UPDATE 6:00 PM: Another wrinkle in the residuals war between producer Stanley M. Brooks and the guilds over the 2008 LOGO series Sordid Lives. After the two sides appeared headed to an extension on Brooks’ final proposal until Wednesday 5:30 PM, Brooks’ Once Upon a Time just issued a statement giving the other side only until Sunday at noon to respond. I hear that, while accepting a standstill agreement, the guilds wanted to exclude Brooks’ court date with the WGA, which led to him moving up the deadline from Wednesday to Sunday.
Once Upon A Time appreciates the response from AFTRA, the other unions and MPI and is happy to extend the deadline until this Sunday at noon. All sides have had many months to review the issues and numbers, so we are confident that if a settlement can be reached, this is plenty of time to make that determination. We are hopeful an agreement can be reached for what has become a very distressful situation for all parties involved.
UPDATE 5:15 PM: The deadline for AFTRA, WGA, DGA and MPI to accept or counter producer Stanley M. Brooks’ final proposal to settle their ongoing dispute over residuals for the LOGO series Sordid Lives is close to getting pushed to Wednesday 5:30 PM. Here is what went down today after Brooks sent out his final $500,000 offer this morning with a 5 PM deadline. There was no official response from the guilds until about 4:30 PM when a representative called Brooks’ camp to ask for an extension until Wednesday 5:30 PM. Since Brooks has a court date with the WGA scheduled for Tuesday, his attorneys responded that Brooks would agree to the extension if both sides go for a so-called standstill agreement, freezing all legal proceedings until the new Wednesday 5:30 PM deadline. AFTRA, WGA and DGA all agreed, paving the way to the new Wednesday deadline. An AFTRA spokesman issued a statement that “AFTRA has informed Mr. Brooks’ attorneys that we require more time to review the latest settlement offer with our members.” Given the fact that AFTRA has to hear back from some 40+ cast members and coordinate with the other guilds, the union asked for the 2-day extension (Monday is a holiday).
EXCLUSIVE 9:15 AM: Producer Stanley M. Brooks this morning sent the Hollywood Guilds his final proposal to settle an ongoing dispute over unpaid residuals for the 2008 LOGO series Sordid Lives which Brooks’ Once Upon a Time production company produced. I hear the new proposal is for a total of about $500,000. That almost doubles Brooks’ previous offer and is about 60% from the original amount of $830,000 that the WGA, DGA, and AFTRA were awarded without late fees and penalties. With those, the sum has ballooned to about $1.5 million. Brooks’ final offer comes with a deadline: if the guilds don’t accept it by 5 PM today, Brooks and his Once Upon a Time will file for bankruptcy. He claims to have already prepared the paperwork, which will be submitted at 5:01 PM if there is no resolution.
At the same time, Brooks’ settlement proposal was delivered to the 3 guilds this morning, he sent out an email to the regular cast members of Sordid Lives. Brooks has been silent for the past few months while his attorneys have been trying to work out a settlement and fight off the guilds’ decision to put Once Upon a Life on the “do not work” list. But now he apologizes to the actors and gives a personal account of the events that led to the flap.
He says it stems from the $700,000 his company lost during the production of the series when Axium, the payroll company it had contracted, went bankrupt. Declaring bankruptcy was the road many of the companies affected by Axium’s shenanigans, including Yari Group, took. Brooks says he had been trying to keep the company he founded with his grandfather’s money afloat, and now again borrowed money from close relatives for his final offer to the guilds. So far, AFTRA, which has been leading the charge against Brooks as its members are owned the lion’s share of the unpaid residuals, has been adamant that it would only accept the full awarded amount including penalties and won’t settle for less. It had advised its members that they would be first in line for reimbursement if Once Upon a Time enters bankruptcy proceedings. In his letter, Brooks disputes that stipulation and argues that the actors would receive far less than what they would get from the settlement he has on the table today. Here is the complete text of Brooks’ email:
At five pm today, my company, Once Upon A Time Films, will file for bankruptcy. Twenty-one years ago I borrowed money from my grandfather, took a loan against my home and started a fledgling production company to create movies-for-television. We had fourteen months of savings and loans to get us to our first production. At the ninth month, CBS ordered A PAIR OF ACES, starring Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Since that day, we have been hired to produce or serve as the production entity for almost sixty films, one music special and one series.
In the over two decades of producing television, we have been responsible for approximately two hundred million dollars of production. We’ve hired hundreds of writers, paid wages to crews in excess of one hundred million and paid actors and actresses at least seventy-five million.
And in all that time, we’ve never had any labor issues with the DGA or SAG or AFTRA – and any WGA issues were resolved amicably. In fact, in the last ten years the WGA has twice audited our writer payments (millions of dollars in fees, health and pension payments and residuals) and both times found that Once Upon A Time had overpaid the fees or benefits due, and the WGA had to refund monies to Once Upon A Time.
