ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Developments in the Struggle over Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark

We have reported previously here and here on the legal spat between Julie Taymor and the producers of the long-delayed-but-now-successful musical Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.  The saga continues:

Bono_and_Edge_in_AucklandAccording to the New York Times, producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris now seek to remove Ms. Taymor from the $75 million Spiderman world going forward.  In a 66-page filing, seeking unspecified damages, the producers assert that Ms. Taymor breached her contract after conflicts arose between Ms. Taymor and other creators and producers, causing producers to fire her.  The complaint contends that “Taymor refused to develop a musical that followed the original, family-friendly ‘Spider-Man’ story, which was depicted in the Marvel comic books and the hugely successful motion picture trilogy based on them.”  Rather, Ms. Taymor insisted on creating Arachne, a villain character, to portray what is referred to as a “dark, disjointed and hallucinogenic musical involving suicide, sex and death.”  The filing alleges that Ms. Taymor declared she did not care whether audiences liked her version of Spiderman.

After Ms. Taymor was fired, producers hired Philip William McKinley, circus and theater director.  Ms. Taymor, winner of a Tony Award for directing “The Lion King,” denies in her lawsuit that she was resistant to changes suggested by producers.  Ms. Taymor’s associates contend that she was attempting to improve Spiderman up until the time producers fired her. 

Ms. Taymor originally filed suit in November, asserting that Spiderman used 25% of her original script, yet the producers were not paying her royalties.  This copyright claim sought $1 million in damages and future royalties based on the success of the production.  In addition, Ms. Taymor sought to have future productions of Spiderman stopped until such claims were settled. 

The producer’s counterclaim seeks damages to assist in covering the costs of hiring director McKinley, as well as costs from overrun production.  Ms. Taymor’s lawyer, Charles T. Spada, believes the counterclaim to be baseless.  He states, “Ms. Taymor will continue to vigorously seek enforcement of her creative rights and will respond to the defendants’ counterclaims as well as their outrageous mischaracterizations and attempts to besmirch her reputation.”

The producer’s filing included e-mail excerpts from several creators of the show, including Bono and the Edge of U2 (composers of the show -- pictured), and Glen Berger a playwright who Ms. Taymor hired to assist her in writing the Superman script.  Bono’s e-mail criticizes Ms. Taymor “for shooting down ideas before taking time to understand them.”  Glen Berger’s e-mail contains allegations of Ms. Taymor threatening him to stop agreeing with producers ideas, otherwise she would stop working with him. 

Previews of the show were canceled for three weeks while McKinley redesigned the show that Ms. Taymor created.  Since then, Spiderman has opened and received better reviews than Ms. Taymor’s version.  Thus far, Spiderman has grossed $81 million since November 2010.

[JT & Janelle Thompson]

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