Renowned Movie Director Tells Startup to Knock It Off

LOS ANGELES (CN) — French movie director and writer Luc Besson denies that he has anything to do with a new digital media series that its creators are marketing as his idea, and he sued them this week to make them stop.

Besson, who directed “La Femme Nikita,” “The Fifth Element” and other films, claims that the digital-media startup Blackpills is promoting its action series “Playground” as “based on an original idea from Luc Besson.”

“All this is a complete lie,” Besson says in his June 21 federal complaint.

He cites numerous examples from entertainment trade press and promotional materials describing the series as his creation.

For instance, a short article in Variety describes “Playground” as “a mobile-native series created by Luc Besson for Blackpills, the French startup studio.” It says the series — “about a teenage girl who joins a school for assassins and uncovers the mystery of her parents’ death” —is a mix of Besson’s “Nikita” and the adolescent superhero film “Kick-Ass.”

The Blackpills studio focuses on “creating scripted series for millennial audiences to watch on mobile devices,” according to another Variety article. The studio announced in May that several of its short-form series, including “Playground,” would be streamed on Vice Media’s online platform and on its own app.

Although Besson’s lawsuit says Blackpills is based in New York, news accounts describe it as French, and its founders, French media figures Daniel Marhely and Patrick Holzman, could not be reached for comment. Vice Media did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Besson’s attorney, Gregory P. Korn of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, said he did not obtain his client’s permission to discuss the lawsuit.

Besson says in the complaint that his connection to Blackpills is tangential. His holding company Front Line owns a stake in a production company called Together Studio, which entered into an agreement with Blackpills to produce several series. So did a company called Covent Garden Productions, which the complaint says is related to Together.

But “at no time did Besson ever authorize Blackpills, Together Studio, and/or Covent to produce content using any of his ideas, nor did Besson ever authorize these entities to use his name in connection with any content they produced,” the complaint states.

Marhely went so far as to tell an online publication that Besson took a few weeks away from filming his current project to film “Playground,” according to the lawsuit.

Besson calls that “a complete lie” that damages his reputation in the industry by implying he would abandon his commitment to one studio to work with another.

He says Blackpills is unfairly “capitalizing on Besson’s fame and reputation … as a writer/director of action films driven by female leads” to promote its new streaming service.

As a result, Besson says, he is spending time answering questions about “Playground,” rather than promoting his new movie, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” set for a July opening.

Besson seeks disgorgement of Blackpills’ profits from “Playground” and other damages for trademark and privacy violations.

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