‘Gentleman’ producers sue Keaton for contract breach

Michael Keaton might be an Oscar-winning actor for his role in “Birdman” when he goes to an LA court March 2 to answer charges of being a bad actor when it came to directing a failed film for Chicago-based producers.

Keaton is a defendant in a breach of contract lawsuit filed in April, 2013 by the producers of the 2008 dark indie drama, “The Merry Gentleman.”

While the film about a professional killer and a woman who left an abusive marriage was critically and artistically acclaimed, the producers hold Keaton, making his directorial debut, personally responsible for the movie’s financial failure.

The suit alleges that Keaton’s actions were in breach of his contract and caused financial damage to the producer as it was unable to screen and market the edited version of its choice; millions of dollars were spent to satisfy Keaton’s demands, money it never would have spent if they had known of his unwillingness to conform his behavior to his contracted obligations.

Originally budgeted at $4 million, the film ended up costing the producers $5.5 million to make, according to the complaint, which added to its collapse.

When screenplay writer/director Ron Lazzeretti was suddenly taken ill, Keaton offered to take over as director. According to the complaint, Keaton caused problems from the start and especially during post, when he objected to the hiring of a local editor. 

After the producers went to the expense of building him an editing suite in Santa Monica, Keaton told them he was going fly fishing and forced the producers to build a facility in Boise so he could work and play at the same time, the complaint stated.

The suit also charges Keaton delivered an unsatisfactory director’s cut, followed by a second unacceptable one. As he worked on reediting, the producer asked Lazzeretti to cut an alternate version which the producer preferred. 

When the 2008 Sundance Festival came, Keaton allegedly threatened to boycott Sundance unless his version of the film screened, to which the producer reluctantly agreed. 

Then on Keaton’s appearance on “Good Morning America” to plug the film, he reportedly could not confirm a description of the plot.

Keaton’s attorneys filed for a motion summary judgment basically stating that there is no evidence that what Keaton did, or didn’t do, to make the film fail, he complied with the Directing Agreement “but intervening causes resulted in the Film’s disappointing financial performance.” 

Here is the plaintiff s’ response to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

“The Merry Gentlemen’” domestic gross was $346,000. Executive producers were Tom Bastounes and Paul J. Duggan. Producer was Steven A. Jones, co-producer Christine Varotsis, DP was Chris Seager, editors Grant Meyers and Howard E. Smith, casting by Paskal Rudnicke Tenner.