Michael Moore sues Weinstein brothers over 'Fahrenheit 9/11' profits [Updated]
When Harvey and Bob Weinstein released Michael Moore's political documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" in fall 2004, it became a cultural phenomenon and grossed $119 million at the U.S. box office.
Now the director says more of that money should have made it into his pocket.
In a suit filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Moore alleged that the Weinsteins, on behalf of an outfit called the Fellowship Adventure Group that they formed to release the movie, had illegally kept money from him.
Moore is seeking at least $2.7 million in compensatory damages as well as legal and other costs; the filmmaker also left open the possibility that he could seek further damages once a complete audit is done, a process the suit alleges has not happened.
"This case is about classic Hollywood accounting tricks and financial deception perpetrated by the Fellowship Adventure Group and its owners Bob and Harvey Weinstein," the suit began. The complaint alleged "bogus accounting methods" and "substantial irregularities in the accounting of the film" and said the company has "secretly divert[ed] monies owed" to Moore and his Westside Productions company. Moore's suit alleges breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and constructive fraud.
Among the allegations Moore makes is that the Weinsteins deducted residual payments from the balance sheet that were never made; deducted expenses Moore did not authorize; overstated the distribution fee to select international distributors; and covertly deducted more than $2.5 million from the revenue pool from which the Weinsteins were to pay Moore. According to the lawsuit, Moore and Fellowship were to split profits 50-50, an extremely generous deal for a director compared with what most filmmakers receive.
Attorney Bert Fields, who is representing the Weinsteins, said that the claims are "just designed for the media and are utter rubbish." He also speculated that Oscar-season rivals may have had a hand in the lawsuit. "I'm suspicious of the timing of this in this pre-award period and really wonder who put him up to it," Field said, acknowledging he had "no hard evidence."
Weinstein Co.'s royals drama "The King's Speech" is considered an Oscar frontrunner.
Fields, who acknowledged there were settlement discussions several months ago, said he was surprised to find a lawsuit filed Monday. He said Moore had been paid $19.8 million over the course of the release and post-release period of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and has "received every dime he's entitled to."
[Updated at 3:40 p.m.: Hollywood attorney Larry Stein, who represents Moore, dismissed the idea that Oscar agendas played a role in the suit. "Michael has no dog in the race -- he doesn't even have a film this year," Stein said in an interview. "We've been trying to work on a settlement for six months, long before 'King's Speech' was ever up for a nomination. Michael's been very patient, but at some point you can't just keep waiting."
Stein later added in a statement: "This is the first time Michael Moore has ever sued anyone in his 20-year career as a filmmaker. That should be some indication about how serious this is."
"It's very sad it had to come to this," the statement said. "Michael believes the Weinsteins have been a force for good when it comes to championing independent film -- but that does not give them the right to violate a contract and take money that isn't theirs."]
A spokesman at William Morris Endeavor, where Moore is represented by agent Ari Emanuel, said the agent would not be commenting on the lawsuit.
This is hardly the first time the movie, which examines the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration and the alleged corporate complicity in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, has been the subject of a legal or business controversy. The Weinsteins, whose company at the time of "Fahrenheit" was owned by Walt Disney Co., stepped in to finance the film after Mel Gibson's Icon Productions fell out. But the conglomerate refused to release it, prompting Harvey Weinstein to form Fellowship (and eliciting a slew of headlines and Harvey Weinstein interviews). The movie went on to gross $222 million around the world.
The suit marks a further turn in the relationship between the provocateur documentarian and the independent-film kingpin. Although they collaborated fruitfully on several documentaries -- including "Fahrenheit" followup "Sicko," about the U.S. healthcare industry, in 2007 -- Moore and Weinstein pointedly did not collaborate on Moore's most recent documentary project, the financial-crisis critique "Capitalism: A Love Story."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Top photo: Michael Moore in 'Fahrenheit 9/11.' Credit: Ho / Reuters. Bottom photo: Harvey Weinstein. Credit: Michael Buckner / Getty Images for Bing