Franchise producer Neal Moritz today sued the Donna Langley-run studio for breach of oral contract and promissory fraud over being tossed out the door of the spinoff led by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. “This case presents a classic example of Hollywood greed,” reads the filing made this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court, opening in classic style from Tinseltown heavyweight attorney Dale Kinsella.
The long and the short of it is that Moritz, who is no stranger to litigation, wants to be reinstated as lead producer on Hobbs and Shaw, which just started shooting, or be paid out “tens of millions dollars in damages in lost compensation” from the Comcast-owned studio.
“In an extraordinary show of bad faith, and just a few days before filming was set to begin on Hobbs and Shaw, Universal took the position that Moritz either had to amend his oral producer deal to accept substantially inferior financial terms, or be cut out of the Picture altogether,” claims the complaint (read it here), which seeks a jury trial. “Remarkably, despite Moritz having complete Pay-or-Play protection on all of his last several deals on the FF Franchise and having relied on Universal’s oral promises, Universal also took the extraordinary position that it was free to exploit Moritz’s ideas for Hobbs and Shaw, and his work product over an approximately year-and-a-half period, without honoring its oral producer agreement,” the 20-page filing adds of the evolution of the multibillion-dollar box office franchise.
“Indeed, Universal has claimed that it can move forward with Hobbs and Shaw without providing Moritz with any credit or compensation,” the document says, asserting that the veteran producer was essentially dropped September 7 after not agreeing to the significant reduction in his overall compensation that the studio seemingly sprung on him during then summer. “If Universal believes that it can treat one of its most successful producers with such extraordinary bad faith, one can only imagine how Universal treats its lesser established producers.”
The complaint says frequent communications with Universal Pictures chair Langley and Universal Pictures president Jimmy Horowitz that began with the first Hobbs and Shaw pitch last spring with writer Chris Morgan resulted in verbal deal in which Moritz was supposed to receive “$2 million in fixed compensation applicable against a 6% first dollar gross participation.” That “participation would be reducible with all other first dollar gross proceeds participation on a pro rata basis, along with a defined Over Budget Adjustment provision, which was the first dollar gross compensation option in the FF8-10 Agreement.”
The filing Wednesday says that despite repeated assurances from Universal top brass to Moritz and his entertainment lawyer Howard Abramson that the deal was solid, Horowitz told Abramson on August 6 that they wanted to “change Moritz’s deal on Hobbs and Shaw to a post-breakeven pool.” This eleventh-hour shift came as Moritz’s production executive Amanda Lewis and her family had already moved to London on Universal’s dime to help oversee the pic, and the producer himself was about to fly to the UK for the bulk of the duration of shooting on the film, which co-stars Idris Elba.
“Horowitz’s purported excuse for asking to change Moritz’s first dollar gross deal was that the Picture’s budget had supposedly increased,” Wednesday’s multi-claim filing says. “However, on information and belief, the budget for Hobbs and Shaw was actually fifteen million less at the time of this call than it had been when Universal had first sent the draft producer agreement to Moritz’s counsel in May 2018, which contained the first dollar gross deal to which the parties had orally agreed.”
“To make matters worse, the participation pool that Universal was proposing was far worse financially for Moritz than any other pool participation he had ever received on any film in the FF Franchise,” the detailed complaint declares. The document also claims Langley herself got on the phone with Moritz in August and said “We know you have a deal and you don’t have to change it” while asking him to consider doing just that.
Subsequent conversations and negotiations found the parties spinning their wheels, which brings us to today’s big play on Mortiz’s part with the lawsuit, which was filed by Kinsella and Suann MacIsaac of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert.
Universal did not respond immediately request for comment on the lawsuit when contacted by Deadline.
No timeline has been set on how long this could take to get resolved one way or another, but Hobbs and Shaw is inked to hit theaters on August 11, 2019.