Variety Sued Over ‘Iron Cross'; Campaign ‘Ruined by Bad Review’

The lawsuit accuses the trade of luring in the indie film with one hand, bashing it with the other

Last Updated: March 10, 2010 @ 4:22 PM

The producers of "Iron Cross" sued Variety on Tuesday, 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.

Filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, 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.

But after the trade had taken in more than $220,000 from Calibra, the trade published a freelancer’s review that the lawsuit claims "seriously undermined, if not completely destroyed" any chance that Roy Scheider’s final film had at an award or a distribution deal, the lawsuit states.

Variety pulled the review from its website and weekly edition, but it still appeared in the daily print edition in New York and Los Angeles.

Calibra was assured that Variety was spiking the review but, the suit says, "the damage had already been done."

Counts include breach of contract and fiduciary duty, negligence, fraud and unfair business practices. It seeks unspecified damages in excess of $25,000 and a jury trial. (To see a copy of the entire contract between Calibra and Variety, click here)

Timothy McGonigle, attorney for Calibra, was in trial Tuesday evening and did not immediately return telephone and email messages. A message by TheWrap left for Variety president Neil Stiles — whose name is mentioned in the lawsuit along with Sales Director Dawn Allen — did not immediately return calls.

Emails to Allen and editor Tim Gray were not immediately returned Tuesday evening.

The lawsuit spells out an unusual cart-before-the-horse arrangement between Variety and the producers of “Iron Cross,” which had not yet secured distribution. For that reason, the campaign’s purpose was to be two-fold: “to promote the Film for award nominations and to secure a motion picture distribution deal” by way ofVariety Iron Cross lawsuit front page online and print advertising, screenings, “direct contact introductions” and DVD inserts (see page one of the contract, right).

According to a copy of the signed contract filed with the lawsuit, Calibra agreed to pay more than $400,000 – then went and spent an additional $800,000 elsewhere “as a direct result and in reliance of the promotion partnership with Variety.”

But by the time Calibra was $226,000 deep into its payments, the trade “published a scathing review of the Film, effectively destroying the promotion to distributors and any chance for award nominations for the 2009-2010 awards season.”

The review, by freelancer Robert Koehler, was eventually restored, and Gray told the Los Angeles Times that the trade stands by its assessment that it would be remembered as "Roy Scheider’s Swan Song and little else." (If you have a subscription to get behind Variety’s pay wall, you can read it here).

The revenge tale was written, produced and directed by Joshua Newton and starred Scheider as an aging Holocaust survivor who encounters the SS commander responsible for the murder of his family.

The relationship between Newton and Variety began last March, when the producer contacted the trade about a front-page ad touting a Scheider tribute event that included a screening of an “Iron Cross" trailer.

After the screening, the lawsuit alleges, “Variety commenced a campaign to induce Plaintiff to partner with Variety and to spend substantial sums to promote the Film, which was not yet completed.”

That campaign included an invitation for Newton to have dinner with Stiles and, a month later, a message from Allen telling the producer that “Iron Cross” had been included on Variety editor Tim Gray’s published shortlist of possible Academy Awards contenders.

The suit also states that Variety assured Newton that the trade’s awards campaign could “create sufficient excitement about the film that would attract the attention of major distributors.” It began in November and generated an initial buzz, with voting members of the various awards organizations inundating the producers with requests for screeners.

But that success was “cut short in an instant” on Dec. 20 — when Variety published its “inaccurate and hostile review."

The following day, Variety tried to assuage Newton by saying "it’s only one person’s opinion" and that "no one takes these reviews seriously," the lawsuit states.

(For more on Variety and reviews, read: "Variety Drops Chief Film and Theater Critics.")