A week after being unceremoniously ousted from his offices on the Paramount lot, producer David Kirkpatrick has launched an all-out legal attack, filing a tell-all suit Monday against Paramount Pictures Corp.
The complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, charges fraud, infliction of emotional distress and breach of implied contract, among other claims. The complaint also alleges that he was forced into an unfair contract when he stepped down as a high-ranking exec at the studio. It comes at yet another rocky point in Kirkpatrick’s lengthy relationship with the studio, one that began more than 18 years ago.
In response, a Paramount spokesperson said: “Until we have received the papers and have an opportunity to review their content, we have no comment to make on the lawsuit.”
More important, the 25-page complaint provides a rare glimpse into the upper echelons of studio executive perks, outlining a benefit package that included a house and generous stock options, in addition to a mid-six-figure salary. It also is an insight into how quickly the stock of Hollywood executives rises and falls, according to who was fired yesterday and who will be hired tomorrow.
In his suit, Kirkpatrick outlines a fall from grace within Paramount’s senior ranks that began several months prior to the studio hiring Stanley R. Jaffe as its president and CEO in 1991. At the time, Kirkpatrick headed the studio’s motion picture division, and one of their projects was the film “School Ties,” which Jaffe’s indie company produced, and which Jaffe had hoped to direct.
Court papers say disputes arose between Kirkpatrick and Jaffe over costs of the film, which Kirkpatrick alleges he was trying to contain in the studio’s best interest. Little did he know that he would soon be reporting to Jaffe, who was hired in March 1991 as Paramount’s president and CEO.
Those early fights led to Jaffe’s “hostility” toward Kirkpatrick, court papers state, which was the basis for Paramount never greenlighting a project out of Kirkpatrick’s indie company.
“Jaffe, either through direct or indirect instruction, personally prevented the development of any such project by imposing on the company and its employees a strict boycott of/embargo on any film project with which Kirkpatrick was associated,” Kirkpatrick’s suit states.
While it was reported last week that studio sources said Kirkpatrick’s removal was due to his not being able to generate any “go” projects, his suit says that his projects — which he contends were viable projects that the studio has expressed enthusiasm for — were ultimately sabotaged. On Oct. 6, Kirkpatrick said that Paramount chairman Sherry Lansing told him that they were terminating his producer agreement. On Friday, the company put his furniture out on the lawn, according to the suit.
His final days were much different than when Frank Mancuso, former Paramount chair, offered Kirkpatrick a liberal benefits package in 1990 that included Paramount buying his residence, 50,000 stock options vesting at the rate of 10, 000 per year and a generous business expense policy.
Shortly after Mancuso was fired, court papers state, the studio offered Kirkpatrick a three-year production deal, which at the time he says he accepted under duress. The deal included a yearly guaranteed salary beginning at $ 500, 000 against producer fees per picture, plus profit participations on any films coming out of his company; up to $ 200,000 per year for development and secretarial staff; a $ 250,000 annual development fund; distant location travel expenses; and a furnished office and car allowance.
He came into the agreement with six development projects that he believed were “viable,” according to the suit.
Yet over the next two years, according to court papers, Paramount went so far as to “sabotage Kirkpatrick’s efforts” on such projects he was developing as “Lady Takes an Ace” and “The Saint.”
After his removal, Kirkpatrick’s attorney, Howard King, tried to settle with the studio. In a two-page letter attached to the suit, he asked Paramount to give Kirkpatrick the house; the stock options related back to when he was motion picture president; a number of short and long-term bonuses related to the executive arrangement; overhead costs; post-termination monies for two film projects; and ownership of a number of projects that Paramount had obtained for Kirkpatrick.
While no monetary figure has been attached to the requests, insiders estimate it is a multimillion-dollar package.
In 1991, Mancuso sued the studio for $ 45 million after his dismissal and ended up settling for $ 22 million. Ironically, his counsel in the case, Bertram Fields, is now representing Paramount in the latest action.
Kirkpatrick’s suit was notable not only for its specific charges, but also because he chose to go public with them at all. “A member of the club has committed Hollywood’s equivalent of breaching what is probably equal to the mob’s code of silence,” noted one industry insider.