Judge Tosses Out ‘Iron Cross'/Variety Suit

Indie filmmaker also ordered to pay trade's legal cost

UPDATE: Timothy McGonigle, Calibra Pictures’ attorney, released the following statement in response to the judge's ruling:

"We disagree with the judge’s ruling.  

Why: This is not a complaint about Variety's right to release a review.  This is a complaint about the questionable business practices of Variety.  It is a complaint about Variety approaching Calibra and persuading it to become Calibra's exclusive media partner by paying $400,000 to Variety.  It is a complaint about Variety taking money from the film’s producers and promising to help obtain distribution for the film and help obtain an Academy Award nomination for Roy Scheider.  

We have alleged that Variety breached the agreement and committed fraud by claiming that they would be Calibra's exclusive media partner and assist Calibra when in fact their questionable business practices severely undermined the film.  … is unconscionable that Variety would hide behind their First Amendment right in order to perpetrate their unfair business practices on unsuspecting filmmakers.  

This is a case of first impression, not protected by the First Amendment rights, and we expect to prevail in the Court of Appeal.   

In the meantime, my client is requesting equal access to Variety's newspaper so that Calibra may have an equal opportunity to rebut their statement of today."

EARLIER:

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge tossed out a suit against Variety from an indie-film producer who claimed the trade duped him into buying awards advertising before slamming his movie.

Variety used the front page of its print edition to trumpet the court victory over “Iron Cross” filmmaker Joshua Newton, who was ordered by the judge to pay the paper’s legal fees.

“We are extremely pleased with the judge’s ruling,” wrote Variety president Neil Stiles. “It is a shame that a filmmaker saw fit to use the law in this way, but good sense and justice prevailed. We hope that this decision sends a clear message against meritless lawsuits being filed against Variety, (parent company) Reed Elsevier or any other news organization.”

(In separate legal action, Variety recently filed a lawsuit against obscure Southern California punk band The Vandals for allegedly copying the trade's logo in its album art.)

The producers of "Iron Cross" sued Variety in March, claiming the trade lured the indie film into a $400,000 promotion campaign with promises of Oscar attention that would lead to a major distribution deal — then trashing it all with a scathing review.

The lawsuit weaves a narrative that begins with Variety bigwigs telling Calibra Pictures that "Iron Cross" was a real contender — even before seeing it. The producers and the trade agreed to a campaign that would include front-page ads, DVD inserts and inclusion in the trade's screening series.

The court ruled that Variety was merely exercising its First Amendment rights when it ran the review, thus rendering the producers’ complaint meritless.

Word of Variety's legal victory arrived in a print edition featuring no less than five pages of tribute adverising for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who was the subject of a Variety special-issue package Monday. The trade also filled itself with Bruckheimer tribute ads in 2006, when it made the filmmaker its "Showman of the Year."