Then came SORDID LIVES. As you know, during that production, in the first week of January 2008, with three weeks left in the production, we learned that our payroll service, AXIUM, had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. What you may not know is that 24 hours earlier, a representative of Axium notified us that Axium had changed its policy on security deposits and that Axium would not be releasing the upcoming week’s payroll unless the production wired them an additional $200,000 – bringing the amount on reserve up to over $500,000.
Unbeknownst to that executive (and to us), a two billion dollar New York “Hedge Fund” had forced Axium to insist on the deposit of additional funds from all its payroll clients, just moments before forcing Axium into bankruptcy. The Hedge Fund then swept all of Axium’s payroll accounts. In the end, when all of the paychecks that hadn’t already cleared then bounced – the production ended up having to cover over $700,000.
The money that had to be found to cover the “swept” funds came from me and my family. We asked the network’s corporate parent, Viacom, for assistance – but Viacom refused. We asked IMG (the international distributor) for assistance – but IMG refused. Two companies with a combined net worth of billions and billions and yet they did not assist us. Yet, even then, the production didn’t go down for one minute – and every paycheck was covered. All health and pension checks were honored.
While the Axium executives bought cars, planes, boats, call girls and more – which put them in hundreds of millions of dollars of debt – we scraped together the money to cover your paycheck. We covered crew payments totaling hundreds of thousands. Del Shores, who has been paid a total of approximately $475,000 on this series, was furnished with all the funds he needed in post production for added editorial time, CGI and song score. All of those expenses where also covered by Once Upon A Time. All the while, I deferred all of my own fees and was able to get the Paradigm agency and my accountants, lawyers and other creditors to defer their fees too.
In the months that followed Axium’s demise, I gathered together over a dozen other companies that had been similarly victimized by Axium and the Hedge Fund to sue the Hedge Fund (since there was no Axium left to sue). Many of those companies were small businesses that had already been forced to close their doors, file for bankruptcy or lose their homes. My partner in putting this group together was Yari Films, which itself was forced into bankruptcy when the Hedge Fund swept tens of millions of dollars of residual payments that had been posted by the various Axium payroll clients. Earlier this year, we lost our legal battle against the well-financed Hedge Fund, to recoup our lost payroll and residual funds. But we vowed to stay afloat, keep working and keep trying to find a way to pay the debt.
Since the day we were hit by lightning and had $700,000 taken from us – all we have wanted to do is find a way to make good on the obligations arising from the Sordid Lives series. Have we made mistakes along the way? Sure. We initially hired the wrong type of lawyers to negotiate with the Guilds, we anticipated a more collegial approach to finding a resolution and more. But we have never shied away from trying to find an equitable resolution in order to get the residuals and MPIPH fringe payments paid. There are certainly scores of examples of companies that have negotiated Guild settlements when financial tsunamis have hit entertainment industry companies, large and small. We expected the same. Yet, despite being able to reach a settlement agreement with the DGA and finding common ground with the WGA – we’ve never been able to get AFTRA to negotiate. Whatever you’ve been told – here is a fact: at no time has AFTRA ever offered a counter to our multiple proposals. It has always been a pass, unless every dollar of residuals, late fees, interest and penalties is paid. That is hardly what one would characterize as a real negotiation. Sadly, that money simply doesn’t exist.
So, at five o’clock this evening, the events that started with a bankruptcy will likely end with a bankruptcy.
Simultaneous to my sending this letter to you – we have also sent a final proposal to your Guild representatives. This last offer is nearly double what has been on the table in the past. I’ve asked my family for assistance once again, to try one last time to find an equitable solution. We have imposed a short window on the response so that neither side has time to fight this in the press, as has been the case up until now. Despite promises of confidentiality, the trade papers have somehow been provided every detail of every proposal (albeit not always accurately).
Understand that to this point we have given the Guilds – given you – a preference over all of the other unpaid potential creditors of the production of the series (including those listed above). When we file for bankruptcy protection this evening, those preferences will no longer be allowed. So, your chance to divide the settlement exclusively among just you and Del, will be gone. If that happens you will, absolutely, receive far less than what is on the table today.
I am deeply saddened that it has come to this point. I have wanted to see you paid and have endeavored in every way I could to make that happen. I wish we weren’t at this point – but we are. If it’s true that the cast has previously voted unanimously to only accept 100% of all residuals and penalties and interest – then I imagine your representatives will pass on our last proposal as well. When that happens, I will lose the company I built out of nothing. The industry will lose an employer of thousands of cast and crew. And you will not get what you are owed.
Nobody benefits. And for that, I am truly, truly sorry.
Once Upon A Time Films
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