A federal judge this month rejected efforts by Friends Church in Yorba Linda to kill a lawsuit that alleges the writer and director of the church-funded, Lions Gate-distributed Not Today was cheated out of more than $2 million in due compensation.
In a 20-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Josephine Staton Tucker ruled that the crux of Jon Van Dyke's lawsuit, a complaint that includes the assertion that church "insiders" manipulated movie finances to inflate their own profits, is legally valid to proceed on seven of nine claims.
There's no doubt in the dispute that Van Dyke wrote and directed the $1.8 million film that stars John Schneider, Cody Longo, Walid Amini, Persis Karen and Shari Rigby.
But the plaintiff claims church officials, "unceremoniously terminated" him as a church employee when he pushed for director's pay and an accounting of the film's finances. He also insists in the court filing that Brent Martz, his boss at the church, forced him to sign a 2010 contract that gave Martz co-authorship billing though he "did not make any copyrightable contributions to the screenplay" about human trafficking of minors in India.
Van Dyke, who spent more than two years on the project--including 10 weeks filming in India, eventually learned that the budget of $650,000 had secretly increased to $1.8 million so that the church's Friends Media LLC subsidiary could "reduce or eliminate" his compensation "on the back end," according to the lawsuit.
"The concealment of the budget increase and the false representation that no more money was available to pay for production expenses were made with knowledge of there falsity and with the intent to induce [Van Dyke] to continue working as director even though more than $1 million was diverted to insiders," plaintiff's lawyer David G. Jones told the judge.
Van Dyke's lawsuit seeks the following compensation: $500,000 for "damages representing the reasonable value of his services;" at least, $1 million for "lost profit damages;" unpaid wages of $500,000; "unpaid overtime compensation" of more than $103,000; and interest on the allegedly due sums as well as legal costs.
John A. Cone, Jr., the lawyer representing the church and Lions Gate, argued that Van Dyke's lawsuit should be permanently dismissed for a variety of reasons, including that he does not have standing to sue the film distributor and that, because he was a church employee, the script belongs to the church.
Cone wrote that the complaint is based on "illusory allegations."
But Tucker dismissed part of Cone's argument as "[resting] on a faulty premise" and determined there is a genuine dispute about whether church officials "engaged in a subterfuge or ruse to mislead" Van Dyke about his compensation.
"Van Dye has sufficiently alleged that Friends Media concealed from him its inflation of the film's budget for the purpose of reducing the film's profitability and in turn reducing Van Dyke's compensation," opined the judge.
Both sides expect a 2014 trial that could last one week to 10 days inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.
Friends Church is controlled, in part, by Matthew Cork, Chris Ward and Jay Hewitt. One of their panicked sheep insisted to me that theses men are not "some nefarious cabal," which was bizarre because I hadn't asked if they were. Perhaps emotions are on edge given their monumental plan. They publicizes a bold theme: "Becoming a community of authentic Christ followers compelled to change our world."
Church officials, who've won media attention from Fox, CNN and Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, claim they are committed to spend $20 million for 200 Good Shepard Bible schools in India.
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Van Dyke's 104-minute film centers on a wealthy, young Orange County man who travels to India to party with friends, stumbles upon the human trafficking nightmare and joins a father to rescue his daughter from prostitution.
See the film's website and trailer at www.nottodaythemovie.com.