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Weinsteins Sued For Not Making An Ugly CG Cartoon

Escape from Planet Earth

Yesterday, a $50 million-plus lawsuit was filed in the New York State Supreme Court against The Weinstein Company and Vancouver-based animation studio Rainmaker Entertainment. The plaintiffs, Tony Leech (co-director and co-writer of Hoodwinked!) and Brian Inerfeld, allege that they were removed from the production of their animated feature Escape from Planet Earth and that the Weinsteins, through gross incompetence, ruined the production of their film, which has yet to be finished. They also claim the Weinsteins gave them $500,000 in hush money until after the Oscars were over.

The Weinsteins, who have retained two powerful entertainment attorneys–David Boies and Bert Fields–to defend themselves, contend that it’s “a completely frivolous lawsuit” that “contains little more than false, gratuitous, slanderous, preposterous and totally irrelevant personal attacks.”

I don’t know which side is going to win the case, but every Brew reader is a winner because the plaintiffs created a hilariously detailed 60-page complaint that can be downloaded as PDF file. The torturous production process of a misguided animated feature hasn’t been this lovingly documented since The Sweatbox, the film by Sting’s wife about how Disney fumbled The Emperor’s New Groove. The punchline is that the Weinsteins have blown $19 million so far on an unproduced film with some of the most generic-looking computer animation this side of Everyone’s Hero:

The legal complaint reads like a comedy of errors–Harvey Weinstein fired his brother Bob from the film’s production; a sickly line producer was hired and died shortly thereafter; Kevin Bacon was paid $50,000 to voice a character and then paid $25,000 to not work on the film; Toy Story producer Ralph Guggenheim was hired and then fired by Harvey Weinstein for “ruining the fu*king movie.” Leech and Inerfeld also attack Rainmaker, a studio which they claim “did not have the expertise to make Escape, let alone the desire to do so within the confines of the movie’s budget.” All that may be well and true, but let’s not forget that Leech, who was directing the film in addition to writing it, is also a relative animation newbie. I’m sorry, but working on Hoodwinked! doesn’t make you John Lasseter nor does it instantly qualify you to direct a staff of hundreds, and one has to wonder how much his inexperience contributed to the film’s woes.

According to the documents, nobody could settle on a script, characters, voice actors, or even the animation studio that would make the film. That’s not a surprise for the Weinstein Company (formerly Miramax) which has a pathetic track record of distributing animated clunkers like The Thief and the Cobbler, Doogal, Freddie as F.R.O.7 and Tom and Jerry: The Movie. The lawsuit offers hints of their brilliantly poor understanding of the animation art form. One example is the “revelation” Harvey had about how pantomime acting could delineate a character’s personality–something every first-year animation student learns:

Harvey Weinstein responded by recounting something he had recently read in a book on Walt Disney, where the Seven Dwarves [sic] from Snow White are introduced to the audience for the first time. In that scene, Harvey Weinstein noted, the Dwarves put their noses on Snow White’s bed, and the manner in which they do reveals the character of each Dwarf: “And the amazing thing is, if you look at the script, it barely says anything.”

In addition to documenting a failed animation production, there is ridiculous gossip like the claim that Harvey Weinstein fell asleep during a screening of the story reels. And then, during that same meeting, he “attempted to consume an entire bowl of M&M candies despite being diabetic. When a [Weinstein company executive] sought to retrieve the bowl of candy out of obvious concerns for Harvey Weinstein’s health, he fought to keep it, and in the tumult the M&Ms scattered all over the floor. Then, instead of watching the reel, Harvey Weinstein got down on his hands and knees and began eating M&Ms off the floor.”

An anonymous artist who emailed us yesterday summed up his experience working on the film at Rainmaker when he wrote, “I had the rare pleasure of working on Escape for several years. The production itself was fodder for a movie. A true comedy of errors. Wish I had a cam rolling through it all.”

UPDATE: Read a former Rainmaker employee’s opinions about the lawsuit.

  • Jorge Garrido

    With a system like that, it’s amazing a good animated movie ever comes out. Hollywood sounds like a dead end if you’re constantly dealing with producers like this.

  • when big animation goes wrong it has all the force and beauty of a damn good nuclear explosion.

