Michael Keaton is enjoying a moment. The actor is receiving across-the-board critical acclaim for his lead role in Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman, which is drumming up Oscar hopes. But before Keaton can look ahead to possible glory, he has to deal with some skeletons that are dancing out of his closet.
A production company is suing Michael Keaton for allegedly ruining their 2008 film The Merry Gentleman, claiming that Keaton failed to live up to his contractual obligations on the project. THR breaks down the complaint, saying that Keaton – who made his directorial debut with the film – was "difficult during the editing process, going fly fishing when he should have been working on the film and then delivering an unsatisfactory cut." The conflict didn’t stop there. With Keaton absent, the producers reportedly asked the screenwriter to work on an alternate cut, which they liked better. Yet, when the movie was gearing up for a trip to the Sundance Film Festival, Keaton claimed he wouldn’t attend unless his cut of the film was shown.
As you can see, Michael Keaton made it to Sundance, and even went out of his way to thank all of his producers, his screenwriter, and the key players behind the scenes of the movie. He even talks about filmmaking being a team sport. Appropriate, no?
The producers are claiming that Keaton’s complicated behavior leading up to the release of The Merry Gentleman prevented the film from finding an audience. Keaton, meanwhile, has fired back, saying in a legal motion that the film actually was a "critical and artistic success" (though it didn’t make any money), and that there is "no evidence that anything Keaton did or did not do as director caused the Film not to sell or underperform at the box office."
The remainder of the legal back-and-forth (which can be read and analyzed here) discusses whether or not those involved in a film – particularly a small, independent film – can predict success. That’s foolish, as is suing a director when a movie underperforms.
At the moment, the case is scheduled for a trial, which would begin the week after the Oscars. Could Keaton show up holding an Oscar for Birdman? Would that help, or hurt, his case?