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Producer vows appeal after judge tosses lawsuit

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

The lawsuit filed by New York bar owner Jerome O’Connor against the Hollywood movie studio DreamWorks was dismissed from court last week after a judge ruled that the suit was without merit, but O’Connor’s attorneys have said that they intend to appeal the decision.

“We intend to appeal,” said O’Connor’s attorney, Eamonn Dornan. “We are weighing up all options.”

O’Connor said he was “surprised” at the dismissal.

“It doesn’t really make any sense,” he said.

O’Connor filed the $10 million suit in February 2001, alleging that “An Everlasting Piece,” the Northern Irish comedy he co-produced, had been suppressed by DreamWorks for political reasons.

The complaint claimed that DreamWorks and studio head Steven Spielberg never gave the movie a chance to succeed, and instead suppressed it because certain scenes could be construed as being offensive to the RUC and the British government, after Spielberg had received a knighthood from the queen.

The lawsuit’s chances for success were boosted by outspoken criticism of DreamWorks by the movie’s director, Barry Levinson.

“I think [DreamWorks] decided, ‘let’s not try to sell this as an Irish movie because the concepts of Protestants and Catholics are too scary,’ ” Levinson said last year. “They bungled the distribution.” He also attacked the studio on several occasions or its handling of the marketing of the movie.

Attorneys for O’Connor had hoped to use an affidavit from Levinson in court last week but did not receive it before the suit was dismissed.

“The case was really bade around his testimony,” said O’Connor, but added, “at this stage, I don’t really care anymore.”

This week, Variety magazine revealed that Levinson appears to have mended his breach with DreamWorks, and will shoot a new comedy called “Envy” for the studio this July.

“Getting the affidavit from Levinson would have helped a lot,” Dornan said.

“At the end of the day, the judge came down on a point of law, that DreamWorks had a clause in the contract that they had no obligation ‘to distribute and exploit’ the movie.” In May 2001, the lawsuit was amended to include a charge that DreamWorks had obtained the rights to the movie by fraud, and an additional claim of $100 million damages was lodged.

The controversy started when the movie, scheduled to open at Christmas 2000 in 800 cinemas, was suddenly reduced to only 8 screens nationwide, and was pulled from theaters after only 11 days.

O’Connor alleged that director Levinson was contacted by DreamWorks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, asking for certain scenes to be removed before the movie was released. These scenes, O’Connor says, were ones that show RUC officers and British troops in a humorous, befuddled light. “They asked Levinson to take out all the politics,” he said.

When Levinson refused, O’Connor alleges that DreamWorks decided to suppress, not censor, the movie, by limiting its distribution as much as it could.

The comedy pitted two wig salesmen against the IRA, the RUC, and the British Army, in turbulent 1980s Belfast. The duo, one Catholic and the other Protestant, try to sell as many hairpieces as possible throughout the fraught and dangerous city.

O’Connor said he had other movie plans at work with “Everlasting Piece” star Barry McEvoy.

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