An independent producer in Florida has become the latest litigant to try to stop the release of a major film--in this case, the low-budget horror phenom, The Blair Witch Project.
Sam Barber claims that Daniel Myrick--one of the young Floridians credited with producing and directing the film, which has made about $5 million the past two weeks in very limited release--cheated him out of an executive producer credit and partial ownership of the movie.
Barber has actually filed two separate suits pertaining to the matter. Last year, he made a breach-of-contract claim against Myrick and Gregg Hale (another producer credited on the film) in Florida state court, attempting to block the sale of the film to a distributor.
That didn't stop Myrick, who--along with his film-school pal and directing partner on the project, Eduardo Sanchez--sold the distribution rights to the $40,000 film to Artisan Entertainment for $1 million at the Sundance Film Festival.
So, late last month, Barber filed against Myrick and Artisan in federal court, seeking an injunction blocking the film's release. The court initially denied Barber's request, says his Los Angeles attorney, William Immerman. It's now considering his appeal. The lawyer expects a decision shortly. (The Florida state court is also weighing a similar appeal.)
Of course, an injunction at this point seems moot, with the film already unspooling to record box office on just 31 art-house screens in two dozen cities. And it's doubtful any court would halt the film's wider release to 1,000-plus screens Friday.
In any case, the suit centers on Barber's alleged relationship with Myrick and Hale; or more precisely, the dissolution thereof. (Sanchez, the Cuban-born filmmaker who is credited alongside Myrick with creating the project, isn't mentioned.)
According to Barber, he entered a verbal agreement with Myrick and Hale in June 1996 to produce and develop TV commercials and feature films, one of which being Blair Witch. Barber alleges that under the agreement, Myrick and Hale used his post-production house, Barber/Myrick Productions, to develop and edit Blair Witch (back then it was called The Blair Witch Tapes, according to court documents). In return, Barber says he was promised a producer credit and an ownership stake.
Before shooting on the faux-documentary frightfest could begin, however, Barber's relationship with Myrick and Hale soured, and he was allegedly pushed out of the loop. Barber won't get into specifics as to why the rift occurred, only saying, "I regret having been put in this situation. I'm only seeking the ownership rights that I earned."
The defendants, Myrick and Hale, were unavailable for comment; an Artisan representative says it's his company's policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.
And ongoing this type of litigation seems to be. In fact, just within the last 12 months, suits have been filed to stop the release of such films as Blade, Never Been Kissed, Shakespeare in Love, and There's Something About Mary by defendants who claim they were denied at least partial credit.
In what could be a scary omen for Barber, none of those film openings was successfully blocked.