Suit charges Michael Keaton liable for movie’s flop

Michael Keaton’s directorial debut

Actor Michael Keaton is at the center of a lawsuit filed by Merry Gentleman LLC (MGLLC), producers of the 2008 Chicago indie Christmas film, “The Merry Gentleman,” charging that his breach of directorial duties caused its box office failure. 

Originally budgeted at $4 million, costs rose to $5 million through Keaton’s allegedly arrogant antics that increased costs and caused unnecessary delays, so when film was finally released – in May and not December as planned — it grossed a paltry $346,000. 

Written by veteran Chicago indie filmmaker Ron Lazzeretti, the story is about a professional killer (Keaton), who develops an unlikely relationship with a woman (Kelly McDonald), who has left an abusive relationship to start a new life in a new city.

When Lazzeretti, who was set to direct was sidelined by a sudden illness, Keaton offered to make the film his directorial debut.*  He allegedly became very difficult throughout the production process, including the admission his first director’s cut was “a piece of crap,” threatening to have the film pulled from its 2008 Sundance Film Festival premiere, and blowing an important promotional interview on network television.

According to the complaint, there were problems dealing with Keaton from the get-go and especially during postproduction.  After Keaton objected to the hiring of a local editor, the producers went to the expense of building him an editing suite in Santa Monica.  Once this suite was up-and-running, Keaton announced he was going fly-fishing in Montana (his official residence) and forced the producers to build a facility in Boise, so he could work and play at the same time.

Both director’s cuts deemed unacceptable

Even so, Keaton muffed his director’s duties by delivering a  director’s cut that was deemed disappointing by everyone, Keaton included.  He asked and was given another shot at reediting and this, too, was unacceptable.

Keaton was permitted to submit a second director’s cut, but when he heard that the producers had okayed a “Chicago cut” led by Lazzeretti, he allegedly became angered and ended communications with the producers.

When Keaton learned that Sundance had accepted the Chicago cut, he threatened to use his connections to have the film removed from the festival unless the producers agreed to screen one of his versions, which they were forced to do.

Although Keaton’s contract specified additional duties before and after Sundance, the producers claim that Keaton was largely absent and his directorial duties were performed by other persons, including his son.  One duty that he did assume, however, was the music score, which added an unexpected $400,000 to the budget.

Writer/filmmaker Ron LazzerettiThe suit claims that during production and after Sundance, Keaton wouldn’t work with anyone on the production team with whom he’d had the slightest disagreement, including Lazzeretti, executive producer Paul Duggan; producers Tom Bastounes, Steven A. Jones and Christina Varotsis; music supervisor Tracy McKnight; postproduction supervisor, Sharon Zurek; Ed Shearmur, in charge of the musical score; and Peter Goldwyn, “Gentlemen’s” marketing agent.

Although “The Merry Gentlemen” received critical praise, that did not mitigate the significant amount of lost box office revenue due to Keaton’s breach of contract.

Consequently, the producers are seeking unspecified damages from Keaton and his company, George and Leona Productions, Inc., “to be ascertained by a jury trial,” the lawsuit states.

* In a 2009 radio interview, Keaton said: “The writer (Lazzeretti) was talking about directing it and frankly I wasn’t sold on doing it that way, to be honest with you, and probably wouldn’t have (starred in it). But then when he got sick and somebody said, ‘You know they’re going to go make that movie with another director,’ I thought, ‘I think I know how to make this movie.'”