EXCLUSIVE: Eventually released in China much later than anticipated, the Orlando Bloom-starring S.M.A.R.T. Chase was not the big box office winner its producers desired. But Shanghai-based Bliss Media has come out the victor in a long BTS legal battle over the pic.
Almost two years after Stateside-set Das Films sued Bliss in Los Angeles Superior Court for kicking it off the project, an arbitration final award has come down strongly in favor of the Wei Han-founded company over the action flick that came out last fall in the Middle Kingdom.
“Bliss Media established that Das Films breached the Producer Deal Memo, breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and, through Das, negligently misrepresented Donaldson’s availability,” retired Judge Terry Friedman wrote in the August 13 final award arbitration ruling, noting that the shell game seemingly played with bringing November Man helmer Roger Donaldson on as S.M.A.R.T. Chase’s director.
“Bliss Media is awarded $522,787 in damages on its breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligent misrepresentation claims,” the JAMS arbitrator added. “As the prevailing party, Bliss Media is entitled to $630,000 in reasonable attorney’s fees and $65,457.71 in costs,” Friedman tacked on for the Hacksaw Ridge distributor from the interim award of late June, which followed hearings earlier that month
“Bliss Media is vindicated by the decision,” the LA-based lead attorney Susan Leader of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld told Deadline of the final award. “It’s telling that although there was a clear arbitration provision in the parties’ agreement, Das Films initiated this lawsuit publicly in state court, and it did so at the same time Bliss was filming S.M.A.R.T. Chase in China. At the time it filed the action, Das Films made a number of statements questioning Bliss’ integrity. Although Bliss did not seek damages for reputational harm, it was important for Bliss to clear its name and set the record straight that it was Das Films that had made misrepresentations to Bliss and breached the contract, and not the other way around.”
In this matter, while the reputation issue might be big to Bliss and the actual sums involved might seem relatively small, the point made by the award isn’t. While determining exactly how much money was lost is purely speculative, the arbitrator did note in the award that “Bliss Media likely missed out on revenues it would have reaped had the film been released in Summer 2017.”
The fact is that summer in China, like in the U.S., is certified blockbuster season. Yet, because the Chinese government pretty much only allows domestic films or approved co-productions to hit the thousands of screens in the country during that time, S.M.A.R.T. Chase‘s inability to meet that “lucrative window,” as the award ruling calls it, sidelined the flick before it even debuted.
That’s a point that former Judge Friedman noted in last month’s final award document of the deal on a film once called Dragon, an agreement that bubbled out of a propitious 2015 American Film Market meeting between Han and Sriram Das.
“To the extent there is any uncertainty regarding whether Das Films breached the Producer Deal Memo by failing to hire Donaldson and to do so timely, there can be no doubt that by this conduct Das Films breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing,” the arbitrator asserts. “Despite Han’s repeated inquiries and demands, Das Films dragged its feet for months in fulfilling its ultimately unrealized obligation to hire Donaldson, or any director. Das precluded Han from having any direct contact with Donaldson, which prevented her from discovering his extended unavailability. As a result, Han could not receive the fruits of the Producer Deal Memo which, most important to Han and as she constantly expressed to Das, was to produce Dragon in time for Summer 2017 release.”
Friedman said bluntly: “Das Films’ implied covenant claim fails for the same reason as its breach of contract cause of action. It failed to perform its contractual duties, which relieved Bliss Media of any contractual obligations to Das Films.”
Now the final award has been made, the next step for Bliss is to petition in LA Superior Court to have it converted into a judgment. If Das Films don’t kick up an appeal, it then would be expected to pay up.
When chased by Deadline, lawyers for Das Media did not respond for request for comment on the matter