Tommy Lee Jones sues Paramount

Actor Tommy Lee Jones has filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures for $10m (£5.7m), which he claims they owe him for his role as Sheriff Tom Bell in last year’s No Country For Old Men.

The Independent have the details:

Jones has filed his lawsuit in Bexar County, San Antonio.

NM Classics Inc, a Dutch subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, is also named in the action, according to The San Antonio Express-News. Jones, who won his only Oscar for his role alongside Harrison Ford in 1993’s The Fugitive, claims that he has not been paid the bonuses he was promised and his initial fee for appearing in the movie was unjustly reduced.

He also claims that a contract was given to him despite the fact it contained several inaccuracies.

The 61-year-old says he signed a contract with NM Classics on 3 April 2006, agreeing to act in the film and to provide “additional related services” for promoting the movie.

In return, the legal papers allege, the company agreed that it would pay Jones a fixed “upfront” fee and, depending on its success, “significant box-office bonuses and ‘back-end’ compensation”.

The vagueness of those promises has returned to haunt the actor. His lawyers claim he was promised “significant” bonuses to compensate him for his reduced fee.

No Country For Old Men was a co-production between Paramount Pictures and Miramax Films, with Paramount largely controlling the film’s release and distribution outside the US.

Jones demanded that he, the Coens and the film’s producer, Scott Rudin, should be entitled to the same treatment and equal shares of the box-office spoils.

Here is the interesting bit, which suggests someone in the Paramount legal department could be in trouble:

But the lawsuit claims that in December 2007, barely a month after the film was released in America, Paramount executives told Jones his contract contained a “mistake” related to “a major issue involving the deduction for home video expenses”.

It also alleges that on 10 January this year, Paramount officials approached Jones again, this time with information about a second major “mistake” in his contract.

The veteran A-lister, whose career has been reinvigorated after a few years in the wilderness, says his “deception” at the hands of Paramount amounts to fraud.

A central plank of his legal action is a claim that Paramount invited him to sign his contract while fully aware of the flaws it contained.

In recent years there have been various high profile Hollywood lawsuits, such as Peter Jackson’s issues with New Line Cinema over The Lord of the Rings, Clive Cussler – the author of Saharasuing the producers of the movie adaptation and Randy Quaid taking on the producers of Brokeback Mountain.

One of the most interesting things about them – if both parties don’t settle – is the juicy details that come out in court.

For instance the Sahara case revealed that the production budget was swelled by bribes to local crew in Morocco, according to USA Today:

Documents cited by the Times also listed 16 “courtesy payments,” “gratuities” and “local bribes” totaling $237,386 in Morocco to expedite filming.

That included a $40,688 payment to stop a river improvement project while filming and $23,250 for “Political/Mayoral support.”

The LA Times also reported this priceless court exchange about how much money the film lost:

Karen Baldwin [an executive producer on Sahara] testified that she believed “Sahara” was on track to make a profit.

“It was No. 1 at the box office when it came out,” she said. “I have heard that over time the film is going to make its money.”

Clive Cussler’s attorney, Bertram Fields, informed Baldwin that financial reports showed that the movie lost more than $100 million.

That would be one of the most massive losses in the history of the film business, wouldn’t it?” Fields asked.

No, not at all,” Baldwin replied.

Tell me a picture that lost more than $100 million.”

Heaven’s Gate.”

Lost more than $100 million, is that your testimony?”

I don’t know.”

Well, why did you just say it?”

The fact that the court case contained better dialogue thatn the movie tells you something about the script, which ten screenwriters were reportedly paid $3.8 million for.

If Jones and Paramount don’t settle will there be anything as entertaining?

> Original article in The Independent about the lawsuit
> Tommy Lee Jones at the IMDb


Paramount downsize Vantage

Just a few weeks after Warner Bros effectively shut down their specialty divisions, comes the news that Paramount is absorbing some of their specialty arm – Paramount Vantage – into their main operations.

Variety report the details:

Paramount is folding the marketing, distribution and physical production departments of Paramount Vantage into the larger studio. Three people will be laid off.

Move comes on the heels of other recent developments that prove specialty labels are feeling the economic pinch.

Time Warner turned New Line Cinema into a production label in April, laying off 450 staffers, and then in May shuttered Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse.

Vantage’s merged marketing department will be led by worldwide marketing prexy Gerry Rich.

Vantage execs Megan Colligan and Josh Greenstein landed promotions as co-presidents of domestic marketing, reporting to Rich.

The consolidated distribution department will be led by Jim Tharp, president of domestic theatrical distribution, and the combined physical production department will be headed by Georgia Kacandes, executive vice president of physical production, who will report to Paramount Films production prexy Brad Weston.

This comes only 2 years after Vantage was launched at Cannes in 2006.

Despite the scaling back, it will still be run as a production label under president Nick Meyer.

The three people laid off were distribution chief Rob Schulze, production head Mark Bakshi and marketing co-president Guy Endore-Kaiser.

