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Julie Taymor Sues "Spider-Man" Team Over Royalties

Source: NY Times - Patrick Healy


Posted on 09 Nov 2011

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The director Julie Taymor, a key creator of the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” sued the producers of that $75 million show in federal court on Tuesday, claiming that they were profiting from her creative contributions without compensating her. The lawsuit seeks at least $1 million from the producers, as well as future royalty payments.

Ms. Taymor, the Tony Award-winning director of “The Lion King” and other musicals and films, has been wrangling with the producers over money and artistic credit ever since they fired her as the director of “Spider-Man” in March. The dismissal shocked Ms. Taymor, her associates and friends said in the spring, adding that she was especially galled that the producers continued to use much of her staging and script contributions, even after a much-ballyhooed overhaul of the musical in April and May. Ms. Taymor’s union has already been pursuing an arbitration claim against the “Spider-Man” producers, Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris, claiming she is owed more than $500,000, but that arbitration proceeding has become protracted.

The lawsuit claims that the producers continued to use about 25 percent of her original script contributions in the musical, but that she is not being paid royalties for that work. Charles T. Spada, a lawyer representing Ms. Taymor, said in a statement on Tuesday that the “Spider-Man” producers had violated Ms. Taymor’s creative rights on the show, which she developed over seven years with the show’s composers, Bono and the Edge, of U2.

“The producers have failed to compensate Ms. Taymor for their continued use of her work to date, despite the fact that the show has consistently played to capacity or near-capacity houses since its first public performance in November 2010,” Mr. Spada said. “Ms. Taymor regrets that the producers’ actions have left her no choice but to resort to legal recourse to protect her rights.”

According to the lawsuit, the producers sent Ms. Taymor a check for $52,880 last week to cover royalties for preview performances through April 17: the date of the final preview before “Spider-Man” shut down for the overhaul. She is seeking continued royalty payments because, the lawsuit contends, “Spider-Man” still draws on many of her ideas.

The lawsuit also seeks an injunction against the unauthorized use of her name and likeness in a documentary film, made by the producers, about the making of the musical.

Mr. Spada did not return phone calls and e-mail messages seeking further comment on Tuesday.

Ms. Taymor did not respond to a telephone message left at her home on Tuesday. Her spokeswoman said that Ms. Taymor would not be commenting on the lawsuit, which was first reported by the Web site showbiz411.com.

In recent months the producers of “Spider-Man” have been facing hard financial choices. Since opening to mixed reviews in June, “Spider-Man” has been one of the top-grossing shows on Broadway, regularly pulling in between $1.4 million and $1.6 million a week. Yet the weekly operating costs for this technically ambitious production total more than $1 million, and the producers have also had to make payments on loans they took out to mount

“Spider-Man,” a show twice as expensive as any in Broadway history. Given the size of the production and the creative team, the producers also have an array of royalty obligations to several different artists.

In spite of the high grosses, executives involved with “Spider-Man” have said privately that money is, in fact, quite tight and that the producers have had to set priorities about which debts to repay first. In addition to Ms. Taymor’s lawsuit and her separate arbitration claim, an investor in the musical, Patricia Lambrecht, recently filed a lawsuit against the producers, contending that she had not been paid on schedule for a deal in which she provided financial assistance so they could retrofit the Foxwoods Theater for the show.

Mr. Cohl and Mr. Harris responded in a statement Tuesday evening: “Since Ms. Taymor’s departure in March, we have repeatedly tried to resolve these issues.  The production has indeed compensated Ms. Taymor for her contribution as a co-book writer. Fortunately the court system will provide, once and for all, an opportunity to resolve this dispute.”

Rick Miramontez, a spokesman for the producers, had previously declined to comment on Ms. Lambrecht’s suit.

The union representing Ms. Taymor, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, filed its arbitration claim against the “Spider-Man” producers in June, shortly before the musical opened. At the time the union claimed that the producers had not paid Ms. Taymor any royalties covering the run of the show, which began preview performances in late November 2010, and that she had received only a $125,000 fee five years ago.

Arbitration began in October, but according to people familiar with the proceedings, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the arbiter had declared the process confidential, the various sides were having difficulty agreeing to a hearing schedule, and the process was expected to unfold over several months. One friend of Ms. Taymor’s said on Tuesday that she was not confident that the arbitration process would conclude any time soon


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