EXCLUSIVE: Turtles move slow but steady and that’s the nature of a multi-million dollar breach of contract lawsuit filed today by producers Kim Dawson, Gary Propper and the heir to Graham Cottle, director Steve Barron, and writers Bobby Herbeck and Todd Langen. More than 22-years after the last of the first three features of the adventures of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted, the half dozen plaintiffs are going after rights holder Fortune Star Media Ltd for over $3.175 million in damages. That is money that they say they are owed from the net profits for the 1990 original they worked on plus the 1991 and 1993 sequels of the adventures of the masked Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello – and they are pointing some accusing legal fingers at Warner Bros in the process.
“PLAINTIFFS are informed and believe and based thereon allege that Warner Bros. is and has been aware that FORTUNE STAR has systematically, knowingly and intentionally withheld accountings and payments to PLAINTIFFS of PLAINTIFFS’ portion of proceeds Warner Bros. has sent to FORTUNE STAR and that Warner Bros. will, in all likelihood continue to do so,” the multi-claim complaint says (read it here). It should be noted that while WB, as the successor to initial distributor New Line Cinema, is mentioned on numerous occasions in the suit, the studio is not a named defendant. This lawsuit has nothing to do with the 2007 animated movie and the Michael Bay produced 2014 reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that Paramount distributed nor its upcoming sequel.
With the first 1990 TMNT pic taking in $135.3 million domestically and $66.7 million overseas, the second one making $78.7 million domestically and the 1993 flick pulling in $42.3 million, there is some serious cash at play. Lawson and Propper say they were supposed to receive 10% of the 100% of net profits. Herbeck was supposed to get 5% for the screenplay and story credit and Langen’s deal saw a 2.5% portion for rewriting Herbeck’s script for the first TNMT and 5% from the first sequel. The heir Cottle, who died in 1992, is seeking 50% of the 2% the co-producer was contracted to get. Director Barron was set to see 8% of the 100% of the net profits of the domestic and international take. A sum that today’s lawsuit estimates to be at $800,000 and growing.
“PLAINTIFFS are further informed and believe, and based thereon allege, that Warner Bros. is currently planning to make one or more further significant payments to FORTUNE STAR which includes monies that are owed to PLAINTIFFS as net profits from the Pictures’ international (i.e., non-domestic) revenues, with respect to which DEFENDANTS have failed to otherwise provide accountings or payments,” the filing by attorney Jay Shanker of Oklahoma City’s McAfee & Taft. The plaintiffs are also seeking a full accounting to know exactly what they are owned.
While those allegations seem fairly straightforward, the suit is in fact rather convoluted because of frequent turn over of rights holders. Hong Kong-based Golden Harvest held the rights to 1990’s TMNT plus Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Turtles in Time. Then the rights went to Singel Films, who the plaintiffs sued and won a never collected $3 million in damages from. Now HK-based sales agent Fortune Star is the rights holder as of after 2009.
The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial.