"Godzilla" is not scheduled to set foot in the U.S. for another two years, but things are already getting ugly.
Legendary Pictures, the film finance and production company behind "Inception" and "The Hangover," has been sued by a trio of prominent producers for "tens of millions of dollars" in a dispute over a planned remake of the Japanese monster classic.
Dan Lin and Roy Lee, along with Lee's partner Doug Davison, filed a lawsuit against Legendary on Thursday after they were removed from the project earlier this month. The complaint filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles claims that they were paid only $25,000 after bringing the "Godzilla" project to Legendary after being promised a much more lucrative deal for their ongoing services.
In a filing last week seeking that the dispute be sent to arbitration, Burbank-based Legendary said the trio "offered little to the ongoing production of the film." The company decided to remove them, paying only a small "development fee."
The lawsuit also names Legendary President Jon Jashni as a defendant, accusing him of fraud for his role in the 2010 oral agreement, including an email to Lee and Lin in which he allegedly wrote that if the duo secured the "Godzilla" rights for Legendary, "You know you and your partners will be well treated throughout."
Instead, the complaint alleges, "Whether out of greed or to show some sort of creative dominance over cross-complainants or merely due to the whim of Legendary's CEO Thomas Tull, Legendary decided to turn its promise that Lin, Lee and Davison would be 'well treated throughout' on its head."
Lin is a former Warner Bros. executive whose producing credits include "Sherlock Holmes" and "Gangster Squad." Lee and Davison are known for remaking popular Asian movies and have worked on "The Ring," "The Grudge" and "The Departed."
Founded by Tull in 2005, Legendary has been a co-financing partner for Warner Bros. on such hits as the "Dark Knight" trilogy and "The Town." This year it is starting to produce and finance its own movies, including the upcoming Jackie Robinson biographical movie "42" and the big-budget action film "Pacific Rim." Its highest-profile project in the works for 2014 is "Godzilla."
At the center of the legal battle is a disagreement over what contract governs the producers' work. In their complaint, Lin, Lee and Davison say they reached an oral agreement with Legendary that would pay them $1.3 million or 3% of the film's gross receipts -- whichever was higher -- along with the $25,000 development fee. They were also to have the right to produce any sequels.
Legendary says in its complaint that the relevant agreement is a written one that its lawyers provided to the producers in 2011. That contract allows the company to remove the trio from "Godzilla" before production began with no payment beyond the development fee.
Although Lin, Lee, and Davison never signed the contract, Legendary says it is enforceable because they never objected and continued work for more than a year after it was submitted.
The written contract stipulates that any dispute would be resolved in arbitration instead of court.
It is not unusual in Hollywood for producers to be paid to exit projects. But such moves rarely turn into public fights.
The lawsuit could prove embarrassing for Legendary at a time when it is attempting to step out from a reputation as Warner Bros.' partner and become known as a creative force of its own in Hollywood.
A spokeswoman for Legendary declined to comment.