Thu 25 Apr 2013
I was just hipped to this story by Ruth Ratny in her online publication, REEL Chicago, which is the bible of Chicago production news; but check out this link to the actual court documents from the lawsuit (included in her article), which detail chapter and verse the plaintiff’s allegations against Michael Keaton.
According to the suit by Merry Gentleman, LLC; Keaton’s bad behavior during and (especially) after principal photography for the film The Merry Gentleman unnecessarily added millions to the budget and essentially doomed the picture to low box office revenues.
The suit alleges that as production for the film approached, slated director Ron Lazzeretti (who also wrote the screenplay) fell ill, and the company began looking for another person to direct the film. That was when Keaton offered to take on directing duties, and in 2007 two separate agreements, one for acting and one for directing, were drawn up between Keaton and the producers. This is when the shenanigans allegedly started on Keaton’s part:
First off, he refused to hire an editor to help him look at and evaluate the footage shot each day during production (aka “the Dailies”) and shirked the task himself, leaving an integral part of the director’s job undone.
After primary filming wrapped, despite the contractual understanding that he was responsible for producing a “first” cut, but not a “final” cut (the responsibility of the producers), Keaton still refused to hire an editor and went back home to California. The producers then used their own money to set up a professional editing suite in Santa Monica near Keaton’s home so he could participate in the editing process. Whereupon Keaton announced that he was leaving for a fly fishing trip to his estate in Montana.
The producers spent their own money again to build yet another professional editing suite in Montana and even hired an assistant, so Keaton could edit between trout outings. Yet he spent little or no time in the editing suite during the weeks in question, leaving important issues to be decided by subordinates.
When he returned to California his haphazard work habits continued, costing the production further delay and expense, and when he did finally produce a rough cut of the film, all parties (Keaton included) agreed that it sucked (technical legal term). After some negotiation between the producers and Keaton’s attorney, it was determined that Keaton would be given another try and the producers would also work on their own cut back in Chicago, whereupon Lazzeretti and company would decide which one was best. When Keaton found out there was another cut being worked on in Chicago he refused to have any further contact with anyone he had previously disagreed with- which happened to include basically everyone involved in the higher levels of production.
The two cuts were screened a few months later and it was determined by consensus that “the Chicago cut” (as it became known) was far superior to Keaton’s second attempt, which not only was still flawed but now had a score done by his son (who had no experience) that was intrusive and amateurish. The producers decided to go with the Chicago cut, which was totally within their rights under the contract.
The Chicago cut was submitted to the prestigious Sundance Festival and was accepted by them, which would have positioned the film to at least be an Art House hit if not a mainstream one. But when Keaton found out about this he and his people pitched a hissy fit (another legal term) to the Sundance authorities, telling them that he would refuse to appear at Sundance if his cut wasn’t shown at the festival. The Sundance people, intimidated by his clout and star power, sided with Keaton. This forced the producers to cut a deal with Keaton allowing his cut to be shown, but just at Sundance, provided Keaton put in some work to clean up and fix some remaining flaws in his cut. Keaton allegedly also blew off these duties/obligations and in addition forced the producers to pay expensive licensing fees for some popular songs he insisted be included in his cut at Sundance (for which they got a one-time licensing fee). Despite everything the Keaton cut was well received at Sundance.
The suit goes on to allege that Keaton’s hijinks delayed the movie from being able to be released during Christmas season of 2008 (which would have been perfect as the film is set during the holidays- plus dark dramas always fare better during that time period), thus depriving the film of its optimal release time and causing the revenues to suffer because of it. They also detail Keaton’s bizarre and distracted behavior during promotional appearances for the film, which contributed to the poor box office showing (less than $350,000).
ALTHOUGH THEY ARE NOT PLAINTIFFS OR INVOLVED WITH THE SUIT IN ANY FASHION, two of the individuals identified in the complaint as people involved in the film whom Keaton later refused to deal with (Producers Steven A. Jones and Christina Varotsis) are actually featured in Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition.
I have been told that the suit was brought by an investor whose lack of film experience and own emotional excesses may have contributed to the situation. So we shall see how this plays out.
The biggest irony in this whole ordeal is that the version of the film I saw in a theater in 2009 and later on DVD (apparently a mixture of Keaton’s second cut with several tweaks by Lazzeretti and a different score) is an excellent piece of work. A really fine dramatic film that deserves much more recognition that it has received. I will rent it again and whip up a review in the next week or so.
Keaton’s performance in it is brilliant and he seems to have a fine eye for directing. If only he could have done all his work on time and played nice with the other kids. Or at least hired an editor!