  • Whilst it does look like a cross between Planet 51 and Megamind, it’s not as ugly as Shrek and a bunch of other movies I could mention; and the animation there isn’t so bad, though I’m sure the movie wouldn’t set the world on fire.

    That PDF is a great read. Someone should make a documentary about it.

  • great story :) just had a look at the rainmaker website, under their job section they do actually have an opening for a ‘funny animator’

  • JPilot

    When a [Weinstein company executive] sought to retrieve the bowl of candy out of obvious concerns for Harvey Weinstein’s health, he fought to keep it, and in the tumult the M&Ms scattered all over the floor. Then, instead of watching the reel, Harvey Weinstein got down on his hands and knees and began eating M&Ms off the floor.”

    This is it. This should be a movie RIGHT THERE.
    I would pay to see THAT!

    • its so dickens!
      I love it too!

    • w’ever

      How is the Weinstein Company still in business?

    • Ryoku90

      They should’ve written the film beginning with that! Finally an animated film thats shaped by its lead characters!

    • Ben

      I was thinking the exact same thing as I was reading it. Would make for a wonderful shot!

  • I like M&Ms candy… but not that much.

  • Mac

    When a [Weinstein company executive] sought to retrieve the bowl of candy out of obvious concerns for Harvey Weinstein’s health, he fought to keep it, and in the tumult the M&Ms scattered all over the floor. Then, instead of watching the reel, Harvey Weinstein got down on his hands and knees and began eating M&Ms off the floor.”

    Sounds like he was trying to get his blood sugar up quickly so he wouldn’t go into a diabetic coma, which can easily happen (not funny)… but if this was not the case ,it sounds hilarious.

    • Paul N

      Exactly what I was thinking. Diabetics know what they need and when; those who are not familiar with the disease frequently make mistaken assumptions about a diabetic’s behavior. And yes, if that wasn’t the case, it’s hysterical.

    • white vader

      There are two kinds of diabetes. Hypo and hyper glycemic. Judging by his weight it’s extremely possible he’s type 2 and is the opposite – your blood sugar is way too high from overloading the body with sugars for so long it can’t process it any more. So M&Ms are really, really bad for you.

      But yeah, pretty funny, even if it is apocryphal.

  • Degeaffusunuman

    Disney fumbled The Emperor’s New Groove? Do you mean it was a lousy movie or that they took too long to make it? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like that movie, probably Disney’s best in this century.

    How could you call The Thief and the Cobbler an animated clunker without even mentioning it’s history or the “Recobbled cut.”It’s only a clunker in it’s Mirimax form. Please check out the recobbled cut for a version truer to Richard Williams original vision.

    • Brandon Pierce

      There are some (including “Sting” himself) who feel “Emperor’s New Groove” was ruined, when it was decided to turn the film into a comedy, instead of as a dramatic epic as originally intended.

      We’ll never know if a dramatic, more serious version of “New Groove” will ever be (unless anyone’s seen The Sweatbox), but I think the movie is the funniest Disney animated film ever, taking over Mulan (well, IMO anyway).

      • Courage, A Cowardly Dog

        What if is fun to play, but Emperor’s New Groove was hilarious. Bless it!

    • Oliver

      I don’t like ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’; I’d love to have seen the more serious version the co-director of ‘The Lion King’ wanted to make.

      It’d never succeed? People were saying that about ‘The Lion King’ as well.

  • Hey look at that! Buzz Lightyear now comes in blue!

  • tgentry

    Hmmm… the clip was actually kind of funny. Despite the character design being bland and not at all matching the personality of the character, the writing and animation wasn’t half bad.

    And I thought Emperor’s New Groove was a great little gem. Maybe the production was troubled, but it’s an enjoyable result.

  • The real reason this movie got shelved? You can’t make a CGI flick starring characters without noses. I mean, how are you gonna get all the fart jokes to work?

  • Bill

    Mmmmm. Floor candy!

  • Alissa

    They’re fighting over this? The clip was pretty dull.

    Love the pdf though. It’s like a train wreck. Horrible yet utterly fascinating.

  • I’m about ten pages into the PDF and it is indeed a fascinating and entertaining look into an animated train wreck. It sounds like there may be some allegations that could be proven or disproven in a court of law, but whether the film would have been a great success were it not for the Weinsteins interference or the thing was just broken to begin with may be tough to determine.

