HOL­LY­WOOD EYES MORAL­ITY CLAUSES

Stu­dios look to head off pos­si­ble scan­dal in fu­ture

Ottawa Citizen - - YOU - HAR­RIET ALEXAN­DER

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 to­ward him in 1986, when he was 14, Net­flix knew it could not go ahead.

Net­flix dropped Spacey from House of Cards and canned a forth­com­ing Gore Vi­dal film, shot for Net­flix over the sum­mer. Be­cause he did not have a “moral­ity clause” in his con­tract, how­ever, Spacey was paid for both and the de­ba­cle re­port­edly cost Net­flix $39 mil­lion.

Since Har­vey We­in­stein’s spec­tac­u­lar fall from grace in Septem­ber, pre­cip­i­tated by al­le­ga­tions of rape — which he de­nies — from ac­tress Rose Mc­Gowan and ac­cu­sa­tions of as­sault by many oth­ers, the flood­gates have opened and nu­mer­ous Hol­ly­wood stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives and ac­tors have sud­denly found them­selves out of work.

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 for mis­be­haviour.

“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 are not new. They were first used in 1921, when the pub­lic 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.

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 and a specialist in me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment law, said Hol­ly­wood ex­ec­u­tives were seek­ing to min­i­mize fi­nan­cial risk in the cur­rent #MeToo cli­mate.

Fox is one of many stu­dios The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter says is try­ing to in­sert broad moral­ity clauses into its deals. The clause states that 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 also re­view­ing its codes of con­duct, the in­dus­try jour­nal said, while sev­eral smaller distrib­u­tors are look­ing into le­gal clauses that would en­able them to pull out of a pro­ject if a key in­di­vid­ual com­mits 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 a brush. But Fink said the stu­dios were wise to inset the clauses.

“Stu­dios have an in­vest­ment — they don’t want their pro­ject to be held hostage by some­body who did some­thing wrong. Ul­ti­mately, any­body in Hol­ly­wood right now is wise to be pay­ing a lot more at­ten­tion to their con­duct.”

NET­FLIX

The Net­flix se­ries House of Cards will end with­out dis­graced star Kevin Spacey.

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