological thriller that starred Tim Daly and Tom Arnold, and “Bully Pulpit,” a dramatic thriller-horror film.
In the operating agreement for Dancehall LLC, Bardwell was promised a writer’s fee of $90,000 for adapting the Conners novel, and a director’s fee of $216,000, according to the complaint.
Lizzi was to be a producer and editor, and Graham was to be lead producer. Graham also set about lining up local investors.
The investors listed in the complaint are a veritable who’s-who of the Albany business community, including executives in banking, law, real estate, insurance, manufacturing, hospitality and auto sales. In 2009 and early 2010, the complaint states, they invested $1.1 million in the movie. Production was expected to begin in May 2010.
But plans to secure $7.5 million in outside financing from QM Investment Advisors of California fell through in June 2010, according to the complaint, and Dancehall LLC and its managing partners could not line up any other money.
By August 2010, “the company had exhausted the entire original $1.1M of investor financing, had additional obligations outstanding, and was effectively insolvent,” the complaint states.
Lizzi resigned as a managing member, citing her unwillingness to see the company go into debt.
Without outside money, 2010 was lost as a production season, according to the complaint.
In June 2011, Graham and Bardwell, the remaining managing members of Dancehall LLC, agreed to the appointment of a manager designated by a majority of the financing investors, and retired bank executive and investor Daniel Hogarty was named “investor manager.”
He got some of the original investors to lend the company more than $170,000 in July and August – Hogarty himself put up $78,000, according to the complaint – but by then 2011 was lost, too, as a production season.
The investors subsequently enlisted Crescendo Capital Advisors to help seek financing “so that the film could be made and their investment would not be lost,” the complaint states.
Peter Herzig, president of Crescendo, outlined a three-step plan: recruit an experienced producer (Graham, named lead producer in the operating agreement, had no film experience, according to the complaint, and Bardwell “had been involved in two low-budget films substantially below the scale envisioned for Dancehall”); secure a foreign sales agent to sell distribution rights overseas; and use the foreign distribution agreement to secure a bank loan.
A meeting was held in September in Albany in which the investors and Herzig explained the Crescendo plan to Graham and Bardwell; Bardwell also met in New York City with Herzig and Jason Kliot, an Academy Award-nominated producer who was being recruited for the Lake Placid movie, according to the complaint.
But at a meeting with investors in October, Bardwell “stated he would not relinquish control to Kliot as the producer and he would not move forward without a 100 percent guarantee that he would be the director of the film, even if it meant the film could never be made,” the complaint states. “He also stated that he did not care if the investors lost all their money. He then walked out of the meeting.”
Since then, “Bardwell has remained steadfast in his unwillingness to step aside,” and so “no further steps have been taken or can be taken to finance the film,” the complaint states.
In March, Graham and Hogarty, as two of the three voting members of Dancehall LLC, voted to remove Bardwell as a managing member for cause, according to the complaint. That vote also removed Bardwell’s Daydreamer Films as a member of the company. (Daydreamer originally had a 13 percent stake in Dancehall LLC by virtue of lending Bardwell’s services as writer, director and producer of the film.)
The complaint asks that Bardwell’s removal be upheld by the court as proper; that Dancehall LLC be declared the owner controlling all rights to the screenplay that Bardwell was paid to write; and that Dancehall LLC be recognized as having the right to designate a producer and director for the movie.
To make it easier for Dancehall LLC to attract producers, directors, actors, investors “and others needed to complete the film,” the plaintiff also seeks injunctions against Bardwell for asserting any rights to the screenplay or as writer or director, and against Daydreamer and Bardwell for professing any involvement in Dancehall LLC.
The plaintiff is represented by James Potter with Hinman Straub, of Albany.