"Hustle & Flow" was such a sensation at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival that John Singleton, who produced and financed the film himself, had a host of studios bidding for the film. Even though other studios offered more money, Singleton says he went with Paramount Pictures because it not only agreed to pay $9 million for the film, but also pledged to finance and distribute two films of Singleton's choosing, with $3.5-million budgets.
"Hustle & Flow" went on to make $22 million in the United States, earned glowing reviews and won an Oscar. But more than six years after the deal was signed, Singleton is suing Paramount for $20 million, saying the studio failed to live up to its end of the bargain, having never made either picture in the agreement (which is known in Hollywood as a "put" deal).
"I'd always had a great relationship with Paramount, going back to being an intern on the lot when I was at USC," Singleton told me. "But a deal's a deal and they didn't honor the deal. I could have sold 'Hustle & Flow' for more money to someone else, but Paramount promised something special — giving me the ability to make two low-budget films with young filmmakers and great talent. All I've ever done is make money for Paramount. I've lived up to all the deals I've signed and it should work both ways."
Responding to the suit, which was filed Wednesday morning in Los Angeles County Superior Court, a Paramount representative said: “Paramount was hoping that John Singleton would produce two more pictures before his agreement with our studio ended in 2010, but that did not happen. Instead, he went on to direct 'Abduction' for Lionsgate. Paramount fulfilled all of its obligations and his claims have absolutely no merit."
Best known for his groundbreaking 1991 debut film, "Boyz N' the Hood," Singleton had carved out a successful career as a filmmaker by the time he took "Hustle & Flow" to Sundance, having directed a number of commercial pictures, including a remake of "Shaft" at Paramount. But his goal was to become a producer, overseeing modestly budgeted, multicultural genre films that he believed would fill a void in the marketplace.