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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Weinsteins Sued for $50 Million|In a Colorful Tale of Hollywood

MANHATTAN (CN) -Two filmmakers claim Harvey and Bob Weinstein's movie company sabotaged their unfinished animated film, "Escape from Planet Earth," by demanding the script be rewritten 17 times, dragging out production and paying workers to do nothing. The 53-page complaint features some odd and colorful tales of Hollywood.

In a $50 million demand in New York County Court, writer-director Tony Leech and producer Brian Inerfeld say The Weinstein Co. did not pay them millions upfront as promised, sold off the plaintiffs' profit-sharing rights to get more money for production, sold more than 100 percent of the potential profits from the film, then gave them $500,000 to keep this lawsuit at bay until after the Academy Awards.

Leech and Inerfeld call the movie execs "out of control," and say they ruined the movie "through a potent combination of hubris, incompetence, profligate spending, and contempt for contractual obligations."

Leech calls the movie his "brainchild," describing it as "an animated action-comedy about an alien prison break from Area 51."

Leech wrote and directed the 2005 animated film "Hoodwinked," which grossed $150 million worldwide, according to the complaint.

The filmmakers claim that in 2006 the Weinstein Company (TWC) promised them millions up front to write and produce "Escape from Planet Earth," plus 20 percent of adjusted gross profits.

Leech and Inerfeld say they expected to earn nearly $50 million "in back end participation alone."

But the plaintiffs say, "Despite the Weinsteins' renown as the founders of Miramax, they are utterly incapable of seeing an animated film through to completion."

Leech and Inerfeld say the Weinsteins constantly tried to change the story and characters, even several years into production, ultimately demanding that Leech re-write the script 17 times.

They claim that "TWC failed to grasp basic realities about the animation process, most egregiously that after spending tens of millions of dollars in creating characters, you cannot simply reconfigure them at the drop of a hat to meet the Weinsteins' current whimsy."

They say that in one flagrant waste of money, the Weinsteins cast Kevin Bacon for $50,000, then paid him $25,000 not to do the role, because Harvey Weinstein decided that $50,000 was "too much to pay Mr. Bacon."

They claim that The Weinstein Co. "eviscerated the movie's budget by keeping 200+ animators on payroll to in effect do nothing while Leech tried in vain to get a locked script."

Adding a bit of local color, Leech and Inerfeld say that during an important meeting about the production in 2009, Harvey Weinstein fell asleep. They add that despite being diabetic, Harvey Weinstein tried to eat a bowl full of M&Ms during the meeting. And they say that when Weinstein and another executive got in a tiff over the candies, the M&Ms scattered all over the floor, and "instead of watching the reel, Harvey Weinstein got down on his hands and knees and began eating M&Ms off the floor."

Leech and Inerfeld say that on several occasions they tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Weinsteins to stop production, "to avoid throwing away money on animating a film that had no script."

Leech and Inerfeld say that TWC's president "was so out of touch that he thought only $9 million had been expended on a movie with a budget of some $30 million - while the figure was actually $19 million."

Leech and Inerfeld say the Weinsteins did not pay them the money they had promised up front, despite the time and effort the plaintiffs put into the film.

Then, they say, the Weinsteins "sold more than 100 percent of the potential profits from the film" and "did so by using plaintiffs' right to share in back-end profits on the movie as security for new funding from defendant JTM Escape Company Ltd."

The plaintiffs add: "The facts show that the Weinsteins are a real life version of Bialystock & Bloom (from the film and show 'The Producers')," [the Mel Brooks movie about men who tried to create a show so horrible it would lose money, then didn't know what to do when it became a success. The movie features the peculiar song, "Springtime for Hitler."]

After selling more than 100 percent of the potential profits, Leech and Inerfeld say, the Weinsteins tried to persuade them to give up those rights on their own, by threatening not to pay them what they already owed. The plaintiffs say they refused the offer, for which they were, in effect, fired.

The Weinstein Company also failed to pay Inerfeld producer fees for other movies, including a remake of "Fraggle Rock," according to the complaint.

Leech and Inerfeld say the Weinsteins paid them $500,000 to stave off the lawsuit until after the Academy Awards, so as not to affect their reputation. Then after coughing up the $500,000, the Weinsteins falsely claimed that the money had been "extorted," according to the complaint.

The Weinstein Company owns the rights to the Oscar-winning movie, "The King's Speech."

Leech and Inerfeld and Protocol Pictures demand $50 million in damages from the Weinstein Company, the movie's animation company Rainmaker and its subsidiary Escape Productions, and JTM Escape, alleging for tortious interference, negligence, breach of contract, and breach of faith and fair dealing. They also "seek a judgment declaring that the $500,000 was not the product of extortion."

Their lead counsel is Judd Burstein.

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