Filmmaker and Hollywood studios tend to butt heads, especially over creative differences. But for John Singleton, director of such hit films as Baby Boy and Shaft, the battle is strictly financial. The filmmaker/producer is suing Paramount Pictures and MTV Films for about $20 million, claiming fraud and breach of contract.
In a complaint filed in Los Angeles, Singleton claims the studios did not uphold an agreement connected with the distribution rights to Hustle & Flow, a film he produced in 2005, which was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar and took one home for Best Original Song. The lawsuit claims the studios were to finance and distribute two future Singleton productions within five years but failed to do so, and added restrictions after the fact.
Paramount, on the other hand, said in a statement that it “had hoped Singleton would produce two more pictures before his agreement with our studio ended in 2010, but he went on to direct Abduction for Lions Gate”. Singleton countered that his work on Abduction began after his Paramount deal expired.
According to attorney Shauntese Curry Trye of Trye & Associates, Singleton has a solid case. “The agreement didn’t mention the so-called restrictions at the onset. The terms of any agreement are found only within its four corners, so if the studios added restrictions, after the agreement was made, then that, in effect, is a breach of contract,” says Curry. “It’s the timeless story of the big guys taking advantage of the little guys for fun and profit. In Hollywood, there is no moral thermometer. It’s easy to make a false promise or engage in fraud to reap an economic benefit.”
Singleton says he wants a jury trial, though culture-critic Jimi Izrael, who moderates, “The Barbershop” for National Public Radio, and Curry both think a settlement is more than likely. “They will probably settle,” notes Curry. “The big guys will always do their cost benefit analysis. It’s probably better to pay a little than a lot at the end.”