Prolific B-movie director/producer Roger Corman is being sued by his sons over plans to sell his 270-title New Horizon Pictures film library. The complaint, filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also names as a respondent Corman’s wife of 48 years and longtime producing partner, Julie, along with Shout! Factory and Ace Film, the library’s intended buyers.
Roger Martin Corman and Brian Corman claim that their parents have no right to unload the catalog — which includes “The Little Shop of Horrors” and “Piranha” — because it is property of The Pacific Trust, established by the elder Cormans in 1978 for the benefit of their four children.
“You can’t sell what you don’t own,” Venable LLP partner Alex Weingarten, the lawyer representing the sons, told IndieWire.
The transaction was announced less than three weeks ago, on March 15, for an undisclosed price. Weingarten said Roger Martin Corman and Brian Corman previously “had heard rumors” of the sale, but their parents’ counsel, Geraldine A. Wyle and Jeryll S. Cohen of Freeman Freeman & Smiley, sent Weingarten a letter stating, “‘We’re not selling anything that’s an asset of The Pacific Trust.'” The sons only learned that library actually had a prospective new home “through the media.”
Neither Wyle and Cohen nor the buyers have responded to IndieWire’s requests for comment. Weingarten said these parties “have refused to disclose the specifics of that transaction, whether or not money has actually changed hands yet.”
The lawsuit will not come as a “surprise” to Roger and Julie Corman, said Weingarten: “Once the sale was announced, we tried to resolve this before having to go to court. And we were ignored.” Weingarten has now been communicating with Wyle and Cohen. Since filing the lawsuit, he has not yet heard from Shout! Factory or China-based Ace Film, “But we anticipate speaking to them shortly.”
When the library acquisition made headlines, Shout! Factory founders Richard Foos, Bob Emmer and Garson Foos said in a joint statement, “We’ve been huge fans of the Cormans. Their great ingenuity and independent spirit have inspired us throughout our careers. We’ve loved working with them over the last eight years and are thrilled to now be the custodians of these beloved films, making sure that film buffs and fans everywhere discover them like we did.”
With help from Ace Film, they pledged to create new content and remakes based on the catalog’s offerings, and explore merchandise licensing programs, digital media initiatives, and syndication opportunities via streaming, TV, EST, and VOD.
Roger Corman — who turns 92 on Thursday — received an honorary Oscar in 2009. The statuette was presented by the late Jonathan Demme, one of the mainstream directors he mentored. Other “Corman School” grads include James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, and Robert Towne.
Corman’s New World Pictures, founded in 1970, was once America’s largest independent motion picture distribution company. In addition, Corman was an actor, appearing in projects by his protégés like “The Godfather Part II,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “Philadelphia.”
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According to the complaint, obtained by IndieWire, Roger Martin Corman and Brian Corman are more upset with their mother’s behavior than their father’s. “For more than a decade, Julie” — who is in her 70s — “has waged a campaign to effectively revoke, at least partially, the irrevocable trusts that she and Roger William established many years ago to pass their wealth to their children.”
As Roger neared his 80th birthday, he “decided that he wanted to give a large portion of the assets to his children before his death,” the complaint reads. The brothers claim their mother responded by both berating her family and imploring her husband not to discuss finances with their children. The complaint includes a 2009 sworn statement from their sister, Mary, in which she explains that Julie’s “badgering” was a “nightly occurrence,” and her “verbal abuse was so extreme that several times my father became physically ill as a result.”
Roger Martin Corman and Brian Corman contend that their mother’s “about-face” related to The Pacific Trust “stems from her belief that she and Roger William have been too generous, at her expense, in providing for their children.” In the words of Weingarten, “to the extent that [the library] would be sold, the proceeds of the sale would have to go to the owner of the library, which is Pacific Trust, and not into Julie Corman’s pockets.”