The producers of Crash are on a collision course in court.
Bob Yari, the indie film financier who got the Oscar-nominated Best Picture bankrolled, filed a lawsuit late Wednesday against the Producers Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, accusing the two organizations of denying him due process in his bid to collect a statuette should the film win the top prize this weekend.
Per Academy rules, only two producers can be listed for Best Picture contenders. Following a closed-door hearing overseen by the Producers Guild, it was determined that the film's writer-director Paul Haggis and Cathy Schulman would be on the official ballot. Yari and the film's other credited producers, Mark Harris, Bobby Moresco and Crash costar Don Cheadle, were left off.
Meantime, Schulman, has filed a separate suit against Yari, alleging he cheated her and her business partner Tom Nunan (himself an executive producer of Crash), out of more than $2 million in producers fees and bonuses. Her suit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, asserted that Yari, a former real estate titan, withheld the check in retaliation for being dissed on the Oscar ballot.
Schulman's suit was in response to a complaint filed by Yari last month, contending she misappropriated funds owed to Bull's Eye Entertainment, a production company run by Yari, Schulman and Nunan before their falling out.
In her court papers, Schulman denies allegations by Yari that she had lobbied the Producers Guild to exclude him. She says that she has been unfairly targeted by Yari, whose initial suit was born, in her words, of "greed and ego."
"Like an impetuous child, Yari retaliated against Schulman after the Producers Guild of America prevented Yari from using his influence, money and litigious threats to buy himself awards recognition for Crash, which Schulman [and others] produced," the suit says.
Speaking to the New York Times, Yari fired back: "This lawsuit is a shameful misrepresentation of the facts concerning my partnership with Ms. Schulman and Mr. Nunan." Yari told the newspaper the lawsuit shows a pattern of "deceitful and litigious behavior" on the part of Schulman, who previously duked it out in court with former Hollywood superagent Michael Ovitz in 2002.
There's a lot riding on Crash.
The gritty ensemble drama, starring, Cheadle, Oscar-nominated Best Supporting Actor Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Terrence Howard and Sandra Bullock, takes a searing look at race relations among a group of Los Angelenos, whose lives intertwine over the course of 36 hours. The film, which has won top honors from the Screen Actors Guild and at the NAACP Image Awards, has grossed more than $83 million worldwide since its release last May and has become a hot seller on DVD.
It has six nominations going into Sunday's Academy Awards and is considered the favorite for Best Original Screenplay. Some pundits say Crash has a shot at upending the favorite, Brokeback Mountain, for Best Picture.
In his complaint against the Academy and Producers Guild, Yari takes a modest approach.
"This case is not about abstractions--it is about Bob Yari, an extraordinary filmmaker who has produced an extraordinary motion picture: Crash," the complaint reads. "Yet, for reasons he has never been told, by persons who have never been identified, first the Producers Guild of America and then the Academy have denied Mr. Yari the ultimate professional acclaim and the accompanying creative and economic benefits, to which his labors entitle him."
Yari's suit claims the producer not only cobbled together the $7 million to make Crash, but also had a hand in securing the rights to Haggis' script and getting the writer, who won an Oscar last year for his Million Dollar Baby screenplay, to direct. Yari also claims to have had a role in the film's casting, production design and marketing strategy.
Yari and his attorney say that aside from having his credit restored by the Academy, he wants both the Academy and Producers Guild rules changed to make the arbitration process more open and fair, a point echoed in full-page ads Yari took out Wednesday in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.
In his open letter, the producer borrowed a page from fellow Best Picture nominee Good Night, and Good Luck by comparing his crusade against the secretive arbitration process to Edward R. Murrow's battles with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.
"Murrow reported on and exposed a dark period in our country's history, when accusations and hearsay alone were enough to condemn," Yari wrote. "Unfortunately, the lessons learned then seem to be forgotten now."
Much to their, um, credit, both Yari and Schulman waited until after Tuesday's ballot deadline to file their dueling suits to avoid harming their film's chances.
Of course, if Crash doesn't win, the argument is moot. The Oscars will take place this Sunday at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre and air live on ABC.