UPDATED & EXPANDED: At least multimillionaire Michael Moore didn’t have the chutzpah to sue Harvey and Bob Weinstein in a court in New York City where they’re based. Because I bet there’s no way a jury in the urban center that suffered through the attack on the World Trade Center twin towers would give Moore a penny. Today, Moore filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud arising out of his audit of his controversial war on terror documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore is seeking at least $2.7 million from the Weinstein Brothers in what he claims are “rerouted” and unpaid profits. Why is it I think Harvey has finally met his match in Michael, and vice versa? The Weinsteins have already paid Moore $19.8 million for his backend profit participation in the movie. Further, the bros are bitching that they were blindsided by the lawsuit: the Weinsteins for the past six months offered to go to mediation on what their reps are calling a “standard accounting dispute” — isn’t that what studios and producers always claim? — but Moore kept rejecting that. Even more bizarrely, as recently as last week, the Weinsteins were chatting with Moore about doing another movie together because insiders tell me that Moore next wants to direct a fictional feature film. (Of course, some partisan circles found the Fahrenheit 9/11 documentary to be claptrap exploitation while others saw it as courageous exposure. But I digress.)
Now the Weinsteins will have their Hollywood pitbull litigator Bert Fields defend them against Moore. “He made $19.8 million in backend profit on a 9/11 movie. And now he wants to beat up the Weinsteins for another couple of million dollars,” an insider complains to me tonight. “He redefines the term greedy for someone in this business who claims to be a Mr. Poverty indie documentary filmmaker.”
But Moore’s attorney Larry Stein’s statement noted this is the first time Michael has ever sued anyone in his 20-year career as a filmmaker. “That should be some indication about how serious this is,” Stein said. “An independent auditor came in and discovered that the Weinsteins had re-routed at least $2.7 million dollars that belonged to Michael Moore from Fahrenheit 9/11… It’s very sad it had to come to this. Michael believes the Weinsteins have been a force for good when it comes to championing independent film — but that does not give them the right to violate a contract and take money that isn’t theirs.”
Trust me, Hollywood accounting tricks are terrible and widespread and lousy for filmmakers who routinely get cheated. And hard to figure out who’s more unpopular: Moore in Red States, or the Weinsteins in Hollywood. I last year opined that people do business with the Weinsteins’ companies often do so at their peril and that my past reporting shows that almost everyone who trusts them lives to regret it, especially the moviemakers who believe Harv’s big promises and then come running to Deadline to complain.
[To anybody who thinks I’ve gone soft on the Weinsteins, you must be new Deadline readers. The fact is that no one wrote harsher articles about the indie movie studio’s 2009 meltdown: the massive layoffs, revolving door executives, and movie release schedules in shambles. The Weinsteins spent most of that year promising filmmakers a theatrical release then not doing it and, in some cases, dumping the pics straight to video. It was a very ugly situation not affecting Michael Moore. On the other hand, no one wanted to see a buyer leave what is already a dwindling marketplace for creative community output. So The Weinstein Co’s 2010 financial restructuring was greeted with mostly relief. And at the Sundance Film Festival this year, TWC was back as a major buyer.]
Now a court will decide who’s right and who’s wrong if there’s no quick settlement. But that’s not the issue that most bothers me here. Rather, it’s a matter of appearances. Granted this is only my opinion, but insiders tell me that Moore has pocketed almost $48 million from his recent movies with the Weinsteins and Overture, including his 2009 Capitalism: A Love Story indicting the U.S. economic system and capitalists in particular. Yet here is the same filmmaker who 21 years ago cultivated an image as a Man Of The People with Roger & Me and keeps it going — but is really a capitalist of the highest order. (His 2004 film in question Fahrenheit 9/11 made $222.4 million in box office, a windfall that the Weinsteins reaped as well since this is still the highest-grossing documentary in history.) I’m not saying Moore shouldn’t go after money that’s legitimately his. But this appearance of hypocrisy is why so much of America hates Hollywood.