Mel Gibson has been dealt a blow over a movie he’s spent two decades trying to bring to the screen, and which is now locked in a legal dispute.
A Superior Court judge in Los Angeles has rejected Gibson’s claim over the rights to The Professor and the Madman, after he filed a suit against Voltage Pictures, the movie’s producers, who Gibson has accused of behaving ‘fraudulently’.
It tells the stranger-than-fiction story of the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary, and is based on the book of the The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester.
It details the relationship between James Murray, played by Gibson, who began compiling the first OED in the mid-1800s, and Dr. William Chester Minor (played by Sean Penn), a retired US army surgeon who provided more than 10,000 entries to the dictionary while imprisoned at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.
But since last year, Gibson has been trying to wrest control of the film from Voltage Pictures, with Voltage counter-claiming that Gibson and director Farhad Safinia, a close collaborator with Gibson after making the movie Apocalypto, are trying to hijack the film.
The dispute began in September, 2017, when Gibson claimed that Voltage had violated an agreement that Safinia and Icon would have the final cut of the film, and that the company later removed Safinia from the project.
Meanwhile, Voltage claims that Gibson and Safinia held it to ransom over massive planned reshoots at Oxford University, which were set to cost $2.5 million, and require 200 extras, for a production that was already over budget by $1.3 million.
In another twist, it appears that Safinia showed up to work on the movie without a contract in place, having tried, it’s claimed, to up his fee from $200,000 to $275,000 two days before shooting was set to begin.
When a figure could not be agreed, Safinia arrived on set regardless, but without terms properly set out in a contract.
As for the film’s final cut, Voltage deemed the two-hour, 40-minute version Safinia submitted to be both longer than they agreed and not strong enough, so brought in two of its own directors and editors to address the problems, who Gibson and Safinia then refused to work with.
Presiding over the case, Judge Ruth Kwan said that Gibson and his company Icon Productions had failed to show enough evidence that it could legally reclaim rights to the film.
“Plaintiff did not submit admissible evidence showing the existence of an actual controversy with Defendants,” she wrote (via Variety).
The film also stars Natalie Dormer, Ioan Gruffudd, Jennifer Ehle, Laurence Fox and Steve Coogan.