  • Wow. Just, wow. Thanks, Cartoon Brew, after watching as much as I could stomach of the trailer for this and ‘Lil’ Johnny’ (bout a minute all told) I’m feeling rather spectacularly good about my skills and career as an animator. Cuz I’ve come up with some hack shit in the course of pulling down a paycheck, but nothing that looks anywhere near as bland/shitty as either of these two nuggets. Amid, Jerry, and all you brewsters…good on ya, mates.

    Cuz unless you rub their noses in it, dogs will still continue to piddle on the kitchen floor.

    • Jack!

      Really? I’d love to see some of that animation of yours that makes the animation in that Scortch test look, “bland/shitty”.

      I’m not a big fan of the writing or the design, but that animation looks pretty good to me.

      Feel free to post a link.

      • dank

        just thought i’d point out that if you click on templedog’s name it links to his youtube channel. its, um… enlightening.

    • JR

      fyi, this entire sequence was animated by one guy after the project was put on hold.

    • Mr Stones

      TempleDog are you some kind of anal retentive with an eye for useless detail? Why be mean spirited when you no nothing about the working circumstances these animators had to face to produce these.

      The animation in these two teasers were done for a fraction of the cost of a major studio. They have no apparent problems and are easy on the eye. Over 80 minutes the character designs look the way they should to support a comical story.

      It is a shame such great talent has gone to waste because of execs fumbling around.

    • I’d be chuffed to have a shot that well animated on my reel.

    • Ryoku75

      I think all of the replied to Temple Dawgs post show that the Brew isn’t just a bird house for grumpy cynics.

      I won’t argue though, the designs for Escape are very generic and bland but nothing terrible, just the usual.

  • AJ

    they should make a making of film

  • RainMaker? RainMan?

    Eating M&M’s off the floor much?

  • JR

    A hilarious read. I doubt Leech will ever be able to land an industry job again. What a tarnish on his reputation.

    But it’s a shame the folks at Rainmaker get lumped into these ludicrous accusations. They are a fantastic studio with fantastic people. A huge chunk of industry vets started out at Mainframe. Good luck to them.

    • Ted

      I dunno; as a company, I am primarily informed by how Rainmaker decided to treat Reboot. Which, other than to the extent they were responsible for this week’s dvd release, has not been good.

  • Clint

    Why do I see someone John K. making a short based on that M&M fiasco?

    Anyways, that little cartoon was OK. Not as ugly as that Little Johnny trailer. The writing was OK, but the look was so cheap!

    • Faux Reel!

      Well, John K is known for making cartoons with tasteless content so that would fit.

      • kate

        I would rather watch his ‘tasteless’ toons than this badly managed soulless Hollywood blockbuster crap.
        Clint is right, his sarcasm and humour would fit this scene… so there’s no need to be spikey.

    • “Why do I see someone John K. making a short based on that M&M fiasco?”

      Like that episode of the Bakshi Mighty Mouse series he based off his experience sharing a building with the makers of the Chipmunk Adventure?

  • i think the animation in the test was sweet…. i don’t know why so much people hate under budget animated movies and say bad stuff about them when that’s how a lot of people learn and are industry stays alive. i have 3 kids and they love to watch cartoons even if they are poorly animated i think people who actually have a love for animation should really look at this as an opportunity and not a shitty film.

    ‘TempleDog’ please show us some of your animation and maybe post your real name and see how much animation studios would like to hire you after your comment. i know that i wouldnt want to work with someone like you.

    all the best to RainMaker and all their employees!

  • This my favorite kind of BREW post. Pure candy dirt!

    The animation test looks fine for a first pass at feature-quality. The dialogue and voice work is weak.

  • Faux Reel!

    The animation actually looks pretty decent for a lower budget piece even if the designs are generic (they look like something out of Planet 51… not horrible but very generic). Better then that Hoodwinked 2 trailer at least.

  • Em

    Good Story! Long time reader, first time poster, I felt the need to comment on Temple Dog’s post.

