(CN) - A New York writer claims in court that three production companies and an attorney swindled him out of rights to his screenplay, "Remnants," about survivors of a nuclear holocaust.
Christian McDonald sued attorney Barry Reiss, Steven Brown and his production companies Remnants Productions and Cine Globe Productions and Thomas Conigliaro and his production company East Lake Films in New York County Supreme Court.
McDonald says he penned the screenplay "Remnants" and copyrighted it with the Copyright Office and the Writers Guild before he and his former partner, Allison Hull, approached Reiss to secure $300,000 to finance the movie as an independent production.
Reiss showed the screenplay to a "producer friend and client," Steven Brown, the lawsuit states. Reiss allegedly told McDonald and Hull that Brown and Cine Globe could make the film for $1.1 million.
McDonald agreed to the deal as long as he could direct the film and the production company he owned with Hull would receive a co-producer credit, according to the complaint.
Throughout 2006 Reiss "strung McDonald along by claiming that financing was already in place and was just being held in 'escrow'" and encouraged him to sign papers to begin production, McDonald claims.
Reiss claimed the documents "were just a 'formality' in transferring ownership of 'Remnants' to McDonald and Hull's production company," according to the lawsuit.
About two months later, Reiss said he had secured financing and promised McDonald that "they would be shooting by the end of the year." He advised McDonald to form Remnants Productions to close the deal, McDonald claims.
Remnants Productions was supposed to be a joint venture between McDonald and Hull's production company and Cine Globe, the lawsuit states.
The complaint states: "McDonald told Reiss that his agent/manager would have to see a copy of any agreement before he signed. Reiss told McDonald that the deal would be off if the agent/manager was allowed to read it, and anyway, that it was a moot point, because Hull had already signed the RP LLC operating agreement.
"Thus, Reiss pitted McDonald and Hull against each other. Upon information and belief, Hull was promised an executive producer credit in exchange for her cooperation," the lawsuit states.
The agreement granted Cine Globe full control of the new production company and named Brown as its manager, McDonald says. It allegedly failed to list the screenplay asset as McDonald's contribution.
"Thus, there was never any real consideration for McDonald's unwitting surrender of the Screenplay," the lawsuit states.
McDonald claims Reiss conjured up several versions of the operating agreement. He says Reiss assured him that Brown had not done any copyright filings.
There are no documents that show an option for anyone to purchase the screenplay or for McDonald's role as a director, the writer claims.
Allegedly, Reiss kept assuring McDonald that he would be protected even though Brown was also his client. The complaint says the agreement did not shield McDonald from losing his screenplay, which is "exactly what happened."
McDonald claims Reiss gave him the run around for two more years, claiming the production would "start soon."
By 2008, McDonald's manager began pushing Cine Globe and Remnants to release claims of the screenplay, honoring their verbal option agreement, the complaint states. Brown allegedly refused and offered the manager a producer credit instead.
One year later, production had still not begun. McDonald claims Reiss and Brown kept saying "just one more week."
McDonald says he realized they had no intention of honoring the option agreement.
"Finally, pre-production appeared to have begun. In or around November 2009, Brown sent McDonald to New Orleans to begin work on the film. Immediately upon his arrival, however, McDonald was treated with hostility and discriminatory behavior by Defendant Brown's production team, especially one Zachary Reeves, who screamed at McDonald, calling him a 'fucking faggot,' among other things," according to the complaint.
Rumors of casting and budget difficulties allegedly spread on the movie's set. Some crew members believed the money was being used to finance another movie and that the budget was one-fifth of the $1.1 million supposedly secured by Brown, according to the complaint.
"Even the makeup and special effects people complained to McDonald about budget and salaries (in a movie about the horrors of nuclear holocaust)," the lawsuit states.
McDonald claims Brown's true intention was to get him to abandon the project. He says a new director showed up in New Orleans and told him to mind his own business.
In April 2011, Thomas Conigliaro, owner of East Lake Films, sued Reiss and Brown, claiming he was tricked into investing in the film. He claimed Remnants Productions mismanaged funds and converted tax credit money from the State of Louisiana.
As part of a motion for default judgment, Conigliaro submitted the production budget to the court. It allegedly listed $1.7 million in expenses, $175,000 in writing and script development costs and $90,000 for the director's salary.
"The SAG budget submission is about one third of the budget submitted to the State of Louisiana," the complaint states. "These budgets can't both be correct."
McDonald says he never saw a dime for his role in the film.
Coniglario settled his lawsuit and wrongfully transferred the screenplay's copyright to East Lake, McDonald claims.
McDonald sued for declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, quantum meruit, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, rescission and conversion. He is represented by Lisa Ornest of New York.