Here we go again. The troubled production of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, currently taking in over $1million a week on Broadway but now assumed to have cost $75million to produce is in the headlines again. This time, Julie Taymor has officially filed a lawsuit against everyone who was ever involved in the book of the show. Why? They haven’t paid her and they broke her contract.
Here is everything you need to know about this lawsuit that might make have some interesting repercussions for future troubled productions (you know there will be more).
1: The Lawsuit is Not Frivolous
If you think breaking a contract with a writer is a frivolous lawsuit, you are mistaken. If you think stealing copy-written material is a legal action, you, too, are mistaken.
Here’s what the entire case boils down to. Julie Taymor, with co-writer Glen Berger, wrote the original book to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. She had it in her contract that any original contributions could not be altered by anyone without her consent. The Producers (and everyone cited in the lawsuit, who will now be abbreviated to The Producers) fired her as director/writer of the show and both drastically changed the original concepts she brought in and kept huge hunks of the books identical. Literally, they did not change a word of page upon page of the script. Yet, the show never sought her permission to alter the original material or continue to use her original book. These were conditions in the original contract. The producers broke that contract by not writing a new book or getting Taymor’s permission to change it.
2: Copywritten Materials
Yes, Arachne existed in the Marvel universe before Julie Taymor brought her into the musical. The character has very little in common with the version playing eight shows a week on Broadway. Julie Taymor turner her into a figure of myth and magic–the queen of the illusions–and based an original musical on minor character most people do not realize existed before this show. That character is still in the musical, eight shows a week, though she has been radically rewritten without the original author’s permission.
Furthermore, there are elements of the book that Taymor developed herself that are being used word for word in the final version of Spider-Man: 2.0. If you start on Page 19 of the official documentation of the lawsuit, you can see split screen visuals of Taymor’s version of the book and the final version of the book that, at most, changed one or two words. This includes stage direction, dialog, and how certain stunts are to be performed (what equipment is used). Page 21 has the strongest example of Taymor’s influence still existing on the show, with a shorthand description of advanced puppetry techniques, one of her signature elements as a director.
3: What She Wants
The last royalty check she received covered the preview period through April, when the show shut down for the reboot. Since then, she has not received any royalties from her work still appearing on the stage. The fact that she can prove the show is still using her book, masks, and original characters should be enough to win this lawsuit and prove it’s not frivolous. The only thing that, as far as I’m concerned, should be up for negotiation is how much of the original royalty agreement should apply when the second act has been overhauled to eliminate major design and story elements she created.
That’s not all she wants. She wants the producers to have to honor their original agreement. If she wins, the producers have to get her permission to use the book of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark in any other adaptation or production. They need to get her permission to further alter the book or exploit any elements of the book she created.
4. She’s Not Alone
A investor in the show, Patricia Lamberdt, has filed a lawsuit because the producers won’t pay her on their contractually obligated scheduled. She loaned them an undisclosed quantity of cash to refit the Foxwoods Theater for the technical demands of the show.
Since the producers claim money is tight, you can easily expect more lawsuits beating on the same drum. The producers claim they don’t have the money to pay everyone, so they’re choosing which contracts are priority contracts. If you agree to pay someone, you have to pay them. You can’t say “wait a few months/years and we’ll get to you” if the contract has a specified billing cycle. That’s not how business works. Who knows who will be the next person to file a lawsuit? Just expect it to happen before the end of the year.
I don’t see how anyone, using the facts provided by the New York Times and the actual documentation of the lawsuit, can claim Julie Taymor is doing this out of spite or to shut the show down. If it’s out of spite, she’s hurting her professional reputation. If it’s to shut the show down, she won’t get a dime of the royalties she’s after. All she’s looking for is the original contracts to be upheld.
She’s not asking for a cut of the profits or any of the pay a director gets during the run of the show. She wants her fair royalties as a writer and artist/designer and she wants control over the original elements of the book. Even if a film flops, if it’s released in theater or on DVD, the writers get their royalties. The same works for professional theater.
As far as anyone can tell, this is not a work for hire situation. Marvel did not hire Taymor and Berger as staff to compose this book. They are not the Broadway equivalent of record label songwriters getting paid by the hour for someone else to get royalties.
Let’s put this in another light. You’re hired to work for a big company. They say in your contract you are going to be paid a salary. Months go by and you don’t receive a paycheck because your role in the major project you were hired to help with is finished. They’re still keeping you in the office and your work is still being used by the company as time goes by, yet they don’t pay you. Are you being frivolous when you demand your back pay for your job? No. Are you trying to sink the company and just being a petty jealous person by asking for your pay? No.
Then how is Julie Taymor being vilified for asking for her paycheck? The pay in question is royalties for the work she created still being used without her permission on Broadway. The quality of the show is not the question here. The question is how much of the show Julie Taymor is not being credited for and if she deserves to be paid. We don’t have the contract/paperwork used to fire her from the show, so we don’t know if there is some kind of clause preventing future royalties; we also don’t know if such a measure in a contract would be legal when they still credit her for the book and direction of the show. That’s all for the courts to decide.