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.

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