Despite the phenomenal popularity of the evangelical end-times “Left Behind” book series, which has sold over 25 million copies worldwide since 1995, the film version of the first book in the series, marketed as “Left Behind: The Movie,” failed to garner such positive publicity.
The movie is getting media attention mainly because of its involvement in the lawsuit filed by book co-author Tim LaHaye against the film’s producers, Namesake Entertainment and Cloud Ten Pictures. The producers have disputed the suit and called the film a “tremendous success,” Cloud Ten President and Producer Peter Lalonde told BCE in a phone interview.
Filed in late July, the suit charges breach of contract and demands unspecified damages, questioning the low $17.4 million production budget and late release date.
LaHaye’s representative Christopher Rudd said the budget for the movie was expected to exceed $40 million, helping it become a top-quality production scheduled for release Jan. 1, 2000, to “take advantage of the public’s interest in the new millennium,” according to http://www.crosswalk.com.
The producers contend they were given an option of launching the film production in 2000, according to the contract.
During the two-year period prior to film production, Louisville, Ky.-based Namesake Entertainment, which originally optioned the film rights, was unable to generate interest among large studios: They either expressed no interest or suggested muting the Christian message, said Cloud Ten’s Melisa Richter.
“We thought we had an agreement,” said Bryan Merryman, attorney for Namesake Entertainment, according to crosswalk.com. “We made no promises to make a $40 million movie. The agreement Tim LaHaye signed contradicts the allegations he makes in the lawsuit.”
According to various news agencies, when LaHaye and co-author Jerry Jenkins were negotiating the sale of rights for the movie, the initial books in the series had sold fewer than 100,000 copies. The books’ eventual success helped spur disputes and legal battles between people involved in the production.
Meanwhile, the opposing parties have maintained the argument by filing mutual complaints. After Namesake Entertainment and Cloud Ten Pictures filed a motion to dismiss this case, it was put on hold due to LaHaye’s motion, said Lalonde.
“I don’t see the case being settled out of court,” he told BCE. “[LaHaye’s suit] is frivolous at best. You can go through all the complaints he lists, and they all are refuted by the contract he signed.”
The producers’ legal representatives say a move is underway to draw a reluctant Jenkins into the suit, who is known to favor the biblical injunction for Christians to avoid taking each other to court.
“LaHaye obviously doesn’t subscribe to [such injunction],” said Lalonde. “But Jenkins is not involved in the case at this point.”
While the cost of the film remains a breakthrough in Christian filmmaking, the ongoing dispute moves “Left Behind” closer to the way Hollywood operates, where lawsuits have become a badge of validation that a filmmaker has made it, said Regent University film professor Andrew Quicke, as quoted on the Crosswalk Web site.
“[The suit] is a symbol that we’ve arrived like the big boys,” said Lalonde. “But it also makes us look just like the big boys, and that’s a shame.”
He said LaHaye did not seek alternative resolution of the dispute before filing the lawsuit.
While nearly 97 percent of lawsuits are settled out of court, Rudd said this case could go on for as many as three years and at his fee of $400 per hour, the legal costs can be staggering.
Alex Smirnov is BCE’s research associate.