EXCLUSIVE: The Weinstein Company says it had a $35 million-plus deal for an animated movie based on the Playmobil toys, and today the company went to court to make sure that agreement is enforced or some hefty damages are paid out — even though Open Road now has picked up the pic.
“The Producer Defendants materially breached the Agreement by retracting their promise to sell TWC the Playmobil Movie distribution rights and refusing to negotiate a written deal memo (the “Deal Memo”) in good faith,” says a jury-trial-seeking breach of contract complaint filed Tuesday in LA Superior Court by TWC’s Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP lawyers against Open Road Films, producers Moritz Borman and Dimitri Rassam and relevant production companies (read it here). “Instead of honoring their contractual obligations to TWC, the Producer Defendants purported to terminate the Agreement and entered into a contract with Open Road Films for the same distribution rights that they had already sold to TWC.”
Harvey and Bob’s crew wants the courts to declare the Open Road deal invalid, the original agreement “binding and enforceable,” and grant them the rights to the feature, which is set to be released by August 31, 2019. They also want damages from the producers and Open Road, claiming “equity and good conscience require restitution because Open Road Films received a benefit for which Plaintiff was not adequately compensated.”
TWC claims that on March 30 this year, “following a week of negotiations,” it and the producers had a binding agreement because they agreed on “the material terms of the sale” subject to a limitation that the Weinsteins had signed off on.
In fact, today’s detail-heavy complaint says talent even was approved for the film and cites a 7:26 PM PST March 30 email from Nate Greenwald of CAA, who was repping the producers, that says “we are closed, subject to your confirmation that TWC’s merchandising share will only be taken on merchandising receipts from the Territory.” With revisions, emails, meetings, calls and more, this whole deal came together just seven days after the producers had given two-hour presentation to TWC brass in the latter’s L.A. offices in an effort to get them to pick up distribution.
Even though a deal memo was apparently well in the works, the whole thing fell apart on April 13, when the producer reps emailed TWC EVP Acquisitions and Business Affairs Michal Steinberg to say “as we have not received substantive response despite our communications to you that time is of the essence, please be advised that negotiations are respectfully terminated.” The pin was seemingly pulled because TWC had not gotten back to the producers about a call, scheduled for that mid-April day, to the producer team’s French bank about providing a letter of credit.
“Upon information and belief,” TWC’s complaint says, that termination “was merely a pretext for breaking off negotiations so that the Producer Defendants could sell the distribution rights for the Playmobil Movie to another buyer.”
It was announced in mid-May that Open Road had picked up Stateside distribution rights to the already-in-preproduction pic based on the toy brand that Frozen animator Lino DiSalvo will helm. Developed by Pathé France, The Little Prince team of Rassam, Aton Soumache and Alexis Vonarb along with Borman and Axel Von Maydell are producing the Playmobil film. Lionsgate and Wild Bunch were handling international sales.
The deal between TWC and the Playmobil team saw the distributors have to pay a $10 million minimum guarantee to the Producer Defendants, of which 10% would be paid “upon execution of a deal memo,” 80% would be paid “upon essential delivery,” and 10% would be paid “upon complete delivery,” according to today’s complaint. The agreement also reportedly aimed for an initial 60-40 split between the producers and TWC, minus the latter’s guarantee and other costs, plus home video royalty fees and and “an amount equal to 20% of merchandising receipts received by or credited to producers” starting in the months leading up to the movie’s release. A release that TWC promised in the agreement to get on “at least 2,000 screens simultaneously” after forking out “at least $25 million in advertising and promotion.”
With the way these types of suits can go, and with appeals, it might be close to the Playmobil release date before this legal deal is wrapped up unless a settlement is made fast.
In the meantime, TWC is represented by David Boies, David Zifkin and Karen Chesley of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP.