Paramount, Brad Pitt Company Feuding Over '12 Years a Slave' (Exclusive)

Kim Masters
The Hollywood Reporter

Despite the long-standing relationship between Brad Pitt and Paramount Pictures chairman Brad Grey, there is a tense confrontation underway between the studio and Pitt's Plan B production company over awards contender 12 Years a Slave, according to industry sources.

The dispute arises from Paramount's belief that executives at Plan B breached the company's deal with the studio by failing to offer Paramount a chance to finance and distribute the movie from director Steve McQueen. In April 2012, a few weeks before filming began, New Regency agreed to co-finance and distribute the picture via Fox Searchlight.

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Grey and Paramount declined to comment. Plan B executive Dede Gardner did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did CAA, which represents Pitt and had worked to arrange financing for the film.

12 Years is off to a strong start at the box office, in limited release, having grossed $3.4 million so far. Based on the memoir by Solomon Northup and starring an ensemble that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Pitt, the film has shot to the top of most Oscar projectors' best picture lists.

The idea for 12 Years a Slave was first discussed in 2008, when Plan B executives Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner met with McQueen shortly before the director's first film, Hunger, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Pitt subsequently discussed the project with McQueen in London, and the director began working on a script with writer John Ridley.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Pitt is free to accept roles in films at other studios and take a producing credit without cutting in Paramount. But the studio's position is that Pitt's company must give Paramount an opportunity to come in on projects that Plan B develops. Paramount is said to be contemplating what steps to take, if any, in the wake of this alleged breach. Grey is said to believe that he was deliberately misled about the project, not by Pitt but by Plan B executives.

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Grey co-founded Plan B with Pitt and the star's then-wife, Jennifer Aniston, in 2002. Pitt became sole owner in 2006. The company has had a deal at Paramount since 2005.

A source with knowledge of the situation speculates that Plan B may have bypassed Paramount because 12 Years was coming together just as tensions between the banner and the studio were at a fever pitch over the troubled production of Plan B's World War Z. Eventually the third act of the zombie film had to be reconceived and reshot. While the picture eventually grossed $540 million worldwide and Paramount escaped the write-down that some industry observers had predicted, the film did not generate the profit that a studio would desire from a costly tentpole.