UPDATED at 7:30 p.m. with a statement from Disaster Artist Producers Rabbit Bandini, Point Grey & Good Universe, who deny all of the allegations.
A former student of James Franco’s at UCLA is suing the actor’s Rabbit Bandini Productions and Seth Rogen’s Point Grey Pictures, claiming breach of contract stemming from an uncredited role as screenwriter on The Disaster Artist.
Ryan Moody said he was working as Franco’s unofficial teaching assistant in a UCLA English class when the actor invited him to write a screen adaptation of the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room. Moody said he was paid $5,000 for months of work on the script, then stripped of an official writing credit on the Oscar-nominated screen adaptation, and promised an associate producer’s credit on the film that he did not receive.
A suit (read it here), filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, accuses Rabbit Bandini and Point Grey of misrepresentations and breach of contract, claiming they had “no intention of giving Moody an associate producer credit” but dangled the offer to secure the rights to his screenplay for “far less than fair market value.”
The film’s script, credited to Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, is nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar this weekend. Final voting closed ahead of Sunday’s ceremony.
The Disaster Artist Producers Rabbit Bandini, Point Grey & Good Universe issued a statement, denying all the allegations and pledging a vigorous defense in court. The producers said that neither of the Oscar-nominated writers of the film had any knowledge of Moody — or any of the work he allegedly did in connection with the picture — until the suit was filed.
“To be perfectly clear, all screenplay material created by Scott and Michael in connection with The Disaster Artist was adapted directly from the book written by Tom Bissell and Greg Sestero. Their incredible work, which has been repeatedly recognized by countless organizations, should not be denigrated or defamed in any manner by these specious accusations,” the producers said in a joint statement to Deadline.
In the lawsuit, Moody said he enrolled in Franco’s class on Adaptation and Collaboration in October of 2012. The student directed Franco in a pair of short films — A Walk in Winter and Obituaries — and the actor was so impressed, according to the suit, he invited Moody to serve as an unofficial teaching assistant in an English class Franco was teaching at UCLA in September 2013.
The following month, Franco invited Moody to write a screen adaptation of the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, the suit alleges. In emails attached as evidence to the lawsuit, Franco asked if Moody would adapt the book, turn in a draft “by the end of nov” and “watch the film!! Maybe watch first.”
“Thank you for thinking of me,” Moody responds in October 2013.
The student said he spent upwards of 60 hours a week on the project, while also serving as Franco’s teaching assistant. By November 20, 2013, he finished the first draft, emailing, “I think it’s finally ready for you to read,” Moody writes. “Please let me know when you have notes. I’m anxious to get started on the next draft.”
At Franco’s request, Moody traveled to the Vancouver set of Franco and Rogen’s film The Interview from November 21-24, 2013, to pitch the concept to Point Grey’s principals including Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the suit claims.
Moody said he worked full time on The Disaster Artist from November 2013 through March 2014, with emails attached to the suit documenting his ongoing involvement in the project, including script revisions and readings and lunch meetings.
On March 31, Franco told Moody that Point Grey wanted to replace him with established writers.
“Seth and evan and wever want you on as an assoc producer and to give notes on every draft. Cool?” Franco writes in an email dated April 2, 2014.
“Thanks for letting me know about the new writers,” Moody responds, via email. “I understand that you all need to do what’s best for the movie. I’m glad to hear it’s moving forward. If possible, I’d still like to stay involved in some way.”
While initially reluctant to step aside, the lawsuit claims Franco and his producing partner, Vince Jolivette, and Point Grey’s James Weaver, convinced the writer to sign away his work on May 23, 2014.
“Rather than destroy those seemingly valuable relationships and start again from scratch … Moody eventually agreed to sell his The Disaster Artist screenplay for $5,000,” the lawsuit claims.
Moody claims The Disaster Artist script incorporates his uncredited work, including one scene in which the central character, Tommy Wiseau, flees a screening of The Room to escape the audience’s derision — only to return to the theater to “own” his film project.
“None of the foregoing appear in the book, but are in Moody’s screenplay and in The Disaster Artist,” the suit claims.
As Moody was allegedly being pushed aside as a writer, the former student asked Franco if he’ll be able to write and direct his passion project, a film called On the Bus. “Yes. That’s the plan,” the actor responds via email. Moody tried for nearly two years to develop the film, but saw its budget reduced from an anticipated $5 million-$10 million range to $50,000.
“Moody realized that RabbitBandini was not serious” about making the film, and sold the project.