BREAKING …Lawyers for Terrence Malick said today that it’s not his Sycamore Pictures but London-based film financing company Seven Seas Partnership who is guilty of breach of contract over the director’s long-time-in-the-making Voyage Of Time documentary series. In a counterclaim (read it here) to SSPL’s July 19 complaint over the “epic film” filed Monday in federal court in New York, Malick’s company claims that the financier “concocted the story told in its Complaint and asserted its trumped-up claims as a pretext for the fact that it either ran out of, or never had, the funds necessary to meet its financing obligations under the Agreement, or otherwise decided not to continue funding VOT in breach of its contractual obligations.” Asserting that they’ve met every milestone required and calling the initial complaint “completely without merit,” Sycamore’s counterclaim also says SSPL is using its “claims to hold hostage VOT-the films Mr. Malick has been working on for most of his professional life.” In today’s filing, Sycamore is seeking either an enforcement of the parties’ agreement over the film or the return of VOT’s copyright and the extensive production materials and footage that SSPL has claimed as theirs. And with two very different sides of the story like this, let’s be clear – there’s a lot more filings to come.
Cited for his idiosyncrasies almost as much as his talent as filmmaker, Malick has been working on Voyage Of Time since 2008. Narrated by Brad Pitt and possibly others, the ascent of man docu has accumulated more that 3300 minutes of raw footage from 175 shooting days around the world and several hundred pre-visual effects shots.
Based on a December 2010 letter agreement, SSPL agreed to invest $8.5 million in Malik’s film. On March 7, 2012, the parties reached a final agreement that SSPL would pay $9.3 million toward the completion of the movie. Like these things often do, it seemed to start off well. However, by December 12, 2012, the company had only funded just over $3.36 million of the more than $6.6 million it was supposed to have provided to Sycamore for the production. As well, SSPL was now demanding that Malick “commit exclusively” to the project even though their Voyage Of Time agreement with the director had his work on the docu as “non-exclusive.”
Needless to say, after changes in production schedules, dozens of emails, proposed amendments to the agreement, phone calls and even a pledge by Malick to fly over to London to discuss the matter and the state of the partially edited film, this headed towards court when SSPL terminated the contract on February 15, 2013. In their filing earlier this summer, as my colleague Mike Fleming Jr reported, SSPL damningly accuse Malick, among other things, of not really doing much on the project and using the money for VOT on other films. The financiers want Malick to pay them $3.3 million of what they gave him and they want permanent control over any film footage and other intellectual property from the project. Seven Seas has distribution rights for the two 45‐minute IMAX films and one feature film covered by the agreement.
Sycamore Pictures is represented by Caren Lerner and Maura Wogan of NY-firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz. Seven Seas Partnership is represented by Thomas P. Lane, Dan Webb, Timothy Rivelli and Bryce Cooper out of the NYC and Chicago offices of Winston & Strawn LLP.