Director Martha Coolidge, Producer Wage Bitter Fight for Control of Holocaust Drama

Director Allegedly Wore Nazi Hat to
Jarosław Sosiński via Film Commission Poland

Veteran director Martha Coolidge is embroiled in an ugly battle with a Polish-Canadian producer for control over an independent feature about a love story set amid the Holocaust.

The producer, businessman Zbigniew Raczynski, fired Coolidge last month, alleging that she caused the production to spiral out of control, nearly doubling its $8.4 million budget. Coolidge — who was the first female president of the Directors Guild of America — enlisted the DGA to help her fight back, and won an arbitration ruling on Tuesday granting her control of the film.

Also on Tuesday, Raczynski filed a lawsuit in L.A. Superior Court, alleging that Coolidge physically attacked him on set and wore a Nazi SS officer’s outfit — including a Nazi hat — while filming scenes depicting the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The film — titled “Music, War and Love” — is nearly completed, but is stuck in limbo between Raczynski, who financed it and has barred Coolidge from the editing room, and Coolidge, whose contract entitles her to final cut.

In a statement to Variety, the DGA said that Raczynski’s lawsuit “is an attempt to avoid a final and binding decision from an arbitration ruling in Ms. Coolidge’s favor on Feb. 14.”

“The arbitrator, after hearing the facts of the matter, clearly ruled that the producer’s attempt to terminate Ms. Coolidge from the picture is ‘invalid,’ that Ms. Coolidge ‘must remain the director of the Picture,’ and that ‘no one other than Ms. Coolidge may supervise or direct the editing and post production of the Picture,'” the DGA said.

Raczynski’s attorneys refused to participate in the arbitration. In their lawsuit, they lay out a story of a chaotic runaway production, and allege that Coolidge berated anyone who tried to rein her in.

According to the suit, the film was based on the story of Raczynski’s father. The trouble began soon after Coolidge was hired to direct the film in the summer of 2015. Raczynksi alleges that Coolidge caused delays in pre-production, and was not available full-time because she had to teach a class at Chapman University. Photography began in Poland more than a month late, in October of 2015.

Once shooting started, Raczynski alleges that Coolidge was regularly late, ignored the schedule and budget, and made costly last-minute changes.

“Coolidge took irrational and hostile positions with production staff and members of the crew, oftentimes yelling and screaming at crew members for issues that were the result of Coolidge’s aforementioned actions,” the suit states.

Raczynski alleges that Coolidge also attacked him and tried to force him off “her” set, and displayed a “severe and inexcusable lack of judgment” by wearing the SS officer’s hat during the Auschwitz scenes.

Shooting was not completed that fall, and the production was forced to return to Poland in the summer of 2016.

The problems continued in post-production. According to the lawsuit, Coolidge was absent for two weeks without notice, and spent $700,000 on a “completely unusable” cut of the film. When production staff raised concerns about the cost overruns, “Coolidge became combative, verbally attacking and berating those individuals,” the suit alleges. Coolidge’s cut also exceeded the maximum run time, the suit alleges. Coolidge allegedly fired the post-production supervisor without authorization, according to Raczynski.

In her argument to the arbitrator, Coolidge lays out a much different version of events. Once she was hired in 2015, Coolidge contends that she realized the script could not be shot within the budget, and had to hire a new writer to pare it down.

Once she completed a cut of the film last fall, she testified that she screened it for the producers and a select audience — and that the audience and the producers liked it. She however decided that it ran too long, and needed another week to cut it down. However, Raczynski shut down production on Nov. 3 and banned her from the editing room.

Two weeks later, Coolidge was seriously injured in a horse-riding accident. According to Raczynksi’s suit, she was hospitalized for five weeks, during which time she kept the producers in the dark about her medical condition and her ability to complete the film. Coolidge thwarted the producers’ efforts to have a doctor examine her, setting and canceling an appointment, and refusing to reschedule, according to the suit.

Coolidge maintains that she was willing to be examined, but wanted her personal doctor and her lawyer to attend. They could not settle on a date by mid-January, when Coolidge was fired.

Coolidge took the case to arbitration, alleging that Raczynski had violated the DGA’s basic agreement, which provides that a director who has completed 100% of principal photography cannot be fired except in cases of “gross willful misconduct.” Raczynski’s lawyers argued that the dispute was not subject to arbitration, and boycotted the hearing. The arbitrator, having heard only Coolidge’s side, ruled in her favor.

Raczynski is seeking a finding that Coolidge breached her agreement, and also wants “millions of dollars” in damages.

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  1. Lisa says:

    They both have to put their respective egos aside if they want to finish the film. Fighting is not conducive to the spirit of the film. They should remember that.

  2. You, Richard, falsely characterize the article as falsely reporting she wore an SS hat. The article does nothing of the sort. Gene does his job as a writer covering a dispute and reports what the facts in dispute are. At no time does he say, anywhere in the article, that X happened, or X didn’t happen.

    You say in one part of the comment you make, that she “did nothing of the sort” and then you literally say one or two paragraphs later, she probably did something of the sort. Were you a line producer on La La Land too? What’s up with you, Paisa? What is your deal?????

