A federal judge has narrowed the scope of a screenwriter’s suit over the Writers Guild of America West’s refusal to arbitrate “The Last Samurai,” dismissing fraud and conspiracy claims against Ed Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz and their Bedford Falls shingle.
U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter also dismissed Michael Alan Eddy’s claims for fraud, conspiracy and breach of contract against Interscope, Warner Bros. and Radar Pictures. But Walter’s ruling, issued Thursday in Los Angeles, allowed Eddy to amend the suit to pursue the breach-of-contract claims against Warner and Radar.
The WGA West remains a defendant in Eddy’s suit, filed in January over alleged failure to properly represent him as a member. The guild has denied the allegations. Eddy accuses the WGA staff of intimidating the guild’s elected leaders in order to maintain the status quo on the contentious issue of determining writing credits.
Dispute centers on the WGA’s refusal to hold a credit arbitration hearing, which led to the assignment of writing credits on “Last Samurai” as submitted by Warner Bros. Screenplay credits went to John Logan; Herskovitz; and Zwick, who directed. Logan also received a “story by” credit.
The WGA’s complex process of determining writing credits has long been a sore spot among members. The guild employs the process on about 30% of films submitted, with three anonymous members comparing the final shooting script to the drafts that writers seeking credit want considered, along with supporting statements.
Eddy has asserted that “Last Samurai” is based on Interscope’s “West of the Rising Sun” project, which was initiated in 1992 with him as the original writer of a script about an American in Japan in the 1870s who winds up fighting with samurai. Garner Simmons and Robert Schenkkan, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his play “The Kentucky Cycle,” performed subsequent drafts on the project for Interscope before it was abandoned.
Suit alleges that director Vincent Ward became involved in the project in the mid-’90s and gave a copy of the “West of the Rising Sun” to Zwick.
After production wrapped on “Last Samurai” in May and Warners submitted its “notice of tentative writing credit,” Simmons and Eddy protested to the WGA West that they should be included as writers. But the WGA West held an administrative proceeding rather than a formal arbitration and found an insufficient link between the two projects to hold an arbitration.
Walter’s ruling said that the fraud and conspiracy claims were preempted by federal labor law. But he also ruled that Eddy could refile the breach-of-contract allegations as a “hybrid claim” against Warner and Radar if he proves that the WGA has breached its duty of fair representation.
“Last Samurai” has grossed $110 million domestically and $337 million overseas. Tom Cruise starred and produced with Paula Wagner; neither are named in Eddy’s suit.