Just over a month after the Empire co-creator was honored by the SAG AFTRA Foundation, SAG-AFTRA sued Lee Daniels today in federal court in a six-year-old battle over residuals. The union is seeking to have a judge enforce a 2011 arbitration ruling over nearly $340,000 in unpaid contributions and residuals from Daniels’ directorial feature debut Shadowboxer.
A source close to Daniels says “it is weird” that SAG-AFTRA cannot get ahold of the director to work out the issue over the 2005 film. That’s made espeically weird when the nonprofit SAG AFTRA Foundation can have him in person as one of the marquee names at its 30th anniversary event at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills on November 5.
What makes this whole thing even odder is that only now is SAG-AFTRA taking this thing to court, and the union doesn’t seem to have a phone number that’s pretty easily available to everyone in town. In a statement SAG AFTRA noted the 4-year statue of limitations on claiming arbitration awards, which explains today’s lawsuit, and that they are aiming to foreclose on Shadowboxer to get their awarded money. “SAG-AFTRA respects Mr. Daniels as a producer and director and has not taken any legal action against him individually,” said a union spokesperson Tuesday. “This dispute is with the corporate entities responsible for residuals payments on the film.” Of course, at least one of those corporate entities is Daniels own company.
The filing in California on Tuesday also says the union attempted as recently as late last month to contact Daniels over this but got an “out of service” response. But they didn’t have the right phone number for him or his Lee Daniels Entertainment.
According to SAG-AFTRA, a 2011 confidential arbitration arising out of the initial 2009 snafu found that Shadowboxer LLC and Daniels’ company owed just over $25,300 in pension and health contributions for the pic starring Cuba Gooding Jr, Joe Gordon-Levitt and Helen Mirren about an assassin with terminal cancer. Plus there is another $169,630 in residuals and about $93,500 in late payment damages as well as other fees for the film, which was made under the independent producers’ collective-bargaining deal.
Speaking of deal, I hear that lawyers and PR people are working the phones right now on this to figure the whole thing out before it goes much further.