Mini-major files suits in flap over output pact

PARIS — Miramax has filed lawsuits in New York and Paris against French production-distribution company Bac Majestic after the latter accused the Gotham mini-major of improperly ending their output deal early.

Additionally, Miramax has asked for an AFMA arbitration with Bac for unpaid minimum guarantees plus overages on 14 titles.

Bac is still reeling from being broadsided at this year’s Cannes Film Festival when Miramax announced a joint distrib venture with French broadcaster TF1. Bac’s deal with Miramax was to run through September 2003.

“Miramax does not have the right to break the contract unilaterally,” Bac general manager Alain Mamou-Mani said Tuesday. “As far as we’re concerned we still have a contract with them.”

The suit, filed two weeks ago in New York, is just a technicality, Miramax worldwide distribution topper Rick Sands said. “We’re getting an affirmation from a New York court that we terminated our contract with Bac for just cause.”

The suit filed in Paris last week by Miramax against Bac subsidiary Wild Side Videos is for payments the mini-major never received from the sublicensing of French video rights to “Spy Kids,” “Scary Movie II” and “Malena” to Universal.

In a preliminary ruling Monday, the judge ordered Bac to pay Miramax’s approximately $2 million minimum guarantee to a court bailiff until a final verdict is decided.

“We’re satisfied with the judge’s ruling,” Sands said. “We in no way wanted to interfere with the exploitation of the movies.”

The AFMA arbitration concerns monies Miramax alleges that it is owed by Bac on 14 titles including “La Vie est Belle,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Chocolat,” “Scream” and “Spy Kids.”

Bac, which revealed in May that it was carrying €13 million ($12.8 million) of debt, just received a cash infusion from Belgian businessman Michel Litwak for that amount, and intends to fight the suits.

“Now we’ve recapitalized and have a budget to fight them,” Mamou-Mani said. “Miramax tried to annihilate us. It’s the classic scenario of a powerful company trying to take advantage of a weaker one.”

In its new financial arrangement, Bac becomes a holding of Messine, an investment company owned 75% by Litwak and 25% by Bac prexy Jean Labadie. Messine will hold a stake in Bac valued between 65.1% and 82.4%.

Latwik becomes Messine’s prexy, while Labadie, as the holding company’s managing director, will continue to run Bac. Messine will not be involved in any creative decisions at the company.

(Liza Klaussmann contributed to this report.)

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