Manager Brad Grey and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment go on trial today, accused by producer Bo Zenga of cheating him out of profits on hugely successful pic “Scary Movie.”
Zenga has pursued his claims to a public trial even though L.A. Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien has ruled Zenga cannot testify at trial because he took the Fifth Amendment in response to court-ordered questions during pre-trial proceedings.
The pre-trial discovery process also revealed that major parts of Zenga’s resume were fabricated.
Brillstein-Grey said in a court filing that Zenga presented himself as a successful investment banker who became a prize-winning screenwriter to satisfy his creative urges.
In fact, according to court papers, the only writing award he won was in a phony contest he set up himself. And far from being a successful investment banker, Zenga once filed for personal bankruptcy.
When questioned at his deposition about the contest and an accusation from his former business partner that he coerced her to lie for him, Zenga — in a highly unusual move for a plaintiff in a film-profits case — asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to answer hundreds of questions.
In a statement, Zenga said, “For the last 22 months, Brad Grey and his attorneys have harassed me, my family and my friends to pressure me to drop this lawsuit. I am not letting Grey off the hook. This week, 12 ordinary citizens will see to it that Brad Grey is finally held accountable.”
Zenga’s lawyer, Gregory Dovel, said, “It’s a typical Brad Grey tactic to try to slander Mr. Zenga rather than address the merits of our breach-of-contract action.”
Bert Fields, who represents Brillstein-Grey, said: “No reasonable person will believe that Brillstein-Grey, with 20 years of producing credits and a seven-figure deal at a major studio, formed an equal partnership to make a picture with someone they never heard of, who had never produced a picture, who didn’t control the property, who handed out a resume filled with misstatements and who took the Fifth over 300 times in his deposition.”
According to voluminous court papers, Zenga and his Boz Prods. sued Brillstein-Grey in July 2000.
Zenga asserted he was contacted by Brillstein-Grey manager Peter Safran, who asked him to help whip a project into shape.
Dovel said the resumes are irrelevant because Safran never saw them.
Described in several publications as the king of the pitch, Zenga had sold projects to several studios but apparently had never produced a movie that was released.
Zenga said Safran orally promised him a producer credit and an equal partnership with Brillstein-Grey on the film.
Zenga then worked with Brillstein-Grey clients Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg on a rewrite of what became “Scary Movie.” Following Zenga’s pitch strategy, he alleged, Brillstein-Grey sold the project to Miramax/Dimension.
But when it came time to make a deal with Miramax, Brillstein-Grey told Zenga he was on his own.
Zenga got $150,000 and an executive producer credit, but no profit participation. (Brillstein-Grey also took an executive producer credit following a credit dispute with the Wayans brothers, which Dovel said is tangential to Zenga’s claim.)
The film, released in 2000, grossed $157 million domestically. Zenga claimed he is entitled to $3.5 million as his share of the profits.
Zenga’s lawyer pointed to emails, letters and memos as evidence that he had a deal with Brillstein-Grey.
“He’s trying to confuse the jury into thinking because two people are going to produce a picture, they are necessarily equal partners,” Fields responded. “It would be extremely rare that the producers are actually ‘partners.’ His emails and faxes show only that it was contemplated that both Brillstein-Grey and Mr. Zenga would render producing services. It has nothing to do with them being partners.”