Randy Quaid has filed a lawsuit against Focus Features alleging that Universal’s specialty arm duped him into deferring normal pay for his role in “Brokeback Mountain” by falsely representing the project as a low-budget indie pic with no prospect of making money.
In his suit, logged Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Quaid says James Schamus and David Linde knew from the get-go that Ang Lee’s unconventional oater would go far beyond just an arthouse release, and that big U would help with marketing costs and other expenses.
Linde and Schamus ran Focus together until just last week, when Linde was named co-chair of Universal Pictures.
“Defendants were engaging in a ‘movie laundering’ scheme designed to obtain the services of talent such as Randy Quaid on economically unfavorable art film terms for a picture that, in reality, had studio backing and would be exploited using traditional studio marketing and distribution techniques,” the lawsuit states.
A spokeswoman for Focus said the specialty division doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Lawsuit also names Del Mar Prods., formed to produce “Brokeback,” as a defendant.
Quaid is asking to be awarded $10 million, the amount the lawsuit suggests he would have received had Focus been upfront about its intentions for “Brokeback,” which has grossed nearly $160 million worldwide.
“Randy Quaid is an instantly recognizable household name and much-admired actor on the world’s stage with a worldwide box office total of nearly $2 billion. His likeness, talent and name are worth millions of dollars and are solely his property,” the lawsuit states.
Lawsuit never declares exactly what Quaid was paid, if anything, for playing the small role of Joe Aguirre, a ranch manager appearing in several scenes. His lawyers would not comment beyond what was stated in the suit.
According to the suit, Lee told Quaid during a meeting that “we can’t pay anything, we have very little money, everyone is making a sacrifice to make this film.”
Hollywood guilds define low-budget films as those in the $500,000-$7 million range, according to the suit.
“Brokeback” budget was approximately $13.9 million.
Insiders say even at that budget, there would be no money for the kind of compensation Quaid was talking about.
Quaid alleges, however, that he was told the budget was much lower.
Also, the lawsuit alleges that Linde and Schamus were enlisting big U’s help from the beginning. Further, Quaid alleges Linde told him on Feb. 1 that he had received $1.5 million upfront for producing the film, though Linde later changed that figure to $1.
“Despite their professed expectations that the controversial subject matter of the film would inhibit its box office performance, defendants in fact did not believe that the film would appeal only to a small ‘arthouse’ audience and did not market it only to a niche audience,” the lawsuit says.
Focus did initially open “Brokeback” only in Gotham, L.A. and San Francisco. It expanded the number of screens as the movie — a kudos favorite — gained in popularity at the box office.
While specialty arms have their own marketing budgets, it’s not unusual for them to turn to their parent studios for assistance once pics pick up awards steam.