Helkon, Granada in ‘Gathering’ storm

The dispute between Helkon SK and Granada over Brian Gilbert’s movie “The Gathering” is heading for court.

Helkon SK pulled out of its U.K. distribution deal for the pic a few days before its Cannes premiere, alleging one of the three producers, Peter Samuelson, had not fulfilled his contractual role. The distrib filed suit last month against Granada, the film’s financier, for the return of its $380,000 deposit.

Granada has responded with a counterclaim for the full $1.3 million value of the original deal. Having resold the U.K. rights to Miramax in Cannes as part of a multiterritory pact, the ITV company was not planning to pursue legal action against Helkon SK, but its hand was forced by the distrib’s suit.

Each side is convinced it is in the right, and neither believes the other will take the case all the way to a judge. But given their conviction, a High Court showdown seems inevitable.

Simon Franks, the scrappy CEO of Helkon SK, believes he’s taking a stand on a matter of principle. “I want to make it known to sales agents who sell movies to us that they have to stand by their word,” he says.

Granada Film topper Pippa Cross argues that Franks’ actions, if left unchallenged, threaten the basis of indie film finance, which relies on banks being able to trust pre-sale contracts. “What you don’t do is sign a deal, negotiated at considerable expense by two sets of experienced lawyers, and then walk away on grounds that seem to us to be utterly spurious,” she says.

Cross was one of three credited producers on “The Gathering,” along with Samuelson, who lives in Los Angeles, and his younger sibling Marc, based in London. Franks say he was shocked the elder brother was not on set, or even in Britain, during much of the shoot, which started in September last year.

Granada counters that Peter Samuelson was fully involved at all times in all key decisions; that, in any case, he was on set for more than two weeks out of the eight, despite being caught on the wrong side of the Atlantic on Sept. 11; and that Marc was present throughout, backed up by Cross and veteran line producer Steve Clark-Hall.

Certainly, Franks is taking a stand against a widely accepted industry convention. The Samuelsons, who have a reputation as meticulous producers, have always worked interchangeably as a transatlantic tag team. Harvey Weinstein took producer credits on “Gangs of New York” and “Shakespeare in Love,” shot in Rome and London respectively, despite being mainly based in New York. Britain’s most successful producers, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, are rarely spotted on the sets of their movies.

If Franks manages to convince a judge that this is all wrong, it will rewrite the rule book for producers. But that’s a big if, and Granada and the Samuelsons are not planning to lose the argument.

In an unrelated case, Focus Features is taking Helkon SK to AFMA arbitration over the distrib’s refusal to pay the full value of its deal to acquire the Ed Burns movie “Ash Wednesday” for the U.K. and Italy. Franks is withholding $200,000, claiming he was sold the Italian rights under false pretenses. Focus co-prexy David Linde says, “Look, I like the Helkon guys, but they made a deal and they haven’t paid us, so we’re pursuing our rights under that agreement.”

‘Lantana’ scribe probes ‘Edge of Darkness’

It’s taken since January, but Catch 23 Entertainment and its soon-to-be-renamed British partner ICM U.K. have finally found a writer for their movie remake of the award-winning 1985 BBC miniseries “Edge of Darkness.” Aussie Andrew Bovell, who adapted “Lantana” from his stage play “Speaking in Tongues,” has signed up to rewrite the original TV script by Troy Kennedy Martin. Martin Campbell, who directed the TV series, a taut political thriller about a grieving cop who uncovers a nuclear conspiracy when investigating the apparently accidental death of his daughter, is attached to helm the movie.

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