Claim jumpers

Suits fly over 'Crash' credits

Just in time for Oscar night, the row over producer credits on “Crash” has erupted into not one but two new lawsuits.

Bob Yari sued the Producers Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on Wednesday, alleging that the process by which producer credits are awarded is secretive, arbitrary and unfair.

The Academy decided this year to abide by PGA producer credits when it awards the best picture Oscar on Sunday. In a much-publicized move, the PGA denied Yari credit on the Oscar-nominated “Crash.”

On Monday, producers Cathy Schulman and Tom Nunan filed a multimillion-dollar suit against Yari, claiming he has refused to pay for their work on “Crash” as well as other projects and that he fired them in retaliation for the PGA’s denial of producer credit. Schulman and co-writer and director Paul Haggis were the two producers to be awarded credit by the PGA.

Six individuals are credited onscreen as producers.

In his suit against the PGA and the Academy, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Yari alleges that he was the driving force behind “Crash” and involved in every stage of its development.

He claims the PGA determinations are unchecked decisions by a small number of individuals. He further alleges that when he submitted his eligibility form, he was not given a list of the members of the eligibility determination committee and only learned later that the list included his estranged partner Schulman.

Yari claims he was summarily informed by the PGA that he would not receive credit and told his only recourse was an appeal. He was denied the right to appear and be heard on his appeal, which was denied. The Academy, Yari alleges, also denied his appeal, rubber-stamping the PGA’s decision.

As a result of the Academy’s action, Yari has been denied the recognition and prestige that goes with being publicly identified as the producer of a potential Oscar-winning film. In fact, alleges Yari, he has been “downgraded” in the media from creative producer to mere moneyman.

Yari is not seeking damages, stating any award will be donated to the Motion Picture & Television Fund. His complaint asks for injunctive relief prohibiting the PGA and Academy from making future credit determinations without identifying the people making the determinations; notifying the producer of the reasons for the denial; and providing an opportunity to respond, a written decision of rejection and a meaningful form of appeal.

Yari’s attorney, Patty Glaser said, “Our lawsuit is a very circumscribed rifle shot, and we hope that everyone can declare victory and just change the system to make it fair.”

Producers Guild of America exec director Vance Van Petten said, “We have every confidence in the fairness of our procedures and look forward to the court upholding our process.”

Representatives of the Academy declined comment.

Even before filing the suit, Yari has not taken the denial of his producer credit lying down. In an open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on Wednesday — which also ran as an ad on the back cover of both trades — Yari accused the PGA of conducting a secret hearing and a secret appeal to determine producer eligibility.

This year, after years of complaints about the out-of-control number of producers on a film, the Academy permitted the PGA to determine producer credits for the picture Oscar. The PGA, which is a trade organization and not a guild, has no jurisdiction to determine producer credits onscreen or in advertising or resolve contractual disputes. The credit issue is only related to which producers can get recognition at awards ceremonies.

In response to the letter, Van Petten said, “Like other guild arbitration processes, the Producers Guild of America’s arbitration process is confidential and set up to allow people to be candid and truthful in a way that will not affect their ability to work together in the future or be sued by those who are denied producer credit.”

The legal saga began in January, when Yari fired the opening salvo by suing Schulman and Nunan, claiming that Schulman improperly took credit for producing “Crash” and that she interfered with the sale and promotion of “The Illusionist” by showing early cuts of the film and getting all the Sundance festival passes for herself.

Yari’s suit also claimed that the pair siphoned off advances from Sony Pictures Television instead of having the money go to their production company, Bull’s Eye Entertainment.

Schulman and Nunan shot back Monday in a complaint that is vituperative even by Hollywood standards. In the suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, they describe Yari as a failed film director who used his enormous wealth from his family’s real estate business to buy his way into the film world.

They further allege that Yari acted like an impetuous child and retaliated against Schulman when his producer credit on “Crash” was denied, and that he terminated her services on “The Illusionist” after she had rendered all services to keep her from being part of the publicity for the film at Sundance.

In a statement, Yari described the suit as a “shameful misrepresentation of the facts concerning my partnership with Ms. Schulman and Mr. Noonan.”

Sources in the Yari camp loudly dispute Schulman’s central role on “Crash,” claiming that the project first came to Yari and that he not only financed it but championed it. Yari put Schulman in charge of the day-to-day work on the set, but he remained closely involved, they say.

Schulman and Nunan’s attorney, Mel Avanzado, described the suit as encompassing the entire relationship, not just the feud over the producer credit for “Crash.”

On the money side of the ledger, the suit estimates that damages include at least $2 million in profit participation on “Crash,” apparently based on an ultimate worldwide box office of $200 million. The film has six Academy Award nominations and a worldwide B.O. of $87 million.

In their suit Schulman and Nunan also claim that they have not been paid their share of fees on three other projects. They allege that Yari decided to terminate the partnership in August and under the terms of a settlement agreement, they are owed fees on “Employee of the Month,” “Thumbsucker” and “The Illusionist.”

The complaint acknowledges that Bull’s Eye received approximately $800,000 a year for overhead. A source in the Yari camp described it as largely salaries. The source also said Schulman was required to recoup overhead and expenses before she could get her fees on the films and that she had not done so.

Of the four films, only “Crash” has been profitable. “The Illusionist,” starring Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti, premiered at Sundance but has not yet been distributed.

On Yari’s original claim over the Sony money, Schulman and Nunan say that under the settlement agreement, they were to keep $275,000 of the $300,000. The pair also seek to keep the Bull’s Eye name.