February 28, 2023 |

Kibler Fowler & Cave Team Prevails in Landmark Trial Involving the Valuation of Producer Credit on Hollywood Films

After a two-week jury trial, jurors deliberated for less than a day before awarding Kibler Fowler & Cave client, Los Angeles-based film producer Kevin Shulman, $903,389 in damages against multiple defendants for failing to pay him producer fees and grant him a coveted “Producer” credit on the 2018 theatrically released motion picture Charlie Says. After a second phase of trial on punitive damages, jurors took less than two hours to award an additional $1 million against defendant Dana Guerin (daughter of Los Angeles-based philanthropist Vera Guerin) for defrauding Mr. Shulman. As noted in The Hollywood Reporter, the verdict is notable because disputes often arise in Hollywood concerning producer credits, but regularly either are privately resolved or are never litigated. The verdict in the Charlie Says trial establishes a valuation model for a denied producer credit that should inform how those credits are valued in future disputes.

The case dates back to 2018 when Mr. Shulman filed suit for the defendants’ refusal to pay him a producer fee and give him a producer credit that Guerin verbally promised Shulman in 2014. By 2014, Mr. Shulman had been developing the project for nearly four years, and then spent another four years from 2014 to 2018 continuing to move the project through the pre-production process. Charlie Says, which stars Matt Smith as Charles Manson, was conceived of as an alternate perspective on the infamous murders viewed through the lens of the women who fell under Manson’s control.

In closing arguments, KF&C Partner John Fowler forcefully argued that the timeline of Mr. Shulman’s extensive work on the film was irrefutable, directing the jury to inflammatory emails in which defendants Ms. Guerin, John Frank Rosenblum and Cindi Rice internally discussed eliminating Mr. Shulman’s credit and reducing his compensation, and the need to “deal” with the plaintiff in light of his previous work on the project. This ultimately laid the groundwork for a conspiracy claim, along with contractual breaches and fraud.

Perhaps the most uniquely Hollywood element of the trial was the focus on the lost credit component of Mr. Shulman’s damages. Mr. Shulman alleged that by cutting him out and failing to award him credit, the defendants in the case robbed him of future opportunities that would logically have stemmed from receiving this crucial Hollywood credential, which would have been Shulman’s second producer credit. Plaintiff’s expert testified as to the methodology behind calculating the value of a lost credit, and the business opportunities that would flow to Shulman had he been granted one as Guerin had promised. He also explained the critical distinctions between the tiers of producer and the significant ramifications for receiving an incorrect or lower tier credit.

The litigation took nearly five years to conclude in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, culminating in the trial. The jury ultimately found for the plaintiff on all remaining applicable claims before them including conspiracy against Mr. Rosenblum and Ms. Rice, breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against Ms. Guerin, and fraud against Ms. Guerin and the corporate entities.

The KF&C team comprised of Partner John Fowler, Senior Associate Kevin Cammiso, Associate Zien Halwani, Paralegal Praveeta Garcia, Nick Selvian (Tech Support) and Senior Associate Kevin Kroll (Trial Graphics).

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