Seeks $20 million, claiming studio didn't honor 'put' commitment

It was one of Sundance 2005′s hottest properties. Amy Pascal demanded a print from Los Angeles, and John Singleton’s reps readied memos to make an eight-figure deal. Negotiations carried on late into the night of the screening, and by 5 a.m., Paramount had beaten out Miramax, New Line and Focus to nab its prize: the urban crime drama “Hustle & Flow.”

Six years later, Paramount finds itself the target of a $20 million lawsuit over its hard-fought deal.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Singleton, who produced “Hustle & Flow,” claims the studio reneged on its promise to “put” two lower-budget projects as part of its distribution pact. “The gist of the ‘puts,’?” according to the suit, was that Paramount would finance and distribute the pictures so long as their budgets didn’t exceed $3.5 million each, from which Singleton couldn’t take more than a 7.5% fee per picture.

Par counters that Singleton didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.

“Paramount was hoping that John Singleton would produce two more pictures before his agreement with our studio ended in 2010, but that did not happen,” a studio spokesperson told Variety. “Instead, he went on to direct ‘Abduction’ for Lionsgate. Paramount fulfilled all of its obligations and his claims have absolutely no merit.”

Singleton’s suit says he turned down offers from other suitors — at least one of which offered more up-front coin — but ultimately pacted with Paramount and MTV Films through his Crunk Pictures shingle because the studio offered both a $9 million advance against the backend in addition to the two other films within the next five years.

“Hustle” grossed $23 million worldwide. Court docs explain that 18 months later, Singleton facilitated the studio’s acquisition of “Black Snake Moan,” penned by “Flow” scribe Craig Brewer.

“Unfortunately, when Crunk attempted to exercise its right to ‘put’ the two pictures to Paramount, Paramount began asserting self-imposed, non-existent conditions on the ‘puts’ that prevented Singleton from making the pictures,” the suit alleges.

“The only reason Singleton granted Paramount the distribution rights to ‘Black Snake Moan’ was because Singleton believed that Paramount would honor the puts and Singleton would be in business with Paramount for many years,” according to the complaint.

“Hustle” follows a Memphis pimp facing a mid-life crisis who’s determined to become a rapper. Brewer also directed “Hustle,” which starred Terrence Howard, Taryn Manning, Anthony Anderson, DJ Qualls and rapper Ludacris.

Singleton’s 2005 deal was seen as an indicative of the trend for sophisticated dealmakers to hold on to more of the backend in pis.

“Filmmakers have become far more savvy about holding on to the upside,” UTA agent Jeremy Barber, who was part of the team that repped Craig Brewer’s “Hustle and Flow,” said at the time.

As a director, Singleton is best known for “Boyz N the Hood,” “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Four Brothers.”

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