UPDATE, 7:50 AM: No word if the movie is going ahead but the Allman Brothers Band frontman’s lawsuit against Midnight Rider director Randall Miller‘s production company Unclaimed Freight is over. “We have come together and reasoned with one another,” Gregg Allman‘s lawyer David Long-Daniels today told Judge John Morse Jr’s Georgia courtroom. With a motion for dismissal without prejudice being filed, the attorney offered no other details about what settlement the two sides had reached over Allman’s April 28 complaint over the big screen option to his life. The musician’s lawsuit was also an effort to stop the Miller-helmed film from starting up again after the February 20 death of camera assistant Sarah Jones and the suspension of filming. While this dispute centered on allegedly missed payments and production schedule on the controversial pic, Allman had already advocated Miller drop the project.
During a hearing on Monday, one of Miller’s lawyers insinuated that Allman was just using the rights issues to shut the movie down because of the tragedy of Jones’ death. “Just because the going gets rough, just because it gets inconvenient, that doesn’t mean Mr. Allman can pick up his marbles and go home,” attorney Donnie Dixon told the court.
“I was in the middle of the track and I almost died,” said Miller himself about that February night earlier this year. The director took the stand for about an hour Monday in the Savannah courtroom. Miller also said that he thought everything was approved and all right about the ultimately fatal railroad bridge night shot. “”I did not know it was a live train trestle,” the director said on Monday. Miller also said “that’s not my job,” when asked if the production had the necessary permits from CSX Railroad, the owners of the track that Midnight Rider was filming on that night. Miller also told the courtroom that crew members were placed along the track and everyone, including actor William Hurt, would have about 60 seconds to get out of the way if a train did come down the tracks – though none were expected. “We were told there were two trains from Rayonier coming through, and no more trains that day, he told Long-Daniels, referring to the paper company that owns the mill near Midnight Rider was being filmed.
Late last month, the ongoing investigation into the death of Jones on the Midnight Rider set was turned over to the Wayne County District Attorney’s office by the Wayne County Sheriff’s office.
PREVIOUS, MAY 2 PM: He’s lost his star, a crew member lost her life and now Midnight Rider director Randall Miller has lost the rights to his subject’s wild life — at least according to Gregg Allman. Not that the director didn’t try to seal the deal even as the production reeled from an on-set death. Despite an attempt to pay the musician most of the money owned for the rights to his life story just days after the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on February 20 and the suspension of filming, Miller may have now found himself without a movie – whether he wants to make the biopic or not. Earlier this week the rock legend filed a complaint (read it here) in the Georgia courts against Miller’s production company Unclaimed Freight alleging that their big screen option rights to his life have ended.
Having already come out against any attempt to restart the film which was shuttered following the tragedy of Jones death, Allman is seeking a court order on the rights to his life and put the brakes on the film going forward in any fashion. The other side says that might not be necessary from a non-legal POV.
An Open Road Films’ spokeswoman, could not comment except to say, “The domestic distribution agreement is in limbo.” And when we checked in with Miller’s reps Thursday, they said: “The production of the film remains indefinitely suspended as everyone involved continues to deal with this horrible tragedy.”
Still Allman could make sure “suspended” becomes ended with his case. The musician, whose Cross To Bear autobiography that came out in May 2012, says his March 2013 rights deal with Unclaimed Freight required that principal photography on the pic start between October 31, 2013 and February 28, 2014. That didn’t happen according to Allman’s complaint. Not that Miller’s company doesn’t have an answer to that notes the filing, “Defendants contend that they exercised their Option by commencing a preproduction pre-shoot scene on a certain railroad track in Doctortown, Georgia on or about February 20, 2014,” says the complaint. Allman doesn’t buy that and hence heading to the courts. That February date was of course when Jones’ was killed on the tracks in Wayne County, GA.
All deadlines were seemingly shelved when Midnight Rider shut down production on February 20th following Jones’ tragic death by a train on location. Not that Miller, by his attempt to pay Allman “on or about February 27” after the fatality, wasn’t obviously wanting to protect his project. This week’s filing says that with the rights expiring on March 1 and the conditions not met, Allman told Unclaimed Freight 4 days later that their deal was over.
Which brings us again to the question of payment, which might be the real wedge for the Allman Brothers front man. Allman claims in the complaint that he never received his full fee for the feature rights to his life. In early March, Miller wired the fee minus $9,000 from the agreed upon price, according to the 9-page complaint. Allman’s reps rejected the attempt and send Unclaimed Freight two checks for fee – effectively ending the financial transaction. Miller’s representatives then sent the money back. While it isn’t clear what Allman has done with the returned checks, the musician is insisting he was never paid the full fee due and hence the deal is invalid. With Miller looking to restart pre-production on the movie in LA, the money not being paid when principal photography started, as it was supposed to be, may have been the quickest way for the 66-year old Allman to legally grab back his rights and stop the movie before getting caught in the complications of whether the shooting deadline still stood or not because of the fatal accident.
Now it is up to Chatham County Judge John Morse to decide if Allman can reclaim the feature rights to his life. A hearing on getting a temporary restraining order is scheduled for May 12.
Attorneys C. Whitfield Caughman, David Long Daniels, Keisha McCrary and Sumaya Ellard of the Atlanta offices of GreenbergTraurig are representing Allman in his case against Unclaimed Freight and Film Allman