Kevin Shulman says his producer credit was stolen from him after he had to undergo treatment for cancer. The defense, which includes producer Dana Guerin, Epic Level Entertainment and IFC Films, has maintained that there was never an agreement attaching him as a producer on the Manson family murder pic.
A breach of contract suit over claims that producer and director Kevin Shulman was shut out of Manson family murder movie Charlie Says goes to trial on Monday, setting the stage for a showdown on whether he was cheated out of a producer credit and the fees to go along with it.
Shulman and Jeremy Rosen allegedly entered into an oral agreement in 2010 to develop and produce a film based on the Mason family murders. Together, they optioned the rights to Ed Sanders’ 1971 novel The Family and set out to assemble a team of investors and crew. They drafted producer Dana Guerin and reunited screenwriter Guinevere Turner and director Mary Harron, known for their work on American Psycho.
Under their deal, Shulman and Rosen agreed to equally share all producer fees, as well as any back-end fees and participation, to be no less than five percent of the $5.5 million budget, or $275,000, the suit says. Rosen and Guerin in 2014 established Squeaky Films, the entity through which the movie would be developed.
That same year, Shulman was diagnosed with cancer and was forced to divert some of his time away from the production, according to the complaint. When he returned to set in 2018, he says Rosen and Guerin strung him along by saying that a written deal memorializing his producer credit and fee was forthcoming when he noted his concern about his title on the project. Shulman claims he was instead blindsided by an eleventh-hour deal reducing his role to co-producer and fee to $15,000.
Shulman refused to sign. In September 2018, he sued Rosen, Guerin and Squeaky Films. He also named John Frank Rosenblum and Cindi Rice, employees of Epic Level Entertainment who were brought on to replace him, and IFC Films, which bought Charlie Says for distribution. In addition to breach of contract, he alleges fraud, unfair business practices and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, among other contractual claims.
“Defendants had conspired together, while Plaintiff was recovering from cancer, to pull the rug out from underneath him, robbing him of both credit and compensation for the eight years of work he had undeniably performed,” reads the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Shulman points to oral and written agreements over the years allegedly affirming that his contract was breached, namely one that was entered into in 2014 with Guerin and Rosen at a Santa Monica restaurant. As proof that the defendants knew they were cheating him out of his proper credit, he argues that the deal he was offered contained “releases of rights that no ‘Co-producer’ would logically possess, which shows that Defendants were aware that Plaintiff, in fact, contributed significantly and creatively to the film,” an amended complaint says.
Rosen, Shulman’s friend and business partner who served as his legal counsel and talent manager, in June 2021 settled the suit.
The remaining defendants deny Shulman’s claims and argue that he didn’t do anything that would entitle him to a producer credit because he “did absolutely no work during 2016-2018 to help produce the film,” they say in court filings. On summary judgment, they stressed that Guerin never had a deal with Shulman “while Epic Level and Squeaky Film are strangers to the purported oral agreement and thus cannot be held liable for allegedly breaching it.”
“During the early stages of developing the Picture, in 2014, Ms. Guerin and Michael Guerin met several times with Rosen, who was accompanied by his ‘business associate,’ Plaintiff Shulman,” reads the motion, which stresses that Shulman wasn’t party to or mentioned in the 2014 investor agreement. “During these few meetings, Plaintiff played no role in the creative or financial discussions about the content of the Picture or how it would be financed. At no time during these early meetings, or any subsequent time, did Plaintiff ever ask to be involved in the Picture nor was there any discussion about his becoming one of the producers of the Picture.”
The dispute has sparked a cross-suit from Squeaky Films against Rosen and his production company Roxwell Films, which has settled. The company alleged that Rosen “consistently engaged in acts and omissions which involved incompetence, dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation, and other wrongdoing, such that the progress and quality of the Picture was substantially delayed and damaged.”
The suit claimed Rosen misled potential investors, used money from the budget on housing and travel, mishandled negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild, charged $35,000 for legal work when he wasn’t qualified to practice law in California and made unauthorized representations to Turner and Harron about their compensation for their work on the movie.
In 2018, Squeaky Film ousted Roxwell and its interest in Charlie Says from the production, according to the cross-complaint.
On Jan. 20, judge Barbara Scheper granted Shulman’s motion to exclude the settlement from the trial. She also rejected a move from the defense to exclude evidence of Shulman’s cancer and treatment.
“This trial is a long time coming for Plaintiff Kevin Shulman who dedicated many years of his life developing and producing the project ‘Charlie Says,’ only to be unjustly refused credit and compensation for his undeniable efforts, and kicked to the curb by the defendants,” says John Fowler, a lawyer for Shulman. “Defendants now must answer the very serious allegations of fraud and conspiracy, along with their breaches of contract, before a jury.”
Stephen Moeller, a lawyer for the defense, declined to comment. IFC didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The trial is expected to last five to seven days, with jury selection slated to start on Monday.