LOS ANGELES (CN) - A screenwriter claims in court that a Hollywood producer made "baseless threats" against her to bully her into giving up rights to a movie called "Amazing Gracie."
Heather Hughes, of Seattle, sued producer Jonah Hirsch, his company Fixed Point Films, Helping Hands Productions, in Federal Court.
Hughes claims that in 2008 she bought the screenplay "Sarah's Gift" from nonparty writer, Stan Himes, rewrote it and changed the title to "Joyful Noise."
Hughes claims the screenplay is being developed under the title "Amazing Gracie."
Hughes claims she registered the copyright for the script and then entered into a one-year option agreement with Helping Hands, a North Carolina LLC.
The option lapsed after a year, and rights reverted to her - but now the defendants claim rights to the project, Hirsch says.
"Despite the expiration of the one-year option, and despite the fact that defendants Hirsch and Fixed Point never entered into any agreement concerning the property, and never obtained any rights associated therewith, defendants Helping Hands, Hirsch and Fixed Point (collectively, 'defendants') hold themselves out to this day as the 'producers' of the property, and as having rights, title and interest in the property, including the purported right to develop, produce, distribute, license and exploit the property. However, defendants do not have any rights, title or interest whatsoever in the property; all rights belong exclusively to Hughes," according to the complaint.
Hughes says she sued only after Hirsch refused to cease and desist, or submit the dispute to the Independent Film and Television Alliance for arbitration.
Though Hirsch has "no valid claim" to the screenplay, Hughes says, he "resorted to baseless threats and foul language in an effort to bully Ms. Hughes into capitulating to his unmeritorious and unreasonable demands."
The complaint states: "Hirsch stated in a voicemail to Hughes's literary agent, Gayla Nethercott, on Aug. 14, 21 2012 at 7:40 pm, in pertinent part:
"'Hey Gayla, it's Jonah Hirsch, it's Tuesday evening, it's quarter of 8, I have to say I'm getting really fucking pissed at you and your lawyer and Heather. ... I get this bullshit email from your lawyer. Really pissed. You never call me back a month ago. And this is a big problem. And if you don't fix it, you're going to hear from a bigger lawyer who's going to make this a big problem for you and Heather and anyone else involved on your end.'"
Hughes claims that Hirsh's attorney, nonparty Joshua Fine of Beverly Hills, followed up by email with Hughes' attorney the next day, saying that if Hughes claimed ownership, "Amazing Gracie" would "be a pariah and no one on the planet will ever touch it.'"
"Months later, attorney Fine resorted to further threats and unprofessional language, again, in an effort to bully Hughes into capitulating to Hirsch's and Helping Hands' baseless and unreasonable demands. In his email of Jan. 23, 2013, for example, Mr. Fine wrote:
"'[O]ur claim is really very simple. I'm sure if my client was paying you, you'd see it as clear as the Sun on a July afternoon in Los Angeles. It may, however, become complex if we uncover collusion and conspiracy during discovery ... this property [screenplay] which has proven to be a proverbial dog with fleas that no distributor or reputable player in the entire County of Los Angeles would touch with a 10-foot pool [sic] considering the oral claims that have been made, the lack of documents that prove otherwise and the now conflicting stories that muddy these chain-of-title waters even further. We are no longer in Kansas, we are in the big-boy world, and this patchwork nonsense may fly in your sandbox, but the reality of our world here in Los Angeles is that this property is now worthless-at least as is. ... I can tell you with the utmost sincerely that your client has royally buggered us here.'"
Hirsch produced the 2010 movie "Main Street" starring Colin Firth, Orlando Bloom, and Patricia Clarkson.
"Amazing Gracie" is listed as in development at IMDB.Pro, a movie industry website, and on the Fixed Point Films website.
Hughes seeks an injunction and punitive damages for interference, conversion, and trademark and business code violations.
She is represented by Charles Harder with Harder Mirell & Abrams.
Hirsch told Courthouse News he had not seen the lawsuit, and declined to comment.