    I, as many, started out at Mainframe. It’s a solid place for kids to learn the ins and outs of production and hone their skills until moving on. While Rainmaker may not produce the most interesting stuff to us animators, they employ a lot of people and pump out some pretty talented artists. Having moved on from mainframe 8 years ago, I am always pleased to see little clips of animation like the one posted above showing animators with such promise.

    It’s possible Temple Dog is an incredible animator. Perhaps he can animate circles around any of us. But that’s a fun little clip and there’s just no reason to dog on someone’s hard work. I sense an angry old animator who’s worked on far too many crappy projects and never made it very far in his career. Probably has kids half his age out animating him or Supervising him and feels the need to e-hassle them in order to sleep at night. Make you feel like a man putting down your comrades Temple Dog?

    I say, Valiant effort to all at Rainmaker. Sorry to see your hard work mixed up in all of this legal business. Keep up the good work and good luck through this silliness that is Production.

    • The Gee

      So, even if I told you he has some solid chops and experience to match, you’d just dismiss him as someone who is bitter rather than wanting to know that there good stuff being made?

      If he is unfamiliar with Rainmaker then that’s too bad. It employs quite a few folks up there, does it? But, if you are taking this personally, learn to get used to criticism if you work in animation. Grow a thicker skin or let it roll of your back. Which ever is easiest for you will help a lot.

      • The response to Temple Dog’s post has nothing to do with being able to handle criticism….it was just a baseless, ego fueled assault on another animators work that was completely unwarranted.

  • Even if your job is the “Care Bears” (and some great animators worked on that as their first job, yo) you kick it like it’s best job you’ll ever have.
    But if you get to see a movie executive eat M&M’s off the floor… well… that’s just a bonus!

  • The tests look fine considering the execs and management in charge. In fact they are works of genius when consider what these poor people had to go through to create them. Remember, this place doesn’t have Pixar or Dreamworks money.
    These artists get a fraction of the cash and are surrounded by pinhead execs! Bravo Rainmaker artists, you still shine!

  • Stephen M. Levinson

    Wow that was one incredible read. What a hell of a production!

  • Matty

    Those brilliant Chinese news story animators who turn out films overnight should take a crack at this PDF. It would be a hit, especially if Harvey and Bob did their own voices, for scale. Everyone would make their money back and Harvey would land a real career as a film buffoon. Win-win!

  • Johnny Lessu

    It’s a shame the talented artists at Rainmaker get fumbled up in this executive debacle.

    Tony Leech comes off as a real prick. I am positive that a fraction of this legal mumbo-jumbo is actually true. However entertaining it is to read :)

    Carry on Rainmakers, I hope you can deliver an exceptional movie given the ridiculousness surrounding the production.

    • “Tony Leech comes off as a real prick.”

      I didn’t get that. Even if only a fraction of the document is true, he seemed like he bent over backward to get this film made and the Weinsteins were the pricks.

  • Graham

    The Weinsteins should have stayed with Disney.

  • Erin Siegel

    An animated movie about making an animated movie? How meta!

  • I want to see an edgier Fraggle Rock!!

  • “Catastrophe threatens the cinematheque,
    As it’s now in the hands of Monkey Exec.”

  • Just for clarification, Amid wrote “Kevin Bacon was paid $50,000 to voice a character and then paid $25,000 to not work on the film,” which sounds as if Mr. Bacon was paid $75,000 to do nothing.

    Reading the PDF, I got the impression that he was offered $50,000, not paid it, then the Weinsteins changed their mind and paid him $25,000, presumably so he didn’t sue them or anything. Is that right?

    At any rate, this is the best story that’s been on here in ages. :)

  • crashed

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  • So this is what it comes down to…. The allure of CG has made men so desperate for eye candy they will grovel on the floor for discarded M & M’s!

  • Tadpole

    Surprised at how many people are defending these designs! Since when are the standards around here so low?

    As for the .pdf, iit’s a hoot, but I think there’s an air of tragedy in there as well – both because the film never got made and its creators, apparently, got swindled, and because so much passion and TIME seems to have been put into a film that sounds and looks as if it would have been mediocre-at-best anyway.

    • Ryoku75

      Seriously, this is the site that seems to have a reputation for being very cynical toward animated films, yet along comes some generic-ed Butt Ugly Martians and they’re good.

