Weinstein accused of delaying $50m lawsuit with 'hush money'

 

Los Angeles

When he picked up a golden statuette on Sunday, Colin Firth made sure to thank the man who made The King's Speech possible: independent film mogul Harvey Weinstein, who stumped up roughly half of the film's £9m budget and was responsible for masterminding its Oscar campaign.

That was then. But after an exciting few days as the toast of Hollywood, Weinstein – who, Firth recalled, "first took me on 20 years ago when I was a mere child sensation" – has been struck by one of those jarring headaches that follow every good celebration.

The cause is a $50m (£31.25m) lawsuit, detailing what it calls his "hubris, incompetence" and "contempt for contractual obligations", and claiming that his firm, The Weinstein Company, deliberately sabotaged production of an animated film and attempted to defraud its creators.

Court papers made public on Wednesday further allege that $500,000 in "hush-money" was paid to delay the case until after the Oscars, so that it would not be on Academy members' minds while they were casting their votes.

Weinstein, a veteran of many legal spats, robustly denies the 60 pages of allegations filed by Brian Inerfield and Tony Leech, who fell out with him after spending five years working on the troubled cartoon Escape from Planet Earth. Mr Weinstein's lawyers said yesterday that he's looking forward to contesting their "slanderous" claims.

The suit is nonetheless sure to add to the legend surrounding the famously eccentric movie producer, whose reputation for volatility has on occasion overshadowed his standing as one of the modern era's greatest champions of independent cinema.

Inerfield and Leech, who made the 2005 hit Hoodwinked, claim they approached Weinstein with the idea for Planet Earth in 2006. He gave the project the green light and scheduled it for release in January 2009, agreeing to pay the $30m budget.

But the film instead languished in production, with The Weinstein Company refusing to sign off on a final version its script, or to agree to important casting decisions. As a result, it has still not neared completion.

Inerfield and Leech therefore claim to have been denied back-end profits from the title, and say their professional reputation has been damaged. Their suit calls Harvey and his business partner and brother Bob "a real-life version of Bialystock & Bloom", the bumbling characters from the Mel Brooks satire The Producers.

Parts certainly read like a comic novel. At one point the plaintiffs claim that Weinstein for weeks refused to accept their telephone calls, explaining: "I [only] take Obama's calls." When they finally got him to attend a meeting, he "proceeded to fall asleep".

At a screening of a story-reel for the film, they say the rotund Weinstein, who is diabetic, meanwhile attempted to consume a large bowl of M&Ms. "When a TWC executive sought to retrieve the bowl of candy out of obvious concern for Harvey Weinstein's health, he fought to keep it," their suit claims. "In the tumult the M&Ms scattered all over the floor. Then, instead of watching the reel, Harvey Weinstein got down on his hands and knees and began eating M&Ms off the floor."

On the financial front Inerfield and Leech say 200 animators employed on the project were unable to produce any meaningful work because Weinstein kept altering the script and cast. As a result, they wasted $19m of the budget.

At one point the brothers allegedly decided that "it was more sensible to pay Kevin Bacon $25,000 not to be in a role that he had agreed to do for $50,000 because $50,000 was supposedly too much to pay Mr Bacon".

A Weinstein Company statement reads: "The pleading contains little more than false, gratuitous, slanderous, preposterous and totally irrelevant personal attacks on TWC and its principals."

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