Studio, producers file opposition in response to lawsuit
“Borat” is fighting back.
20th Century Fox and the producers of the Sacha Baron Cohen mockumentary have filed an opposition to a request for a preliminary injunction sought by fraternity brothers who want to shut down “Borat.”
At least as it exists with them in it.
The opposition, filed Monday in the West Los Angeles courthouse of the California Superior Court, comes in response to a lawsuit filed by two members of a U. of South Carolina fraternity who claim they were drunk when they signed the consent form to appear in “Borat.”
The frat boys are not the only ones upset over the pic, which has grossed over $90 million at the domestic B.O. Last week, Cindy Streit, who appears in the movie’s Southern dinner-party scene, requested an investigation into how her consent was obtained. And Romanian villagers are filing lawsuits asking for more than $30 million in damages for being portrayed as boorish and backward in the film.
Several declarations are included in Fox’s filing, one by Todd Lewis Schulman, a field producer on “Borat” who was responsible for booking the frat boys and issuing the consent release. In his statement, Schulman says, “We made it clear that we would be providing alcoholic beverages to the participants and therefore that anyone participating had to be over 21 years old.” (One of the claims made by the fraternity brothers was that one participant was underage.)
Schulman continues: “I told them that we would pay them $200 each and they were going to be provided with as many alcoholic beverages as they cared to drink… They appeared to be very enthusiastic about that prospect.”
Schulman then says that before filming, he accompanied the men to a restaurant where the men signed consent forms and then drank $100 worth of alcohol. “As soon as we arrived at the restaurant, I had each of them fill out and sign the so-called Standard Consent Agreement,” Schulman says. “I made sure that they signed the Consent Agreement before they began consuming alcohol.”
Included in the filing is a copy of the consent agreements, all signed by the participants.
The agreements show that each participant was paid $200 to appear in the film and that “the Participant agrees that any rights that the Participant may have in the Film or the Participant’s contribution to the Film are hereby assigned to the Producer, and that the Producer shall be exclusively entitled to use, or to assign or license to others the right to use, the Film and any recorded material that includes the Participant without restriction in any media throughout the universe in perpetuity and without liability to the Participant.”
In a statement by Chelsea Barnard, a field department coordinator on “Borat,” Barnard says that Schulman called her from the restaurant to come pick up the release forms. “When I arrived, Todd handed me the signed release forms,” she says. “Someone at the table made a comment indicating that they were on their second round of drinks. None of the participants appeared to me to be intoxicated.”
The consent releases have been the main focus of complaints against “Borat.” Yet legal experts say that if releases were in fact signed, the cases will be hard to prove.
“If there are signed releases, and if the releases are complete, then it will be a very big hurdle for anyone to overcome on the basis that they were defrauded,” said entertainment attorney Alan Grodin. “And it will be an even bigger hurdle to prove that they were damaged.”