Wary Hol­ly­wood stu­dios re­vive the moral­ity clause

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Harriet Alexan­der in New York

IT WAS, the stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives must have con­ceded, a costly mis­take.

Kevin Spacey was lined up to star in the sixth and fi­nal sea­son of House of

Cards, Net­flix’s block­buster po­lit­i­cal drama but when An­thony Rapp ac­cused Spacey in Oc­to­ber of mak­ing a fright­en­ing sex­ual ad­vance to­wards him in 1986, when he was 14, Net­flix knew they could not go ahead. Spacey was dropped from House of

Cards and a forth­com­ing Gore Vi­dal film, shot for Net­flix over the sum­mer, was canned. Be­cause he did not have a “moral­ity clause” in his con­tract, how­ever, Spacey was paid for both, cost­ing Net­flix $39mil­lion (£28mil­lion).

Since Har­vey We­in­stein’s fall from grace in Septem­ber, pre­cip­i­tated by claims of rape – which he de­nies – from the ac­tress Rose Mc­Gowan, the flood­gates have opened and a roll call of Hol­ly­wood stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives and ac­tors have sud­denly found them­selves out of work, their projects on hold.

The fi­nan­cial dam­age in­flicted on the in­dus­try is so great that many stu­dios are now be­gin­ning to in­sist on “moral­ity clauses” – con­trac­tual agree­ments that mean a per­son could be dis­missed without pay if they mis­be­have.

“If I’m a stu­dio, I want the big­gest, broad­est moral­ity clause I can get,” said Ed McPher­son, founder of law firm McPher­son Rane and a spe­cial­ist in en­ter­tain­ment law.

“But as an artist, I’m wor­ried – what in­frac­tion falls into this? It’s easy to say it ap­plies in a We­in­stein sce­nario. But some clauses men­tion the be­hav­iour that would ‘shock, in­sult or of­fend the com­mu­nity or pub­lic morals’. What does that mean?”

Moral­ity clauses were first used in 1921, when the back­lash against Para­mount af­ter the ar­rest of Roscoe “Fatty” Ar­buckle on rape and mur­der charges drove Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios, one of Para­mount’s com­peti­tors, to insert clauses in­sist­ing on good be­hav­iour in their con­tracts. Any breach would per­mit Uni­ver­sal to ter­mi­nate the agree­ment with five days’ no­tice.

In the early For­ties, stars such as Ava Gard­ner, Joan Craw­ford, Judy Gar­land and Jean Har­low were tightly con­trolled by the stu­dios which “owned” them, with many of the women be­ing forced to have abor­tions if they fell preg­nant. But the end of the “stu­dio sys­tem” in the late For­ties changed that and moral­ity clauses were no longer com­mon.

Now, the tur­moil in Hol­ly­wood has forced stu­dios to con­sider in­sist­ing on such clauses for all their con­tracts.

David Fink, a part­ner in Los An­ge­les law firm Kel­ley Drye, said Hol­ly­wood ex­ec­u­tives were seek­ing to min­imise fi­nan­cial risk in the “Me Too” cli­mate. Fox is one of many stu­dios The Holly

wood Re­porter says is try­ing to insert broad moral­ity clauses into its deals.

The clause states Fox can end any con­tract “if the tal­ent en­gages in con­duct that re­sults in ad­verse pub­lic­ity or no­to­ri­ety or risks bring­ing the tal­ent into pub­lic dis­re­pute, con­tempt, scan­dal or ridicule.”

Para­mount Stu­dios is re­view­ing codes of con­ducts, while smaller dis­trib­u­tors are look­ing into le­gal clauses that would en­able them to pull out of a project if a key in­di­vid­ual – whether dur­ing or be­fore the term of the con­tract – com­mit­ted or is charged with an act con­sid­ered un­der state or fed­eral laws to be a felony, or crime of “moral turpi­tude”.

Their use di­vides opin­ion. Some see it as an in­sur­ance pol­icy. Oth­ers be­lieve it is too broad.

Mr Fink said the stu­dios were wise to in­clude the clauses. “Stu­dios don’t want their project to be held hostage by some­body who did some­thing wrong. Any­body in Hol­ly­wood right now is wise to be pay­ing more at­ten­tion to their con­duct.”

Judy Gar­land was among the first to have moral­ity clauses; Rose Mc­Gowan who ac­cused We­in­stein of rape; Kevin Spacey has been paid for projects he was dropped from

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.