  3. It is true that she is entitled to “final cut” but that stems from a contract with the producer which binds her to certain terms as well. From the sound of it she was not acting within any recognizable terms which would constitute a “meeting of the minds” with the producer. From what I know of contracts, a meeting of the minds is the essential required standard, which entitles her to the producers financing, and thus, she can’t just do whatever the hell she wants after she takes his money because it says final cut on a piece of paper. Violating the “meeting of the minds” of the original contract *should* constitute gross willful misconduct and invalidate her right to final cut.

    That would be the theory. Of course, back in reality, the dga is not going to agree with an unknown person over a former president no matter the facts of the case, most likely. If I’m wrong I’d be happy to hear it, dga? But…… yeah. Don’t see that happening.

    Nice copy, mad house! emoticon thumbs up x5.

  4. malcolm says:

    I bet this is a serious case of “he said,she said” Basically we`er getting half a story from both of sympathy is tending towards Raczynski because this is a very personal film for him and he may feel that Coolidge`s incompetance(which sad to say is obviously true) in ruining his fathers story…

    • Jane Marshall says:

      Raczynski has 0 knowledge of Film, nor Production, nor Entertainment, etc etc. Martha is a Hollywood Veteran, who’s films have Won & Been Nominated for ACADEMY AWARDS, GOLDEN GLOBES, EMMYS, etc etc etc. Martha has a stellar reputation. Raczynski’s claims are complete and utter nonsense. He’s a power hungry rich guy ala Trump who doesn’t feel he needs to abide by his contracts. Fuck Him.

  5. Richard Schlesinger says:

    Your article falsely reports that during the filming of scenes taking place at the Auschwitz concentration camp for the film “Music, War, and Love”, the director Martha Coolidge dressed up in an SS officer’s uniform. There is absolutely no truth to this.

    I was the line producer of the film. I was on the set during the filming of these scenes. At no time did Ms. Coolidge do anything of the sort.

    The scenes we did that took place at Auschwitz, which were centered on the camp’s women’s orchestra, were meticulously researched, faithfully recreated and respectfully rendered. Prior to filming, we visited the camp, which is now a museum, accompanied by the curator who showed us the real places which we then reconstructed for our movie.

    It is slanderous to insinuate that Ms. Coolidge would mock the Holocaust by donning a Nazi uniform to direct the Auschwitz scenes. If she ever put on a Nazi SS hat, which I do not recall seeing, it would have only been in the context of her completely professional directing duties, working with the actors who were playing Nazi officers in the movie. At no time did she direct scenes while wearing an SS hat, and to suggest as much is a calumnious lie.

    While I am not at liberty to discuss the other matters under contention, this particular smear against Ms. Coolidge’s professionalism as a director cannot be allowed to stand without comment.

    • danny says:

      Richard, don’t say that if You haven’t seen the situation.
      She WAS wearing the SS hat during shots, ask the crew.

      • lhenc2 says:

        The article does not say she did it, it says **Mr. R** alleges she did it. Your over-reaction is interesting for sure though.

      • Jerram Swartz says:

        As First AD on the Krakow shoot of MUSIC, WAR AND LOVE I can say I never saw Martha act with anything other than professionalism and respect.

      • Richard Schlesinger says:

        Excuse me, danny, I was there. I was physically present. I saw the situation. Also, I have spoken with crewmembers who were also physically present at all times on that set. I myself was part of the crew.

        So I don’t know what your source is. We didn’t have anyone on our crew called danny,

        BTW, we had several crew people doing cameo bits on that day who were dressed in SS uniform and appearing on camera.

        To suggest that Ms. Coolidge was treating the Auschwitz scenes with anything less than total respect and professionalism is nothing short of defamation.

    • Momus15 says:

      Thank you, Richard.

    • Jane Marshall says:

      Thank You for coming forward to defend Ms. Coolidge. I commend you for speaking out against the so-called “Producer” Raczynski.

  6. Indyguy says:

    The woman is out of control. The production was chaos because of her incompetence
    Shame on the DGA for showing prejudice in favor of a former official. They should have brought in an independent arbitrator

    • John Doe says:

      Lies, Lies and Lies.
      As someone who actually worked on the film – this is utter BULLSHIT.
      The claims are false, absurd and absolutely ridiculous.

  7. Gustavo H.R. says:

    “The arbitrator, having heard only Coolidge’s side, ruled in her favor.”

    This is preposterous.

    • John Doe says:

      Read the Article. The Producers REFUSED to participate in the Arbitration, which they are bound to do as per the DGA Contract. So they had a hearing with the parties who showed up as required.

  8. SPIKE says:

    Martha, you twit, you’ve been working almost totally in TV for the last 18 years and now you blow your chance to come back to features? And instead of making friends with your colleagues and co-workers, you antagonize them? What a fool! Go back to crap-o-vision.

    • Momus15 says:

      How can you write such rude comments? Martha is not only a good director, for whom I have worked on two motion pictures, she is a wonderful person. No need to lambast people in public here whom you probably do not even know.

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