Producers collide in suit over ‘Crash’ cash

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! On the eve of this weekend’s Academy Awards, a bareknuckle fight has broken out among the producers of one of the leading Oscar-nominated movies, “Crash,” over two of the things Hollywood cares about most: money and credit. Even as the last Oscar ballots were being cast late Tuesday, Cathy Schulman, a producer of “Crash,” filed a lawsuit that accused Bob Yari, her fellow producer and former partner, of acting from “greed and ego” in failing to pay at least $2 million in producing fees to her and her partner, the film’s executive producer, Tom Nunan. Yari had earlier sued the pair, claiming in January that they had taken funds owed to their joint production company, Bull’s Eye Entertainment. This morning, Yari, who put together the $7 million in financing for “Crash,” took out full-page advertisements in Hollywood’s trade papers with a ringing call to uphold justice and due process – or at least a show business version – by abolishing the secret panels that award credit for Best Picture. Yari was denied a producer credit in an arbitration by the Producers Guild of America in December, and denied again after appeals to both the guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars. As a result, he will not take home a statue if “Crash” is named Best Picture on Sunday. Schulman and Paul Haggis, a co-writer and the director of “Crash,” are the only producers eligible for the prize, though the film has six producers in its credits. Tuesday’s legal complaint by Schulman and Nunan used strongly personal language with regard to Yari. It denounced what it called the “squalor of Yari’s ugly behavior” and claimed that the producer, a former successful real estate developer who created a Hollywood company in recent years, acted like “an impetuous child” toward Schulman after being denied producer credit. The complaint said Yari’s lawsuit was, in effect, retaliation for losing the producer credit in arbitration. Yari responded, “This lawsuit is a shameful misrepresentation of the facts concerning my partnership with Schulman and Nunan.” He said the lawsuit reinforced a pattern by Schulman of “deceitful and litigious behavior.” A lawyer for Yari, Neil Sacker, who is also a defendant in Schulman’s lawsuit, denied that Yari’s suit was retaliation. Because the budget on “Crash” was so small, many of the principal people involved – including the producers, the writers and the director – took no money during the production of the film, deferring fees until the film saw a profit. As is often the case with low-budget films, the principals also had deals to participate in the profits. Although “Crash” was filmed two years ago and has taken in $83 million at the box office worldwide plus millions more in home-video and DVD sales, the lawsuit alleges that Yari has not shown Schulman or Nunan any profit-and-loss statements and has not paid basic producing fees or profit participation. But Sacker said Schulman and Nunan had both been paid salaries as partners in Bull’s Eye Entertainment, and that their fees for producing “Crash” were not meant to be paid until all the overhead costs for Bull’s Eye had been recouped. “Most producers are not paid a salary,” Sacker said. “She was being paid a salary. Her fees were paid against her salary and overhead.” Melvin Avanzado, the lawyer for Schulman, disputed that. “He’s recouped everything several times over,” he said. “There’s been four movies on which there has been financing in which he has recouped. We just can’t tell how many times he’s recouped because he hasn’t given us an accounting.” Other producers on the film declined to comment on the dispute, or on the question of their being paid by Yari. “`Crash’ has been a great thing in my life, and I expect everyone to act honorably,” said Robert Moresco, a co-writer with Haggis who is nominated for the Best Screenplay Oscar. Haggis could not be reached for comment. “Crash,” a multicharacter story about racial tension in Los Angeles told through varying car incidents, is nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Matt Dillon), Original Music and Editing. The film, which was made independently and acquired for domestic distribution by Lionsgate, became an unexpected hit and has been showered with nominations throughout the Hollywood awards season. In his open letter to the academy, published in both The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety today, Yari compared his speaking out against the arbitration process to Edward R. Murrow’s standing up to Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy’s authoritarianism, as depicted in one of the other Best Picture nominees, “Good Night, and Good Luck.” “Murrow reported on and exposed a dark period in our country’s history, when accusations and hearsay alone were enough to condemn,” Yari wrote. “Unfortunately, the lessons learned then seem to be forgotten now.” The lawsuits have cast a pall over celebrations scheduled for the next several days, including a gala dinner to be given by Lionsgate on Friday and the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday. And there was a fitting, if unfortunate, footnote to the dramatic tension rising around the film: In the midst of it all, Yari’s publicist, Lynda Dorf, was involved in a minor car crash last Wednesday. There were no injuries reported.last_img