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'Exorcist' Lawsuit Haunts Warners

23 May, 2001 By: Hive News

William Blatty and William Friedkin, the award-winning writing and directing team behind horror classic The Exorcist filed suit Tuesday against the film's producer and distributor, Warner Bros., and its affiliate organizations, Turner Network Television and Turner Broadcasting System, seeking potentially tens ofmillions of dollars, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Friedkin and Blatty claim breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty and seek imposition of trust and accounting concerning revenues gained from the original film and The Exorcist -- The VersionYou've Never Seen, which was released in September.

According to the suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, "Warners has improperly allocated to thefilm unreasonably low shares of the total license fee paid by licensees where the film is sold as part of a 'package.'"

The complaint continues, "This has been particularly true in licenses to companies that are part of the AOL Time Warner conglomerate."

The suit also alleges that the disproportionately low licensing fees also extend to the foreign market.

According to the suit, Warners granted its affiliates -- specifically TNT, TBS and A&E -- packages that included the film fordrastically discounted rates.

In one instance, the suit alleges, Exorcist was licensed to TNT in 1997 within a package of 114 otherfilms for only $110,000 -- a third of its license fee four years earlier, according to The Reporter.

The rule of thumb for the licensing of a feature film to cable networks is 10%-15% of domestic boxoffice gross. That range, says The Reporter, is more flexible when it comes to basic cable because of the practice of multifilm "packaging."

Warners also fudged the numbers on distribution fees, print costs and residual expenses, the suit says.

The suit alleges that Warner Bros. "has tried, in every possible way, to divert revenues from plaintiffs, to deprive them of the profit shares they were promised and to keep for themselves the economic benefits that should have accrued to plaintiffs."

Blatty wrote the book upon which the film was based as well as the screenplay, for which he won an Academy Award in 1973. Blatty also co-produced the film, which received a best picture nomination as well as a best director nomination for Friedkin.

The Exorcist was rereleased Sept. 22, pulling in $40 million domestically and more than $100 millionworldwide.

It's not clear exactly how much money Blatty and Friedkin are seeking, but their lawyer characterized thesum as probably in the "eight figures." The lion's share of the profits in question would likely come from the rerelease.

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