It could have been a scene from a straight-to-video movie — but it actually happened Friday in the halls of the AFM.
Two armed federal marshals appeared unexpectedly mid-afternoon at the AFM suite of David Dadon’s Giants Entertainment to seize digital masters of two films.
The seizure is part of the evidence-gathering in a suit against Dadon brought by indie filmmaker Norman Gerard.
The squabble exposes the less savory side of the indie film world — one in which fights over film rights and dicey deals are common, and occasionally lead to lawsuits.
The two films in contention Friday — “Snake Skin Jacket” (1997) and “The Murder in China Basin” (1999) — were written, directed and financed by Gerard.
He claims Dadon stole the masters and was attempting to sell them at the film market. With a court-ordered writ of seizure in hand, Gerard directed marshals to seize the pics.
“This is a high-profile sales organization that preys on indies,” Gerard said of Dadon, whose producing credits include “Very Mean Men” with Matthew Modine and Martin Landau.
Dadon had a different story.
“I filed lawsuits against Norman Gerard and Gerard Films,” he told Daily Variety. “We filed writ of attachments Jan. 17 claiming breach of contract, defamation and trade libel. I’ve been in distribution with them for 11 years, and they now try to sell movies behind our back.”
(Gerard attorney Mark Kalmansohn’s retort: “We told the judge Dadon’s claims were fraudulent and false. We discussed at great length the fact that Dadon files frivolous suits in an attempt to intimidate people who have legitimate claims.”)
Dadon did say he cooperated with the marshals. “I gave the marshals the screening cassettes and the one-sheets (for the two films). Now we have to wait and see what the court is going to decide.”
A complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles Feb. 15 by Gerard and attorney Kalmansohn outlines Gerard’s side of the saga.
According to the complaint, Dadon has failed to produce a single film since July 2000. Instead, the complaint alleges, Giants is actually a sophisticated operation that resembles a racketeering-influenced organization.
The complaint alleges that, among other things, Dadon has taken money for purported investments in motion picture projects and spent it himself. It also charges Dadon purports to sell foreign or domestic rights to motion pictures to buyers and, once paid, offers the same package to other buyers in the same territory.
More luridly, the complaint alleges Dadon has used his position as chairman and CEO of Giants to arrange for private business meetings with one or more females in the industry, only to attempt to rape his unwilling victims.
Finally, the complaint alleges Dadon has threatened to kill several people who have asserted claims against him.
“This guy has been sued dozens of times,” said Kalmansohn.
In January, first-time producer Shlomo May-zur won a court victory against Dadon. May-zur gave Dadon money to purchase a screenplay and the court found him guilty of absconding with the cash (Daily Variety Jan. 18).
As for Gerard, he agreed in March 2001 to allow Dadon to act as foreign sales agent on the two pictures he made. The agreement expired in July without a single sale.
Although Gerard refused to give Dadon the masters, Dadon allegedly tricked the lab into releasing them to him in December. Dadon made multiple copies of the purloined digital masters and has offered them for sale, representing that he is the owner or the agent of the owner.
The unusual remedy of a seizure without notice was the culmination of a week of legal activity.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson signed an order on Wednesday allowing the seizure; such orders are usually used in cases involving pirate operations to duplicate videotaped films.
On Friday afternoon, two marshals — along with Gerard and a uniformed Santa Monica police officer — showed up at Giants’ AFM offices.
When a marshal asked to speak with Dadon, head of sales Lawrence Cervantes said he was not in. The marshal then asked to speak with the person in charge and asked for identification from Cervantes.
The sales head identified himself only as “Larry” and said he had no ID. The marshal went on to say that he was there to serve papers on Dadon.
At that point, Cervantes pushed all others who weren’t in the marshals’ group, including a reporter, out of the room and closed the door. Dadon entered the Giants office shortly thereafter.
Several people who expected to have meetings with Giants that afternoon approached the office and appeared confused to find it closed. Among these was a representative for the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, who comes to the AFM to sell advertising space during the festival.
Informed that there were federal marshals inside the Giants office to seize illegal prints, an exec at another sales company looked nonplussed.
“That? So what,” he said. “Everybody does that. This is the AFM.”
While that is certainly an exaggeration, attorney Daniel Coplan sent out a release Friday afternoon announcing that Myogaku Prods. has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against two other companies — Troma Entertainment and UPCtv of the Netherlands — in U.S. District Court.
According to that complaint, Troma and UPCtv infringed Myogaku’s copyright on the motion picture “The Dragon Gate,” by making, distributing, promoting and offering for sale illegal and unauthorized copies of that film.
AFM officials had no comment Friday concerning the lawsuits.
Under AFMA regulations, a lawsuit against an AFMA member company by another party would not implicate the AFMA organization in any way.
It is logistically impossible for AFMA to screen for legal purposes all properties being sold by companies at the market and what is pitched to buyers behind closed doors. Companies can only be banned from accreditation at the market and from future AFMA membership if they lose an AFMA arbitration or if they don’t pay their dues.
(Cathy Dunkley contributed to this report.)