There was a lot of hope for "Filly Brown" when it premiered at Sundance in 2012. The film about an up-and-coming Latino hip-hop artist starred Jenni Rivera, the Mexican-American music superstar who tragically died in a plane crash late last year. When it was picked up by Pantelion, a film distributor backed by Lionsgate, many in the Latino community buzzed that if the film performed well, it would lead to studios focusing more on the Latino market.
Now, six months after a modestly successful limited release, the producers and distributors of "Filly Brown" have been hit with a pair of lawsuits alleging that the film ignored basic contract work. In one of the lawsuits, for example, it's claimed that the movie never had any acting agreement with a principal cast member.
The litigation comes from Silent Giant Entertainment (or Por Los Rios), owner of a nationally syndicated radio program entitled "Pocos Pero Locos." Edward "E-Dub" Rios is the president and Lisa "Kool Aid" Seltzer is an on-air host of the popular radio show.
In 2010, the two were contacted by Cima Productions and shown a screenplay for "Filly Brown," according to a complaint filed in LA Superior Court. The production company allegedly "did not know much about the Latin Hip-Hop world, and went to Rios and Seltzer to acquire their expertise and assistance for the Film and Soundtrack Album, and ensuring that the Film and Soundtrack Album would be authentic and accepted by the Latin Hip-Hop community."
SGE says that it signed a written agreement to be co-producers of the film and that the contract entitled them to a third of net income from the film.
After Sundance, the film was acquired by The Indomina Group, which later ran into financial trouble and had to shut down. The film was later passed onto Pantelion, and in the lawsuit, Rios and Seltzer allege that the acquisition violated the terms of their own agreement and reduced their compensation.
Seltzer says she appeared in the film, but never had a talent contract. And SGE says that after it learned of the Pantelion agreement, it informed Lionsgate that the film didn't have "all of the rights and clearances necessary" to exploit the picture.
Nevertheless, the film was released in theaters in April and is now available in retail stores and online.
In one lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges the terms of its written agreement was breached and that "Filly Brown" unlawfully misappropriates Seltzer's name, voice, image and likeness. SGE is represented by the law firm of Gradstein & Marzano.
And in a second lawsuit filed by the same plaintiff in California federal court, SGE objects to the film's music. Specifically, Rios says he co-wrote five song compositions and entered into a sync license with the film's producers. "Filly Brown," according to the complaint, remixed master recordings and used the sampled work without proper license. This is alleged to be a copyright infringement. The lawsuit also contains a claim for trademark infringement too for "prominently and repeatedly" depicting Pocos Peros Locos radio program in the film.
Rios and Seltzer are looking for an injunction on the film and further monetary relief.
Lionsgate declined comment.
This article was first published by The Hollywood Reporter