Thursday, April 18, 2024

“Spider Man” Creator Julie Taymor Sues Show Producers, Says They Conspired Against Her


Julie Taymor has finally filed a strong counterclaim in US District Court in New York against the producers of “Spider Man: Turn off the Dark” explaining her side of the collapse of their collaboration. The claim contains numerous emails back and forth between her and the producers turning off the dark, and shedding a lot of of light, on why she was ousted a year ago from the $75 million musical.

Ric Miramontez, spokesman for the show, says: “The producers of ‘SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark’ will have no further comment on the matter at this time.”

Keep in mind: the irony here is that “Spider Man” could very well win the Tony Award for Best Musical this year, and Taymor the Tony for Best Director.

The strongest part of the complaint reads:

“In reality, Taymor was not fired for any alleged refusal to “cooperate” in making changes to the Book of the Musical, as the producers now claim. Rather, upon information andbelief, the true reason Taymor was fired was because the producers believed that firing her, and blaming all of the Musical’s past problems on her, would be an opportunistic way to:• appease existing investors who were anxious about the show;
• encourage additional investments to fund a suspension of preview performances while structural changes were made;
• sway critics’ opinions of the Musical by fostering an image that the Musical would be “re-imagined” and that its technical and substantive problems were behind it;
• mask the producers’ own failures to ensure the technical viability of the staging of the Book as originally conceived; and
• avoid the financial obligation of complying with Taymor’s royalty rights, which had long ago been agreed upon.”

A major part of the dispute between Taymor and the “Spider Man” producers hinges on the producers claims that Taymor wasn’t working with them and wouldn’t make changes to the show as discussed. But Taymor’s complaint now contains excerpts from emails that belie those assertions. In one email, in December 2010, Taymor writes to her musical partners Bono and The Edge, who were on tour with U2:

“It is nine pm in NYC. I am just about to sit down to a home cooked meal. I have been at it on [Spider-Man] nonstop. Glen has as well. We are writing lyrics, lines of dialogue, changes in music – all in service to the ending, to clarity. We know what the story is, we understand the stakes – but we do not have the lyrics to support it. I would like to talk to you before midnight my time –
We have sold out houses. Though there are issues of cueing etc, the first act works very well. The second act is better but the ending is still vague.
after I eat – to go over the situation and beg for lyrics.
We need you. It is not easy to change anything but now I think it is a matter of lyrical and musical changes
Call me to discuss. (Emphasis added) – and perhaps cutting a scene or two from the second act.”

What happened next, according to the complaint, is the return of Bono and Edge in January. During one meeting that was taped, Taymor herself actually brings up the idea of shutting down the show to make changes–something that happened later after she was dismissed. But right away, in January, Taymor asserts that the producers began working in secret behind her back to change her show.

“Upon information and belief, beginning in early January 2011, the producers, [writer Glen] Berger, Bono, and Edge began to work in secret on what they called a “twin track” approach, despite their representations to Taymor during the January 4 meeting that all were in agreement about how to move forward with changes to the show. Berger was directed to continue working with Taymor on changes that concentrated on clarifying the storyline and confronting the technical limitations that had arisen with respect to the ending scene. At the same time, however, the producers apparently directed Berger to continue secretly developing his “Plan X” changes to the Book of the Musical, in complete derogation of Taymor’s approval rights over changes to the Book.”

Upon information and belief, Berger communicated privately with Bono and Edge about proposed changes to the show and Plan X. On January 9, 2011, for example, Berger apparently sent Bono and Edge a detailed outline of the plan and met privately with them to discuss it. According to a later e-mail Berger apparently sent to the Musical’s associate set designer recounting the meeting, Berger “pitched [Bono] and [E]dge the new idea,” and Bono and Edge told Berger they were “100% in.” Upon information and belief, Berger warned the associate set designer, however, to keep Plan X “under the hat” and not to disclose it to Taymor.
221. Upon information and belief, over the next two days, Berger, Bono, and Edge exchanged secret e-mails about Plan X and Berger’s “double life” of working both with Taymor and against her:

Berger: “I understand Michael and Jere H. have some massive considerations to figure out, but I’m bewildered not knowing where their minds truly are and how anyone thinks we should be proceeding . . . . I’ll continue on with this double life til I’m told otherwise.”
Bono: “I think we have to take a twin track approach.”
Berger: “I’m twin tracking it, but a bit draining when it’s 4 hours working with [Taymor] on scenes I know in my heart-of-hearts are wrong.”
Edge: “Bono spoke to Michael [Cohl] yesterday and he was in the middle of putting together a time-line for executing plan X. . . . I want to kick the tires on plan x, but assuming it works I’m certain we will go for it.”
Berger: “Well, that’s—tentatively—encouraging.”

The complaint states: Nobody told Taymor about these communications or the secret plan, despite Berger’s prior agreement in his contract to “collaborate with Julie Taymor on bookwriter related and other creative decisions for the Musical” and that “Julie Taymor, in her sole and absolute discretion, shall have final approval on all such decisions.”
In the end, Taymor was ousted. The complaint continues:

“…the producers did not fire Taymor because she refused to implement Plan X or any other proposed changes to the production.

“… Indeed, the producers never disclosed Plan X to Taymor until the decision had already been made to fire her. The producers never offered Taymor a chance to implement Plan X and never offered her a shutdown to make other changes to the Musical.As Edge confirmed in interviews published after the Musical’s official opening in June 2011: “[P]eople were careful in what they said or told [Taymor]. I certainly didn’t feel I could be 100% frank with Julie. . . . She’s been given the lion’s share of the blame, but we were all in those workshop meetings and all saw the script. . . . [Taymor’s work] is still the heart and soul of the show

“Upon information and belief, the true reason Taymor was fired was because the producers believed that doing so, while blaming all of the Musical’s past problems on her, was the one action they could take to serve their own opportunistic goals, as set forth in Paragraph 173, above. .” (Emphasis added)the one action they could take to serve their own opportunistic goals, as set forth in Paragraph 173, above. .” (Emphasis added)

“In the end, the producers have not created a “re-imagined” production. The revised Musical currently performing on Broadway is substantially the same production that Taymor directed before she was dismissed in March 2011. This technically-complicated Musical took years to write, design, and develop. The producers’ current suggestion that they have created a “new” show after a mere three-week shutdown is false and incredible.

“Rather Taymor’s substantial creative contributions to the Musical, including her work as co-author of the Book, remain an integral part of the Musical and a substantial reason for its success. The myriad press reviews of the revised Musical that the producers have touted on the Musical’s website promoting the show confirm this: “A fun, high-flying adventure”; “There’s more flying than ever-And you can’t help but feel a thrill as Spider-Man and the Goblin battle it out just a few dozen feet above your head!”; “it’s a fantastic spectacle”; “Thrilling high-flying acrobatics”; “dazzling sequences unprecedented on Broadway!”; “It was one of the most dazzling theatrical experiences we have ever seen! And, most of that, we think, can be attributed to the bold and inspired work of Julie Taymor”; “[e]ssential elements of [the Original]production remain”; “[v]isually speaking, the show bears Taymor’s outlandish stamp”; “fans of ‘The Lion King’ will be in familiar territory”; “[o]riginal director Julie Taymor’s fingerprints are still evident.”

“The elements of the Musical praised in such reviews—which are elements Taymor was instrumental in creating—are the same elements that had been praised in February 2011, before Taymor was dismissed and the Musical was revised.

“The producers also have not created a more financially viable production than Taymor’s original production. The first version of Spider-Man consistently ranked as the second- or third-highest grossing show on Broadway, despite the lack of promotion of the show to encourage ticket sales during the prolonged preview period. Its box office receipts were almost identical to the box office receipts that the revised version has earned since Taymor was dismissed from the production.
262. In total denigration of Taymor’s over seven years of work on the Musical and with obvious malice, defendants assert in paragraph 10 of their counterclaims that “[t]he show is a success despite Taymor, not because of her.” The evidence at trial will put the lie to this falsehood. In fact, Taymor undeniably has been instrumental in the enormous success of two of the three currently top-grossing shows each week on Broadway—The Lion King and Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.”

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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