Voltage Pictures has been fairly quiet about the conflict over “The Professor and the Madman,” its unreleased film about the Oxford English Dictionary. But now that the company is being sued by both the film’s star, Mel Gibson, and director Farhad Safinia, Voltage has taken off the gloves and come out swinging.
Gibson alleges that Voltage has violated its agreement, which gives him approval of the final cut, by refusing to allow Safinia to complete a cut of the film. Safinia says he was thrown off the project, and is suing for copyright infringement and defamation.
In a motion on Thursday, in which Voltage opposes Safinia’s request for a restraining order, the production company blasts Gibson and Safinia for demanding $2.5 million (C$3.08M) in extra shooting at Oxford University, even though the film is already over budget. Voltage says the pair is trying to hold the film hostage in an effort to force Voltage’s hand.
Voltage CEO Nicolas Chartier says Gibson and Safinia had originally agreed to shoot the scenes — which involved 200 extras — at the Library of Trinity College in Ireland, but changed their minds at the last minute.
At a meeting in December 2016, Chartier says he told Safinia and Gibson to deliver a director’s cut at two hours, and then see what still needed to be shot. Safinia subsequently delivered a cut that was two hours and 40 minutes, which he later reduced to two hours. Chartier says “everyone” — including Gibson and his producer, Bruce Davey, agreed that it “was not a strong cut of the Picture.”
Chartier says he attempted to work out a deal to shoot some extra footage at Oxford at a lower cost, but that Safinia refused to work on the film unless Voltage agreed to shoot all of the scenes. Safinia also objected to being made to work with Voltage’s editor, Chartier says. In essence, Chartier accuses Gibson and Safinia of using Gibson’s final cut provision to try to pressure Voltage into shooting the extra Oxford scenes.
“Mr. Gibson claims to have final cut while refusing to watch the Picture, work on the Picture, or edit it,” Chartier says.
Chartier also disputes Safinia’s copyright claim, in which Safinia alleges that he wrote the screenplay and never authorized Voltage to exploit it. Chartier says Voltage acquired the right to the screenplay from Gibson’s company, which was written by Todd Kormanicki with revisions by John Boorman and Safinia. Subsequent to that rights acquisition, Safinia only polished the script, making minor deletions and wording changes, Chartier says.
Complicating matters somewhat, Safinia appears to have worked without a contract. According to Chartier, Safinia was offered the directing job in August 2016, two months before shooting was to begin, for a fee of $200,000 (C$246,390),. Safinia’s lawyer responded two days before principal photography was to begin, asking for $275,000 (C$338,786). Voltage stood firm at $200,000. Safinia’s lawyer responded via email: “Hmmmmm. Okay. We will chat on our end.” Safinia showed up to direct the film.
“We understood and believed that we had reached an agreement with Mr. Safinia on his directing and writing services at a fee of $200,000 total because the issue was not further raised,” Chartier says.
Safinia is seeking to impound and destroy Voltage’s cut of the film, and barring that, to at least prevent Voltage from shopping it. Voltage argues that such an order would damage its relationship with distributors and cause it to breach agreements requiring it to deliver the film by the end of 2017.
“The financiers of the Picture could potentially lose their almost $25 million investment in the Picture,” Voltage’s attorneys state.
The Professor And The Madmandirector Farhad Safinia has seen his request to destroy a producer’s cut of the film thrown out by a Los Angeles court.
Safinia claimed he owned copyright to a 2016 version of the screenplay, which stars Mel Gibson and Sean Penn and centres on the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Voltage Pictures contested that claim, arguing that as a worker for hire Safinia had relinquished ownership of earlier versions of the script, adding that the 2016 draft was merely a polish.
The court also did not grant a restraining order, which Voltage argued would have prevented it from delivering the film to its licensees and might lead to investors losing $25m.
Safinia said Voltage fired him after he requested more time to shoot at Oxford University and Voltage chief Nicolas Chartier claimed the extra days would add $2.5m to production costs.
In July the film’s star Mel Gibson and Icon Productions, the company he runs with Bruce Davey, filed a claim against the producers of The Professor And The Madman claiming among other things they did not provide a final budget or secure a completion bond.