We’ve waited for quite some time for Martin Scorsese to make his “Jesuit drama” Silence, based on the novel by Shusako Endo novel. He had planned to do the movie almost fifteen years ago, and it has remained on the director’s “pending” slate ever since. After the release of Hugo, we thought Silence would be next.

So did the film’s producer, Vittorio Cecchi Gori of Cecchi Gori Pictures, who was surprised to read in the trades that Scorsese would instead be making The Wolf of Wall Street as his next film. Checchi Gori has now sued Scorsese for breach of contract, among other claims. So the big question is: will Silence happen at all, or might it be forced into being? The terms of this lawsuit seem simple at first, but get serious when you dig into the details. Short version: Silence is already a very expensive niche movie before a frame of film has even been shot.

The text of the lawsuit is here, via Deadline. But there’s more to the story than just that, as this isn’t the first time Silence has been involved in legal issues.

Vittorio Cecchi Gori and Giannani Nunnari of Cecci Gori originally had the rights to Silence, but the two producers split and Nunnari ended up with the rights to Silence. After the very early plan to make the film post-Kundun didn’t happen, Scorsese paid out some money to Nunnari. And that isn’t all. From the current suit:

  • Scorsese originally agreed to make Silence after Kundun. When he made three other films instead, Hollywood Gang Pictures, owned by Gianni Nunnari, demanded in 2004 that Scorsese and his company pay a fee and back end profit percentage from his next movie if he didn’t make Silence next.
  • Scorsese made The Departed, and paid $1.5m plus 20% of his back-end profit as a result of the 2004 suit.
  • Scorsese made Shutter Island, and paid $1.25m plus 20% of back end of that as a result of the same suit.
  • Scorsese made Hugo, and was meant to pay $1.5m plus 20% profit participation as a result, again, of the 2004 suit.
  • This suit alleges that the Hugo money has not been paid. It also wants the value of a “produced by” fee on Hugo, a precise number for which would presumably be argued in court.
  • The suit wants $2.25m in purchase costs and other fees for work on Silence.
  • If Scorsese does make Wolf next, the suit requests a continuiation of the 2004 agreement, which means $1.5m plus %20 of Scorsese’s back-end profit, plus ‘produced by’ credit.
  • The suit claims that Scorsese and his company deliberately misrepresented their intentions, to make Cecchi Gori give up the interest in Silence. (In other words: let Scorsese make other films without having to pay out a couple million each time.)
  • Additional damages and attorney fees are requested as well.

If this suit goes through, all told Scorsese and his company will have spent millions on a film he hasn’t made yet. $6.5m in fees, plus money paid years ago, plus whatever all the various back-end profit percentages turn out to be. Hollywood bookkeeping being what it is, I can’t even guess those figures. And after all this, I’m not even certain who owns the rights to Silence — CGP, Nunnari, Scorsese, or even GK Films.

Years ago the film had Daniel Day-Lewis, Benicio Del Toro, and Gael Garcia Bernal attached to play major roles, but if the picture happened now we don’t know which, if any of those actors would be involved. And the film is one which seems to have limited commercial prospects. With the amount of money already spent on it, the thing is way down in the hole before even starting.
And given how this has all gone down so far, I can only imagine that Scorsese and his people want nothing to do with it. But if he doesn’t (a) get out of the binding aspects of his early agreement to make the film, per this suit, or (b) just make the damn thing, this stuff is just going to keep multiplying. So who bends first?

 

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