Dallas, TX trial attorney Jeff Tillotson talks about representing the production company responsible for producing the Academy Award-winning feature film “Monster” and the lawsuit that occurred behind the scenes.
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In the Media 8 case I represented the folks who made and produced the movie Monster starring Charlize Theron. And it was really just a group of guys in Hollywood who had had no real prior successes who found this idea for the movie, licensed the book, and then set about trying to get a movie star to be in their movie.
Unbeknownst to them, Charlize Theron then a prominent actress had seen the concept, it appealed to her, and she literally showed up at their offices and begged to be cast as the star. Well you don’t turn down Charlize Theron so they immediately cast her as the star in the movie and now they had the ability to go out and get a distributor for their film. They wound up with Blockbuster then a viable company at the time who was looking to get out of video rentals and distribute movies and they signed one of these famous Hollywood contracts for distribution.
The movie took off because of Charlize Theron’s fantastic performance for which she later won an Oscar. And as you might imagine, Hollywood suddenly the accounting gets very fuzzy. Despite the great success of the film Blockbuster tells my client Media 8 we don’t owe you a penny in royalties or distribution.
The suit was brought here in Dallas because that’s where Blockbuster was and we had a three week trial here in Dallas fighting over how you calculate profits from the movie. And I have to tell you, the jury was absolutely captivated about learning about the movie business, about how it works, about the stars in it, about how these things come about. They’d all been to the movies, of course, hundreds of times but to be able to look behind the scenes and see and be able to have a role in how profits were divided was a great opportunity for them for which they were very excited about.
Right before the jury came back the case settled. Blockbuster knew it was about to really get whacked by this jury, they paid out my clients in full and agreed to finance their next movie.
So here’s a true story from my client that they told during the trial and it just shows when you’re making these movies you have no idea if it’s going to be a good movie or a bad movie. And so, they’re making the movie, Charlize Theron and they’re doing what’s called dailies, which is they film that scene and they send it to people. So they sent the dailies to a couple of their friends, someone calls them and says, oh my gosh, Charlize Theron is unbelievable. She could win an Academy Award. You got to get this movie done now and get it submitted this year so she can win an Academy Award.
My client who had never in his wildest dreams thought this would happen, rushed the movie, they filmed it in record time. They released it at December 25 of that year to qualify for the Academy Awards. Having done all that he thought I’m such a fool this will never happen, I can’t believe I worked so hard to do that. He’s in the hospital where his daughter got hurt in a soccer game waiting for her to get bandaged up, he sees on TV Roger Ebert, the movie critic, a month later who says I just saw the most fantastic movie ever called Monster. Charlize Theron is an absolute given for the Academy Award. And the thought oh my gosh, I can’t believe we actually did it. And she did win two months later an Oscar and the film took off. And this he literally went from being someone who was working out of his home trying to do a movie to having a movie out there that had won an Academy Award and he was very proud of it about it.
We kept telling the jury to keep them interested Charlize Theron may come and testify. Now she had nothing to add to the case but we needed that lure she’s going to come, she’s going to bring her Oscar, you’re going to see, don’t worry. And one of the issues in the case was whether or not the royalties of some of the movies that they did and we actually showed a couple of movies to the jury and the jury determined whether or not those movies would have made money or not and so they were put in that position.
And one of the early witnesses in the case was Harvey Weinstein who we had no idea, obviously, 10 years later the notoriety he would later have.