Paramount Film Group president John Lesher – the former agent who used to run Vantage until he was promoted to the main studio a few months back – says that he is still committed to the specialty arm:

“We’re going to stay in this business. We’re committed to it and love it but in a disciplined way.”

This is the official press release from Paramount:

Hollywood, CA (June 3, 2008) – Paramount Pictures and Paramount Vantage today announced the consolidation of its marketing, distribution and physical production departments, which will serve both entities.

The merged marketing department will be lead by Gerry Rich (President, Worldwide Motion Picture Marketing).

Megan Colligan and Josh Greenstein who were promoted to Co-Presidents of Domestic Marketing, will report to Mr. Rich.

The consolidated distribution department will be lead by Jim Tharp (President, Domestic Theatrical Distribution) and the combined physical production department will be headed by Georgia Kacandes, Executive Vice President, Physical Production.

Mr. Tharp and Mr. Rich will continue to report to Rob Moore, Vice Chairman, Paramount Pictures. Georgia Kacandes will report to Brad Weston, President, Production, Paramount Films.

“The new consolidated structure allows both Paramount and Paramount Vantage to leverage the strengths and resources of a combined talent base, while minimizing redundancies and optimizing efficiencies,” said Rob Moore, Vice Chairman, Paramount Pictures.

“Today’s change is in line with our strategy to restructure the business for the long term,” added John Lesher, President, Paramount Film Group.  “It takes into account the dynamic nature of the marketplace and positions Paramount for the future.”

Although the situation here isn’t as drastic as the Warner Bros meltdown, Vantage is almost certainly going to be producing less specialty films per year.

Added to that, logic would suggest that they would be more commercial titles given that this whole move is driven by the desire to make Paramount more profitable across the board.

How has Paramount Vantage done over the last two years?

From a distance the division appears to have had some notable successes, but when you look closely at even their most high profile films, there are some significant negatives if you look at them with a hard nosed accountant’s eye:

  • An Inconvenient Truth: Undoubtedly a success, it is one of the biggest grossing documentaries of all time. But a lot of marketing money was spent to etch the film on the public’s minds and win an Oscar.
  • Babel: Despite the award nominations it didn’t gross that much in the US and actually made most of it’s money abroad – which didn’t help Vantage as they sold off the foreign rights. Like An Inconvenient Truth, the marketing and Oscar campaign didn’t come cheap.
  • No Country for Old Men: Despite winning Best Picture at the Oscars, this was a co-production with Miramax who distributed it in the US.
  • Into the Wild: Another awards contender that came up a little short when it came to US grosses.
  • There Will Be Blood: Like No Country, this garnered much  acclaim and did well for such dark (albeit brilliant) material but ultimately wasn’t that profitable after an expensive awards campaign.
  • Son of Rambow: Bought at Sundance in 2007, it earned an impressive $8 million in the UK but only $2 million in the US.

And what about the misfires?

  • Black Snake Moan: Craig Brewer’s bizarre semi-exploitation film bombed despite the presence of Cristina Ricci chained to a radiator.
  • Year of the Dog: Mike White’s unfunny comedy with Molly Shannon was another film that failed to connect with audiences.
  • A Mighty Heart: Despite the presence of Angelina Jolie as Marianne Pearl, a big launch at Cannes and the fact that it was really rather good, this tale of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter was too dark for mainstream audiences. With a budget of $14 million and a domestic gross of around $9 million, you can almost hear the Paramount accountants having a coronary down the hallway.
  • Margot at the Wedding: Noah Baumbach’s arch comedy/drama with Nicole Kidman, Jack Black and Jennifer Jason Leigh was another film that didn’t exactly set the box office on fire.

Anne Thompson also has some interesting obervations on her blog about Vantage compared with the other specialty divisions in Hollywood:

Other specialty labels also share distribution, marketing and physical production with their parent studio.

Focus Features, Miramax Films Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight do not share these functions with their parent.

Producing high-quality lower-budget specialty films is a specialized art unto itself and you’re better off NOT using the big-studio people for that function.

Autonomous distribution and marketing goes hand-in-hand with choosing the right product.

Focus did move to have the big studio distribute its Rogue pics, and when Fox Searchlight takes a film really wide, it gets backroom help from the bigger studio.

And what of the long term future of Vantage?

As of this minute, Vantage is in jeopardy.

If [Brad] Grey, [John] Lesher, [Rob] Moore and [Nick] Meyer operate in good faith to make a go of it, there’s a slim chance it will survive in some form. But I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

For anyone who cares about mainstream Hollywood studios funding films like There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, then this is depressing news. However, given the current global financial squeeze, perhaps inevitable.

Is this be the start of a wider trend amongst the major studios as they scale back their specialty arms?

> Full story at Variety
> Find out more about Paramount Vantage at Wikipedia
David Poland with a Hot Button column (filled with useful stats) on the situation
> Nikki Finke with her take
> Reuters report the news
> A gossipy angle from Defamer