Jury selection gets under way today in a trial that many in Hollywood will be watching closely, as Main Line Pictures attempts to prove that Kim Basinger and ICM breached an alleged 1991 verbal contract for the film “Boxing Helena.”
The suit, which will be tried in Los Angeles Superior Court, centers on one of the cornerstones of Hollywood dealmaking — the verbal contract.
From the start, Basinger’s attorneys have contended that the actress made no final commitment to star in the film, a bizarre work about a woman who loses her legs in an accident and then her lovesick surgeon also amputates her arms and puts her into a box. It was written and directed by Jennifer Lynch.
Yet the film’s producer, Carl Mazzocone, said Main Line had a deal with Basinger as of February 1991, but that the actress walked off the project four weeks before shooting was to begin.
When she left, she was following in the footsteps of Madonna, who had also backed out of the film only four weeks before it was to begin shooting.
Madonna is not named in the suit.
Both withdrawals seriously affected the indie film’s financing. When it was finally shot, its proposed $ 9.6 million budget was nearly cut in half.
“There is no other business where people can walk off a project and not be held accountable for their actions,” Mazzocone said Friday. “I think it is outrageous.”
Yet Basinger and ICM’s attorney, Howard Weitzman, said crucial issues were still being negotiated when she decided not to do the film.
“The major issue that had not been settled was that Kim had not approved the script,” Weitzman said. “She wanted to change the focus of the character.”
Weitzman said Basinger also had not arrived at an agreement with the filmmakers as to the nudity in the film. However, Main Line contends the filmmakers had a verbal contract with Basinger and that the verbal contract or handshake is how Hollywood makes its deals. Toward that end, they plan to introduce evidence showing that Basinger had never signed contracts on at least six of her last nine movies.
“We think her conduct is indicative of the practice of this industry, to not have a signed agreement, but rather a handshake,” said Eric Landau, of Christensen, White, Miller, Fink & Jacobs — the law firm representing Main Line.
Main Line’s challenge will be to prove to jurors that the wheels of Hollywood turn on the power of a handshake, and that those handshakes are binding.
“Kim and ICM are not the only ones on trial here,” producer Mazzocone noted. “The industry’s customs and the way agents do business (are) also on trial.”
Whether it will be proved there was a contract, Weitzman believes it is a mistake for Main Line to pursue a star on this kind of issue.
“It’s certainly not in the best interest of Main Line Pictures,” he said. “And it’s certainly inconsistent with what generally takes place in this industry.
“You don’t try to force people to act in movies that they don’t want to be in or act in roles they don’t care to act in,” he said.
The pic, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month, has been given an NC-17 rating.
During pretrial motions made late last week, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge decided the jury will be allowed to see the film, on a motion brought by Weitzman.
“We wanted the jury to see the film because they need to see what it was that Guy McElwaine (Basinger’s agent) and Kim Basinger perceived would happen if the picture was made on the script that she read,” Weitzman said. “That’s what agents and actors do when they get a script. They envision what a film will look like, and whether it needs changes.”
Landau said Weitzman’s desire to show the film is an attempt to distract the jury from the main issue.
“We fail to understand how a movie that was not in existence at the time of this contract now bears on the issues,” he said.