Ember Burned in ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ Lawsuit Verdict

(Aug. 20, 2010)  A Los Angeles jury today awarded Anchor Bay Entertainment a multi-million dollar verdict in its suit against Lindsay Dunlap and her Ember Entertainment company over disputed DVD rights to “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” TV series.

Deliberating on the last day of a two-week trial, the jury awarded Anchor Bay $7.3 million after it found Dunlap and Ember had breached their contract with Anchor Bay and committed fraud by licensing to Anchor Bay rights to the television series which they knew they did not possess. Anchor Bay sued to recover the money it paid Ember — $500,000 for home-video rights to the series and an additional $125,000 for extra features that would have been included in DVD sets — along with court costs and damages.

Trial judge Jane Johnson also found that Ember as a corporation was merely an “alter ego” of Dunlap, who used an Ember bank account to spend money obtained from the DVD sale on personal expenses. The finding makes Dunlap personally responsible for Ember’s actions and obligations.

The trial opened Aug. 9 after three years in litigation and numerous delays. Anchor Bay filed suit in July 2007 after the deal made with Ember to release “U.N.C.L.E.” on DVD fell apart and Dunlap would not resolve rights issues or return the money advanced to her. Anchor Bay’s suit said Dunlap represented herself as the exclusive rights holder to “U.N.C.L.E.” and made a home-video deal with Anchor Bay in 2005. When Anchor Bay announced plans in April 2006 to release “U.N.C.L.E.” DVD sets, Warner Bros. asserted its rights to the series, originally produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. Turner Broadcasting bought MGM’s entire movie and television output including “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in 1986, and the Turner companies and all their holdings were sold to Warner Bros. in 1996.

Dunlap announced in October 2003 that Ember had obtained an option from Norman Felton and his Arena Productions company to produce an “U.N.C.L.E.” feature film. Arena produced the TV series with MGM and retains a 50 percent ownership. Warner Bros. and spokesmen for Felton said the only rights Ember obtained were the option to make a feature, which expired after three years and was not renewed.

Dunlap represented herself at the trial, cross examining Anchor Bay’s witnesses and then testifying on her own behalf. Court records show that she retained and discharged at least five law firms during the three years the suit was in litigation.

Most of the bonus materials that Dunlap received $125,000 for consisted of interviews and other features created by Jon E. Heitland, an administrative law judge in Des Moines, Iowa, and the author of a book about the “U.N.C.L.E.” series. Heitland testified that Dunlap failed to pay him for that material and that he finally had to sue for payment. He said Dunlap settled the suit in 2009,  and that he has a judgment against her because she again failed to pay him the amount agreed to in the settlement.

Anchor Bay is the home-video label of Starz Media, operator of the Starz and Encore cable television networks.

“Anchor Bay Entertainment is very pleased with the jury’s verdict,” said Starz attorney Bryan Duran. “We were glad the jury was able to see through Dunlap’s blatant fraud ... Anchor Bay views the jury’s verdict as a total vindication of its position.”

Dunlap has 60 days to appeal the verdict. She could not be reached for comment.

See related story here.

Next Bond Film Postponed ‘Indefinitely’

(April 19, 2010) — Work on the still untitled 23rd James Bond film is being suspended indefinitely according to a press release issued today by Eon Productions, because of the apparently endless and growing financial crisis at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Eon's feckless partner in the Bond films.

“Due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio, we have suspended development on ‘Bond 23’ indefinitely. We do not know when development will resume and do not have a date for the release of ‘Bond 23,’” said the release statement credited to Bond co-producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

The last Bond movie released, “Quantum of Solace,” hit theaters in November 2008, two years after “Casino Royale.” But Wilson already had indicated that “Bond 23” would follow a more relaxed schedule, with a summer or fall 2011 release eyed. Development got under way in spring 2009, with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade signed to write their fifth straight Bond script. Eon proudly announced that Peter Morgan, screenwriter of “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen,” was writing the original screen story. Bond-world scuttlebutt had the new movie sending 007 after the evil QUANTUM organization introduced in “Quantum of Solace” but without making “Bond 23” a direct sequel to “Quantum,” as that film was to “Casino Royale.”

MGM is staggering under a $3.7 billion debt load that it repeatedly fails to make payments on, and is further hampered by a release slate that’s largely gone up in smoke since the studio is unable to raise further capital — all this in spite of the huge worldwide box-office take from the Bond films and the fact that deep-pocket investors supposedly righted the foundering company only five years ago. MGM put itself up for sale in November but the very few prospective buyers have offered far less than MGM’s directors and debt-holders think the company is worth. After teetering on the brink more times than anyone can remember, the studio’s only real remaining assets are the Bond rights and the United Artists film library, both held as a result of MGM’s disastrous takeover of the venerable UA label.

The last time MGM fell into such dire financial straits that Bond was actually knocked out of production was 20 years ago, following the 1989 release of “Licence to Kill.” By the time that crisis was settled and Bond reappeared in “Goldeneye,” he’d been missing in action for six and a half years.