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Big Fat Greek Wedding turns tragic for producers

Los Angeles, July 3 (Reuters): The producers who first saw potential in My Big Fat Greek Wedding say it has turned into a “Big Fat Greek Tragedy.”

Now they are suing the picture’s star, Nia Vardalos, as well as actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Home Box Office, Inc. and Gold Circle Films for a share of the big, fat profits from the most successful independent film in history.

The principals of MPH Entertainment said in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday that not only have they not seen a penny from Wedding, which grossed more than $600 million worldwide after its 2002 release, but an accounting statement sent to them by their co-producers showed the film actually lost $20 million.

MPH partners, Jim Milio, Melissa Jo Peltier and Mark Hufnail, also complained that their better-known partners — actors Hanks and Wilson, Home Box Office, Inc. and Gold Circle Films — hogged the spotlight when critical praise started rolling in for the film, which cost just $5 million to make.

“There were no less than seventeen such award ceremonies and, other than the People’s Choice Awards, MPH and its principals were invited to none of them,” the lawsuit said.

Speaking for itself and the other co-producers, Gold Circle issued a statement describing the claims as “ludicrous.”

“We haven’t seen the complaint, but we stand by the integrity of our accounting,” the statement said. “It’s ludicrous to suggest that this film will not be profitable. MPH Entertainment will see their appropriate participation in due course.”

The MPH Entertainment partners met Vardalos in 1997 when they cast her in a small part for their film Men Seeking Women. At Vardalos’ urging, the company optioned her script for My Big Fat Greek Wedding the same year for $60,000.

A year later, when Hanks and his wife Wilson saw Vardalos perform some of the script material in her one-woman show and brought in Home Box Office and Gold Circle Films to make the movie, MPH agreed to dilute its share of the profits.

The smaller company insisted, however, on receiving $200,000 and credit as “an active producer ... of the film,” the lawsuit said.

In its lawsuit, MPH accused Vardalos, The Playtone Company owned by Wilson and Hanks, HBO and Gold Circle Films of breach of contract for failing to pay the partners their 3 per cent of “actual profits,” and excluding them from “virtually all major awards ceremonies at which the picture was nominated.”

The lawsuits demands more than $20 million in damages and compensation as well as an independent accounting of the film’s box office and video/DVD earnings.

“My clients gave up practically everything to help the picture get made — their ownership of the script and their right to produce and direct and all they asked for was a small share of the real profits and proper credit,” said MPH’s attorney, Henry Gradstein. “What they received was a Big Fat Greek Tragedy.”

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