Former Student Sues over "Disaster Artist"

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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ScreenplayA former UCLA student is suing the production companies of James Franco and Seth Rogen, claiming that they breached a contract involving his script for The Disaster Artist.

The film is based on the true story of the making of what’s considered one of the worst movies ever:  The Room, written by, directed by, and starring Tommy Wiseau.

The Room has since become something of a cult classic.

Oscar Nomination

The screenplay for The Disaster Artist movie is credited to Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, and was nominated for an Oscar.

The movie’s based on a non-fiction book:  The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room.

Ryan Moody says he was working as an unofficial teaching assistant for actor/filmmaker James Franco when Franco asked him to write an adaptation of the book.

Moody was an MFA candidate in Directing at the time.

Moody had been a student in Franco’s UCLA class called “Adaptation and Collaboration” and directed Franco in two short films.

As Deadline reported, Moody says he was paid $5,000 for several months’ worth of work on the script, and that he produced five drafts.

Moody initially signed an independent contractor agreement stating that he would be paid the minimum amount payable under the Writers Guild of America (WGA) collective bargaining agreement, and that he would receive a “screenplay by Ryan Moody” credit.

However, Moody admits he never got a signed copy of the agreement back.

The Writer’s Guild

The WGA is a union for writers of “television shows, movies, news programs, documentaries, animation, videogames and new media content.”

Writers become eligible to join the WGA upon amassing “units” based on writing employment and/or sales of scripts.

WGA members can only work for “signatory companies” — companies that have agreed to the terms of the WGA Basic Agreement, which includes minimum compensation for writing services. And WGA signatory companies can only hire WGA-member writers, or writers who become WGA members as part of the process of being hired.

Moody wasn’t a WGA member at the time he sold his script. Franco’s company, RabbitBandini Productions, doesn’t appear to be a WGA signatory, and the contract states that Moody’s writing services aren’t subject to the WGA agreement.

Purchase Agreement

Moody later signed a “purchase agreement” with Franco’s production company.

According to the complaint, Moody was told that if he sold his version of the script for $5,000 he would get associate producer credit on The Disaster Artist movie and would get funding for his own movie with a similar budget (about $5-10 million).

Instead, alleges Moody, he did not receive producer credit and was told that his movie would only get $50,000 in funding.

Moody says that Franco told him in April of 2014 that he was being replaced by more established (i.e., credited) screenwriters.

Moody claims that “elements” of his screenplay were used in the version by Neustadter and Weber. However, his complaint only references a single scene, and a pre-credit sequence, that allegedly appear in both screenplays but not in the book.

The defendants said that Neustadter and Weber had no knowledge of Moody or his work when they wrote their version of the script.

In any case, Moody’s complaint is based on breach of contract — not copyright infringement.

He claims that the purchase agreement was void because he was fraudulently induced to sign it, and thus that that the independent contractor agreement should apply and he should be entitled to credit and WGA rates.

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