Voltage Pictures has been fairly quiet about the messy conflict over “The Professor and the Madman,” its unreleased film about the Oxford English Dictionary. But now that the company is being sued by both the film’s star, Mel Gibson, and director Farhad Safinia, Voltage has taken off the gloves and come out swinging.
Gibson alleges that Voltage has violated its agreement, which gives him approval of the final cut, by refusing to allow Safinia to complete a cut of the film. Safinia says he was thrown off the project, and is suing for copyright infringement and defamation.
In a motion on Thursday, in which Voltage opposes Safinia’s request for a restraining order, the production company blasts Gibson and Safinia for demanding $2.5 million in extra shooting at Oxford University, even though the film is already over budget. Voltage says the pair is trying to hold the film hostage in an effort to force Voltage’s hand.
Voltage CEO Nicolas Chartier says Gibson and Safinia had originally agreed to shoot the scenes — which involved 200 extras — at the Library of Trinity College in Ireland, but changed their minds at the last minute.
“These issues caused the production to extend two days past the schedule of 40 shooting days and caused additional costs to the production, which was over budget by approximately $1.3 million,” Chartier alleges.
By that point, Chartier says the film was already running two hours and 40 minutes long, which was 40 minutes longer than distributors would allow. Adding another five shooting days at Oxford — as Safinia and Gibson wanted — would have added 20 minutes, in addition to the extra $2.5 million cost, Chartier says.
At a meeting in December 2016, Chartier says he told Safinia and Gibson to deliver a director’s cut at two hours, and then see what still needed to be shot. Safinia subsequently delivered a cut that was two hours and 40 minutes, which he later reduced to two hours. Chartier says “everyone” — including Gibson and his producer, Bruce Davey, agreed that it “was not a strong cut of the Picture.”
Chartier says he attempted to work out a deal to shoot some extra footage at Oxford at a lower cost, but that Safinia refused to work on the film unless Voltage agreed to shoot all of the scenes. Safinia also objected to being made to work with Voltage’s editor, Chartier says. In essence, Chartier accuses Gibson and Safinia of using Gibson’s final cut provision to try to pressure Voltage into shooting the extra Oxford scenes.
“Mr. Gibson claims to have final cut while refusing to watch the Picture, work on the Picture, or edit it,” Chartier says.
Chartier also disputes Safinia’s copyright claim, in which Safinia alleges that he wrote the screenplay and never authorized Voltage to exploit it. Chartier says Voltage acquired the right to the screenplay from Gibson’s company, which was written by Todd Kormanicki with revisions by John Boorman and Safinia. Subsequent to that rights acquisition, Safinia only polished the script, making minor deletions and wording changes, Chartier says.
Complicating matters somewhat, Safinia appears to have worked without a contract. According to Chartier, Safinia was offered the directing job in August 2016, two months before shooting was to begin, for a fee of $200,000. Safinia’s lawyer responded two days before principal photography was to begin, asking for $275,000. Voltage stood firm at $200,000. Safinia’s lawyer responded via email: “Hmmmmm. Okay. We will chat on our end.” Safinia showed up to direct the film.
“We understood and believed that we had reached an agreement with Mr. Safinia on his directing and writing services at a fee of $200,000 total because the issue was not further raised,” Chartier says.
Safinia is seeking to impound and destroy Voltage’s cut of the film, and barring that, to at least prevent Voltage from shopping it. Voltage argues that such an order would damage its relationship with distributors and cause it to breach agreements requiring it to deliver the film by the end of 2017.
“The financiers of the Picture could potentially lose their almost $25 million investment in the Picture,” Voltage’s attorneys state.