Two filmmakers have sued Harvey and Bob Weinstein's studio for more than $114 million, claiming that the Weinsteins ruined five animated film projects with their "indecisiveness and general incompetence." They would have filed the lawsuit earlier, they say, but the Weinsteins paid them $500,000 in quasi-hush money to delay it until after the Oscars so as not to sully their campaign for The King's Speech. Hollywood works in strange ways.
Tony Leech and Brian Inerfeld are the writer/director and producer, respectively, of an animated film project called Escape From Area 51, which tells the story of an alien jailbreak from the mysterious military base. They sold their idea to the Weinstein Company in 2006, and started on what any rational person would imagine to be the seamless, stress-free process of producing an animated film with Bob and Harvey Weinstein. But!
It turns out the Weinsteins are (allegedly!) impulsive, distracted, emotionally volatile man-children who are utterly incapable of producing anything at all.
Instead of shepherding the project to completion they:
- Demanded 17 re-writes of the script, including repeatedly requesting changes after they'd already committed to the script and randomly demanding changes to the characters without realizing that it in the animated world, that means redesigning them from the ground up.
- Insisted on keeping the project in production, including paying animators, while the script was in flux, wasting millions. At one point, according to the suit, a Weinstein Company executive reassured Leech and Inerfield that they were "only $9 million in the hole" on the film. They were actually, at that moment, $19 million in the hole. The executive responded that he didn't have time to do the math because he was "going to the Hamptons."
- Being generally oblivious. At one storyboard screening, to which he brought his children, Harvey Weinstein fell asleep.
- Eating M&Ms off the floor. It's unclear how this is actionable, but it apparently happened! At a screening, the complaint says, Harvey began struggling with an employee who tried to take away a bowl of M&Ms Harvey was eating. The M&Ms spilled, and Harvey "got down on his hands and knees" and ate them off the floor.
- Treating Alec Baldwin like a schmuck. Harvey wanted Baldwin for a voiceover part, but the filmmakers had already approached him and been rebuffed. "[Weinstein's] 'strategy' was to reach out to Alec Baldwin through his publicist, as opposed to his actual agent, Bryan Lourd, who is one of the preeminent agents at Creative Artist Agency, the most powerful agency in Hollywood. Considering that Alec Baldwin had already rejected the project, it was unsurprising that he turned it down again when [Weinstein] offered the role (a) for a second time, (b) through Mr. Baldwin's publicist, and (c) for less money."
- Fighting amongst themselves. At one point in the interminable process of making the movie, Harvey fired his brother Bob from the project, writing in Bob in an e-mail: "I bought it and greenlit it for a reason, and I'm going to see it through. So from here on out, if you have any notes or thoughts, please share them with me so that I can pass them on."
- And "constantly changing their minds without regard to logic, reason, or contractual obligations."
The filmmakers say the Weinsteins also deliberately attempted to freeze them out of back-end profits they'd negotiated on the film—selling their share to another financier they sought out after the movie went overbudget. And they're claiming that the Weinsteins also botched production on four other animated films they were working on, including Fraggle Rock.
After Leech and Inerfield threatened legal action, the Weinsteins tried to hold them off until after the Academy Awards—Harvey Weinstein has gone to great lengths over the last few years to rehabilitate his image as a raging maniac, and The King's Speech's romp at the Oscars was to be the pinnacle of his comeback. "The truth of the allegations in this complaint are perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that [the Weinstein Company] paid plaintiffs $500,000 merely so that plaintiffs would delay filing this action and instead agree to [the Weinsteins'] request for a private mediation that would take place after the Academy Awards."
In response, the Weinstein Company released two statements: One from powerful Hollywood lawyer Bert Fields, and another from even more powerful American lawyer David Boies. The lawsuit is nothing more than "false, gratuitous, slanderous, preposterous and totally irrelevant personal attacks," says Fields. It's an is an "irresponsible and baseless lawsuit filed as part of an attempt to extort millions of dollars from Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Company," says Boies.
Despite The King's Speech's victory, I don't think Harvey has his mojo back. There was a time when a lawsuit like this would never have seen the light of day. Read the whole thing below.
[Photos of Weinstein by Billy Farrell/Billy Farrell Agency]