Justin Hurwitz, the Oscar-winning composer of the score to “La La Land,” sued William Morris Endeavor on Monday, alleging that the agency cheated him out of the profits of a series of live performances based on the film.
In the suit, Hurwitz alleges that WME had a conflict of interest because it produced the shows while also serving as Hurwitz’s agent. The suit alleges that WME abused its relationship with Hurwitz to obtain the license to produce the shows from Lionsgate, and then repeatedly refused to let Hurwitz conduct the performances because “there’s not enough money.”
“Hurwitz found himself in the absurd position of being denied the opportunity to work by his own talent agent on a project in which his talent agent was supposedly representing him,” the suit states. “As a result, the talent-talent agency relationship had been turned upside down.”
Hurwitz won two Academy Awards for his work on “La La Land,” one for best original score and another for best original song, “City of Stars.” In January 2017, WME suggested to Hurwitz that he create a live show, “La La Land in Concert,” in which an orchestra would perform the score in front of a film screen. Lionsgate, the film’s producer, agreed to license the shows to Columbia Artists Management for five major cities, and to WME for other performances around the world.
Hurwitz was to be paid $50,000 per show for the Columbia Artists Management performances. But after two performances at the Hollywood Bowl, the remaining Columbia Artists Management shows were canceled. On the WME shows, Hurwitz was initially not scheduled to receive any compensation at all unless he appeared as the conductor, according to the suit. WME scheduled 23 shows, which Hurwitz could not appear at due to other commitments, according to the suit. After some negotiation, he received $3,000 to $5,000 per engagement, according to the suit.
Hurwitz also states that he repeatedly asked to conduct the shows, but was rejected in favor of local conductors who would be paid less. Hurwitz also alleges that WME was making $30,000 per performance.
The suit states that Hurwitz never agreed to allow WME to take a profit participation on any project he worked on, and that WME did not disclose the nature of the conflict of interest.
According to the suit, Hurwitz confronted CEO Ari Emanuel about the conflict in February 2021. The suit states that Emanuel denied that the agency was doing anything wrong, and told Hurwitz that he would never be able to get a better deal than he was already getting. Emanuel canceled a follow-up call on the matter, and said that Hurwitz would no longer be able to work with “any of my companies,” according to the suit.
In a statement on Monday, WME denied wrongdoing: “These claims are without merit and WME intends to vigorously defend itself.”
Hurwitz is now represented by CAA.
The lawsuit echoes the fight waged by the Writers Guild of America against WME and the other major agencies, in which the guild alleged that the agencies’ move into content production posed an impermissible conflict of interest. After a lengthy court battle, the agencies agreed to divest themselves of their majority stakes in their content businesses.
According to the suit, WME transferred the “La La Land in Concert” production to its subsidiary, Endeavor Content. The suit accuses WME of engaging in secret deals behind Hurwitz’s back, in order to “squeeze extra profit out of its client.”
“WME cynically and systematically entered into secret agreements concerning its client without its client’s knowledge or consent, after he had entrusted WME, his agency, to look out of for his best interest and to help maximize his potential compensation,” the suit states. “Instead, Hurwitz discovered that WME had been deceiving him — not only pocketing what should have been his earnings — but also lying to his face about it.”
Hurwitz is represented by Bryan J. Freedman of Freedman + Taitelman, LLP.