Nick Lyon, the director of the forthcoming film, Bullet, isn't happy that Robert Rodriguez' American United Media (AUM) and FUNimation Entertainment have taken the film away from him. But a judge has ordered an injunction against his interference in the completion of the film, and now Lyon is taking the dispute to an appeals court.
Bullet is a film that stars Danny Trejo (Machete, Breaking Bad) as a cop who takes the law into his own hands when his grandson is kidnapped. Rodriguez is a producer. Lyon (Punk Love) signed on to write and develop the project in September 2012.
This past June, FUNimation Entertainment sued Lyon and co-producer SC Films, claiming that the defendants weren't cooperating, disparaging the company, and challenging the ownership and control of the film. The plaintiff further alleged that Lyon had repudiated his copyright assignment on the script and "improperly attempted to exercise rights over the Motion Picture that he does not hold."
FUNimation said all of this put a cloud on the film and "significantly jeopardized the successful release and distribution." The plaintiff asked the judge to compel arbitration and issue an injunction against the director's interference with an operating agreement signed by FUNimation, AUM and SC Films -- but not Lyon.
It was granted.
"[FUNimation] has shown that immediate and irreparable harm may result if Defendants are not enjoined from interfering with or disrupting Plaintiff’s business," wrote a magistrate judge tasked to handle the controversy. "The damage to Plaintiff’s business before arbitration is complete by Defendants' actions in interfering with production of the film would leave Plaintiff with no adequate remedy at law. If the film 'Bullett' [sic] is not completed and delivered on schedule, Plaintiff will lose business and good will, which are immeasurable through money damages."
Last week, U.S. District Judge Richard Schell adopted the injunctive recommendation and also agreed with the magistrate judge's conclusion that FUNimation had demonstrated a substantial likelihood it would succeed on the merits of the claim to compel arbitration. Judge Schell said that even though Lyon was a nonsignatory to the Bullet LLC operating agreement, he "knowingly exploited the agreement containing the arbitration clause."
Lyon is now appealing.
The director's own take on what happened is spelled out in an aborted lawsuit he filed against AUM and FUNimation.
Lyon says in legal papers that when he signed up for the film, he was due 30 percent of net receipts while AUM and SC Films would split the rest. But he adds that after AUM made its deal with FUNimation Entertainment, those two companies were claiming 50 percent equity and "full approval rights." He says that AUM and FUNimation "conspired" to name the latter company as manager of the LLC's operating agreement, which he says was established in "direct contravention" of his original agreement.
Lyon adds that he was in the midst of shooting Bullet when he was sent an agreement for his directing services. In February, he demanded to know why he wasn't included in the LLC and why he didn't have a voting share. The following month, he complained that he hadn't been fully paid. In April, he allegedly attempted to secure the film's hard drives to work on postproduction editing but was refused access.
"Plaintiff was advised that AUM's CEO Robert Rodriguez had stated AUM never intended to pay Plaintiff," says the Lyon lawsuit. "Since at least February 7, 2013 the media has reported that the Motion Picture is being directed by Plaintiff, however, given Defendants' refusal to allow Plaintiff access to continue directing, Plaintiff's credit as director appears to be in jeopardy, leading to reputation damages."
We gave Lyon an opportunity to comment about the injunction order. Wisely, he responded, "Would love to make a statement about this case, but I can't."