(CN) - Warner Bros. "effectively mothballed" a documentary on the making of "The Wizard of Oz" to avoid splitting profits with the estate of the Tin Man's son, the estate claims in Federal Court.
In 1989, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment's predecessor agreed to distribute a documentary written, produced and directed by Jack Haley Jr., son of the actor who played Tin Man in the original film, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Atlanta Federal Court.
Jack Haley Jr. Productions Inc. and estate executor Kelly Brandt say "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic" contains behind-the-scene footage and interviews of the leading actors in the classic film.
"The project is the definitive documentary on the making of the classic movie and has earned millions of dollars to date," they claim.
Haley's production company allegedly agreed to split the profits from the documentary with Turner Entertainment Co., which later sold its rights to Warner Bros. Warner Home Video then distributed the film as a special feature on the home video release of "The Wizard of Oz."
As of Aug. 26, the documentary raked in more than $4 million, half of which was paid to Jack Haley Jr. Productions Inc., the plaintiffs claim.
But in late 2011, Warner Bros. allegedly threatened to stop distributing the documentary "forever" if the plaintiffs didn't let it buy out their rights for $150,000.
When the plaintiffs refused, Warner Bros. "effectively 'mothballed' the project permanently" and rejected subsequent offers to negotiate, according to Brandt.
She says the move "violated the common sense admonition not to 'cut off your nose to spite your face,' as 'The Wizard of Oz' has enjoyed renewed interest and popularity recently and a number of derivative works have recently enjoyed great success."
Specifically, the Disney prequel "Oz: The Great and Powerful" was a blockbuster hit, the estate says, and nine other "Oz"-inspired projects are in the works, including a $60 million animated film called "Dorothy of Oz."
The real reason behind the abrupt halt in distribution, according to the lawsuit, was greed.
"Warner has recently launched a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to celebrate the 75th anniversary of 'The Wizard of Oz.' As part of this campaign, Warner has created a derivative work of the project marketed as an 'All-New Feature Length Documentary The Making of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz' that is included in Warner's 75th anniversary collector's edition five-disc set, on sale for approximately $85."
The new documentary allegedly uses some of the same footage as the earlier one.
"Warner's ultimatum, mothballing of the original project, and creation of the new documentary was merely a means to avoid the joint adventurers' agreement and the corresponding 50/50 profit share," the estate claims.
"Defendant has effectively chosen to shoot the hostage rather than face the payment of what they believe to be a continued ransom," it adds. "The only difference here is that the 'ransom' was a reasonable 50/50 split of profits after certain deductions that had been honored for decades."
Brandt and the production company seek declarations that they are "joint authors" of the original documentary, and that Warner Bros. cannot block the sale and distribution of the project.
They also demand a full accounting, a court-appointed receiver and an order that all profits and royalties from the new and old documentaries be deposited with the court.
Plaintiffs say they should be allowed to distribute the original documentary based on Warner's breach of contract, for which they demand actual and punitive damages.
They are represented by Jason Graham of Graham & Penman.
A Warner Bros. representative declined to comment, saying the company has not been served.
Defendants are: Warner Home Video, a division of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc.; Warner Bros. Pictures, a division of WB Studio Enterprises Inc.; and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
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