EXCLUSIVE: Two of the UK’s best-known documentary makers, Dan Reed and Nick Broomfield, are locked in an increasingly ugly dispute with the collapsed Kew Media Group over the international rights to their biggest films.
Kew Media Group’s sales house, Kew Media Distribution, represented Reed’s Leaving Neverland — HBO and Channel 4’s Emmy-winning film on historic sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson — as well as a catalog of 30 Broomfield documentaries, including his BBC and Showtime film Whitney: Can I Be Me.
The Canadian production and distribution empire crumbled in February and administrator FTI Consulting was called in to sell off the company’s assets, including Kew Media Distribution’s library of content. Prior to the collapse, Reed and Broomfield took action to terminate their contracts with Kew Media Distribution after it failed to pay them royalties on international sales, but Deadline understands that FTI is insisting that the deals are still valid.
As such, the administrator is selling Kew Media Distribution’s catalog of 1,000 titles with Leaving Neverland and Broomfield’s projects included. Deadline has been told by four sources that final bids were accepted last Friday, with a number of interested parties circling. One person said the library was initially valued at up to £2M ($2.5M), but this has dropped significantly during the sales process, which has been fraught with complication due to rights disputes with producers.
With FTI expected to make a decision on the sale imminently, Reed and Broomfield have told Deadline that they will not allow their work to be included in the deal. Both said they would be prepared to go to court if whoever buys Kew Media Distribution’s library tries to exploit the global rights to their films.
“Way before Kew went into administration, we terminated the Leaving Neverland distribution contract for non-payment. They owe us a really significant chunk of money,” Amos Pictures boss Reed said. “We terminated that contract under English law, so I’m flabbergasted that the administrators now consider that that title is theirs to sell.”
He added: “I want to put them on notice that they are not entitled to sell that film. It’s outrageous that having fallen down on their obligations and following a notice of termination, issued in accordance with the law, that they’re still pressing on with pretending they’re entitled to sell the program.”
“We’re a small company and Leaving Neverland is a big title. I’ve gone to considerable personal risk by going up against the Jackson estate. That is not something that you do lightly. I’m not going to let somebody take it away from me.”
In a message to the companies bidding on the Kew Media Distribution library, Broomfield said: “This is my life’s work and I will strenuously defend that. We have terminated with Kew. Don’t think that you’re going to be able to buy my library because you can’t… I will do whatever I need to do to protect my rights on my work. My lawyer is already handling negotiations and we will take this as far as we need to.”
Both Reed and Broomfield are arguing that Kew Media Distribution’s failure to pay royalties represented a “repudiatory breach” of contract, a legal term that means the breach is deemed so serious that the aggrieved party can simply end the arrangement. Both have consulted with their lawyers in reaching this conclusion. However, Paul Hastings LLP, the law firm representing FTI, disagrees and has made clear that FTI intends to continue commercial discussions regarding distribution arrangements.
An FTI spokesman said: “The joint administrators, alongside their legal counsel, are in the process of considering all the distribution and licensing arrangements in place including between various producers and Kew. Any claims to termination or otherwise will be dealt with in accordance with the terms of the relevant distribution agreements. We appreciate the continued patience of producers and customers, as we continue to work through a complex situation with over 1,000 titles.”
Reed and Broomfield said they intend to find new distribution partners for their work. Reed said he is also continuing to chase the money he is owed for the sales of Leaving Neverland. “We will get together and if necessary combine with the other creditors to fight and recover as much as possible from the sale of Kew and its assets,” he said.
Broomfield argued that it was Kew Media Group, rather than the distribution arm, that was at fault for the payment issues, which he said stretched back to autumn last year. He was waiting on a “big payment” from Netflix for the Whitney Houston documentary, but it did not materialize for months. Other money did not arrive at all, meaning he had issues funding films including his latest project: a follow-up to 2002’s Biggie & Tupac focusing on Suge Knight, the former head of Death Row Records.
In an in-depth report on Kew Media Group’s collapse, Deadline revealed that the company was dipping into the accounts of its distributors, Kew Media Distribution and TCB Media Rights, to cash flow the business when it ran into financial difficulty last year. The empire is currently being broken up piece-by-piece, with producers including Essential Media Group and Collins Avenue exiting. TCB, the profitable UK distributor, is on the brink of an exit, while Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions is another asset that will be sold.