Lawsuits can do one of two things. They can raise awareness for a project in development. Or they can damage the credibility of a story before the movie has even been screened. We’re not sure yet how a new lawsuit will affect Mena, Tom Cruise’s upcoming drug comedy with Doug Liman, but I’m leaning toward the former (with the potential of the latter).
Mena tells the story of a Barry Seal, a real-life drug trafficker who eventually turned into an informant – a move that cost him his life. The Hollywood Reporter says today that Seal’s relatives are filing a lawsuit against Universal seeking an injunction because they say that the studio made a deal with the wrong family members in order to secure the life rights to tell Seal’s story.
Universal reportedly paid $350,000 to Barry Seal’s third wife, and the three children who he had with that woman, in order to secure the rights to his story. However, the new lawsuit is being filed by Lisa Seal Frigon, Seal’s daughter from his first marriage, who THR points out is the "claimed executor of his estate." Frigon claims that the studio needed to get her consent before telling this story, and Universal did not.
According to the complaint:
Although the Life Story Rights of Adler Berriman Seal are property of the Estate, Defendants Debbie, Aaron, Christina and Dean have failed to remit to the Estate any proceeds which they received from their Agreement with Defendant Universal, but instead converted the proceeds for their own personal use and benefit.
Which is legal mumbo jumbo that absolutely should have been worked out behind the scenes before Mena even started production. But do I think that it will ultimately damage the momentum of the movie? Not one bit… so long as Universal is able to reach an agreement with Lisa Seal Frigon before Doug Liman and Tom Cruise try to hit the promotional trail to sell the movie to audiences. That doesn’t always happen. As a recent example, Aretha Franklin recently sued to block the release of a concert movie, Amazing Grace, because the filmmakers didn’t get the singer’s approval to use footage from a previous show. Legal issues that actually can block a film’s progress.
In Mena, Tom Cruise is expected to play Seal, a pilot who eventually starts working for the CIA as a drug runner. Liman and Cruise recently worked together on Edge of Tomorrow, and they have assembled a spectacular cast that includes Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones, Benito Martinez, E. Roger Mitchell, Lola Kirke, Alejandro Edda and Jayma Mays. The movie doesn’t open until 2017, so Universal has time to patch this problem up behind the scenes, but right now, mild blemishes like this become the headline, which isn’t appreciated.