Bert Fields said he might do it and the Hollywood superlawyer has now hit Warner Bros with an $18 million and more breach of contract and fraud complaint over the classic Martin Scorsese directed film. Literally 25-years to the day that Goodfellas was released, Fields filed paperwork in L.A. Superior Court yesterday for producer Irwin Winkler over a home video royalties shell game scheme that seems worthy of the Mob and is nicely named as “studio accounting on steroids.”
“Warner’s conduct in carry out this deceitful scheme to hide and pocket the lion’s share of home video receipts (more than $140 million in the case of Goodfellas) and to exclude that vast sum from the computation of plaintiff’s contingent compensation, was, among other things, a willful violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing,” says the complaint filed on Monday (read it here). “But it was more than that. Warner’s falsely representing in its written reports to plaintiffs figures for home video receipts that were, in fact, only one-fifth of the true and actual video receipts, and its issuing such false and misleading reports while failing to disclose and concealing that every one of the many home video figures in its reports was only 20% of the true figure were acts of intentional fraud.”
Winkler, who has also produced The Right Stuff, the Rocky pics, Scorsese’ Raging Bull and The Wolf Of Wall Street, among others, and is an EP on the upcoming Creed, says that WB claims that the 1990 pic, nominated for six Academy Awards and winning Best Supporting Actor for Joe Pesci, “made no net profits and actually lost money.” To add to the mixed tone of outrage and incredulousness in the complaint, Fields notes for the producer that Goodfellas has taken in over $275 million off a $30 million budget from decades ago.
“In fact, Goodfellas made very substantial net profits,” asserts the complaint, which says Winkler only discovered the truth of WB’s alleged sticky fingers in 2014 with an report from the studio. “But Warner Bros. quietly pocketed Winkler’s share of those profits, plus years of unearned interest on Winkler’s money.” According to complaint, among other alleged sleight of hands, WB used its subsidiary Warner Home Video to slip the majority of the funds from Goodfellas into and then would withdraw the remaining 80% at its undetected leisure.
“The allegations are baseless and we will vigorously defend,” said a WB spokesperson today in response. WB are far from the first studio to be taken to court in recent years over such alleged practices. While several case are still ongoing, Universal came to a $26 million settlement deal this May to resolve its disputes over the matter.
In this case …well, you don’t bring Bert Fields to a knife fight unless you intended to take someone down, now do you?