  • John F A

    The voice acting is terrible. The actor sounds as if he’s reading it off of the script for the first time. Unless this clip was put together as some sort of test to match a voice to a character, it was a horrible use of an animator’s time and talent. No animator can save a badly delivered piece of dialog, although you can see that the animator is pulling out every animation trick he knows to make the scene interesting. How many takes did they do before they arrived at that lackluster performance?

  • Taylor

    Instead of debating the design aesthetic, we should all just be mourning the speed bumps of this film being released.
    We read the Brew as animation lovers and/or creators, and should rejoice in the fact that smaller animated features are being produced at all. As tech continues to grow and people are eventually able to create mo-cap videos on their iphones, we’ll be lucky if anyone other than Disney and Dreamworks will be able to afford hiring actual living, breathing animators.
    Here we are in the wake of the Oscars, of which the number of animated features up for an award could have been nearly doubled if more of them had been released. In a medium with so few options, it’s important that we support any and all efforts to further this industry and art form. Regardless of how the characters look.

  • If “Kingdom of the Sun” was “fumbled”, “The Emperor’s New Groove” was a great recovery.

    • Funkybat

      Exactly. Most of us will never know what “Kingdom of the Sun” was really supposed to end up as, or what kind of “mess” it was at the point it was abandoned and transmogrified into “Emperor’s New Groove.” All I know is that “Groove,” despite a rather goofy title, is a really great *cartoon* feature. It is probably the best example of making lemonade from lemons I have seen in the industry.

      Even if the great acting and writing were not there, the animation was crisp and economical, without looking cheap. I was hoping something else in that groove, so to speak, would emerge from Disney in the years following ‘Groove.” Of course, the wind-down of 2D animation soon to follow prevented that, but I would love to see something else in that spirit emerge from Disney again.

  • The audio in that animation clip sounds like it’s been pieced together from 20 different takes.

  • David

    “working on Hoodwinked! doesn’t make you John Lasseter nor does it instantly qualify you to direct a staff of hundreds”

    -Actually, Hoodwinked is a pretty impressive large-scale project done outside the studio system. Leech can be proud of his achievement and definitely is the right guy to lead a big-size animation production. The designs of “Hoodwinked!” may not have been Pixar-sleek, but the movie had many technical challenges that were nicely tackled considering it was a far-eastern studio who made it.

    It’s ridiculous that Leech could make a far-east based studio create magic, and a Vancouver-based animation studio can’t deliver…

  • Uh, Miramax and the Weinstein Company are technically different corporate entities.

  • Jazz Pants

    While I understand the craziness of productions, after being in this business for 12 years, I think this one was particularly and spectacularly fumbled. It was far too top-heavy at the beginning with everyone thinking that they new best (as usual). The artists sat and twiddled their thumbs, while the higher-ups bickered and bickered. A truly sad waste of time.And money.
    But as other posters have mentioned, talented people worked on it (or waited to work on it!). And now as production starts once more- another team of talented and obviously resilient people attempt to complete the movie. I think its right when a poster mentioned that those of us that are able to do what we love,and work on animation movies, is a great thing! Despite the judgment of what is or isn’t crap, people are employed! That may sound defeated, but its actually realistic.
    I hope this movie is given a chance by the community because people will have given it their all to make it happen. Its not a production like Ratatouille that can call in the special forces and infuse another 50 million to rescue it, but it wont be terrible.
    Paying attention to the antics and failings of the personalities above the line is what drove the initial movie off road in the first place. Lets give the artists a chance to do their stuff, to bring it to the finish line.

  • Steven M.

    What a nutjob. They should make a movie based on this movie’s troubled history.

    P.S. that clip was crap.

  • I like how quick people are to slam a property when it’s made by a lesser known company. Truth be told, the animation is by an expert animator and was supervised by a very accomplished Pixar alum. By all means, goof away on the lawsuit, but please don’t “throw out the baby with the bathwater”. I’ve heard good things about the latest work on “Escape” and wish Rainmaker’s artists well on their continued efforts.

    BTW, to call this design “ugly”??? I’d like to know what you would do to de-uglify it, Amid…

    And to Martin, I think a comparison to Planet 51 is a compliment. Those designs are sweet!