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Movie Producer Sues Michael Keaton

CHICAGO (CN) - A movie producer sued Michael Keaton, claiming the actor-director delayed production of "The Merry Gentleman" by going fly fishing, hurting the box office.

Merry Gentleman LLC sued George and Leona Productions and Michael Keaton in Federal Court.

"Merry Gentleman, LLC was created to be the production company for a motion picture known as 'The Merry Gentleman,' to be filmed in Chicago, based upon a screenplay by Chicago-based Ron Lazzeretti," according to the complaint.

Keaton, known for playing Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton's Batman movies, "was hired to act as the lead male role of 'Frank' in 'The Merry Gentleman,' along with co-star Kelly Macdonald as the female lead," the complaint states.

The 2008 film tells the story of a woman who forms an unlikely relationship with a hit man.

When Lazzeretti, the film's first director, had to leave for health reasons, Keaton asked to direct the firm, according to the complaint.

"One of a director's duties during production (shooting) is to review the daily film footage with an editor. This permits shooting to proceed most efficiently, and saves time in the post-production editing phase.

"Keaton, despite being offered the services of several qualified editors (who would have worked on the project both during production and post-production), refused to select an editor during production, and did not perform the director's duties with regard to daily footage," the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)

"After the shooting on the movie was completed in Chicago, plaintiff, at its own expense and as an accommodation to Keaton, set up editing facilities in Santa Monica, California, so that Keaton, as director, could participate in the editing process.

"Once the editing facilities were in place in California, Keaton announced that he was leaving California to go fly-fishing near Bozeman, Montana for a period of weeks.

"Again at plaintiff's expense, and again as an accommodation to Keaton, plaintiff arranged to have editing facilities set up in Bozeman, and for an assistant editor to travel to Bozeman to work with Keaton.

"While in Montana, Keaton visited the editing facility from time to time, but did not fulfill the duties of a director. Instead, the director's artistic duties - such as selecting and editing together the best scenes - were left to subordinates without direction from Keaton," according to the complaint.

When Keaton submitted a first cut of the film, he "acknowledged that his 'first cut' was unsatisfactory, stating words to the effect that he was convinced there was 'a good movie in there somewhere,' which he asked for more time to complete," the complaint states.

"Keaton and members and staff of plaintiff viewed Keaton's 'first cut' on August 3, 2007 in California, and plaintiff concluded (in agreement with what Keaton himself had acknowledged the night before) that it was unsatisfactory.

"Plaintiff informed Keaton's attorney and agent that there were major problems with Keaton's work. They proposed that plaintiff give Keaton 'another shot.'" (Parentheses in complaint.)

The plaintiff claims that it re-edited the film in Chicago without Keaton, and after viewing both re-edited versions, concluded that the Chicago cut was better.

"In November 2007, 'The Merry Gentleman' was selected to have its premiere at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, to be shown in the Eccles Theatre (the largest theater at the Festival). This determination to premiere the film at Sundance was made based upon Sundance's evaluation of the Chicago cut," the complaint states.

"Having a film selected to premiere at Sundance, particularly in the Eccles Theatre, is a highly coveted opportunity often leading to substantial commercial success."

However, "Upon learning that the film had been selected for its premiere at Sundance, Keaton and his representatives - without notifying plaintiff - approached Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore and his representatives, informed them that his (Keaton's) 'cut' of the film was not the version that had been submitted to Sundance; and informed Gilmore that unless Sundance agreed to screen Keaton's cut at the festival, Keaton would refuse to appear at the festival," the complaint states.

The plaintiff claims that "by wrongfully holding the film's Sundance opportunity hostage, Keaton left Merry Gentleman LLC with no choice but to enter into a Confidential Settlement Agreement and Release with George and Leona Productions, Inc. and Keaton, in which Merry Gentleman LLC agreed to permit Keaton's 'cut' of the film to be shown at Sundance."

Then Keaton refused to edit the film any more, delaying its release and causing budget overruns, the complaint states.

Although the film was critically acclaimed, "as a result of the delay in the film's release caused by Keaton's failure to perform his post-production directorial duties, as well as Keaton's other breaches, the film's U.S. box office was less than $350,000," according to the complaint

Keaton also "exacerbated the problems he had already caused by failing to meet his obligations to assist in promoting the films, despite his high-end travel and accommodations being paid for," the producer claims.

The Merry Gentleman seeks damages for breach of contract.

It is represented by Matthew Tanner with Tanner & Lehman.

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