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At first, Mitchell says, Gibbs was doing all the talking to Wegman. He says Gibbs led the company to believe he was the primary author of the Raymond-and-Peter story. He proposed that he receive 50 percent of the contract and that Eddie Lee and Mitchell receive 25 percent each.
When Wegman presented the deal Gibbs suggested to Eddie Lee and Mitchell, the duo's punk-anarchist ethos quickly evaporated. They made it clear to Wegman, now called McClatchy Films, that they made and distributed the tapes and helped create the mythology around Raymond and Peter. They also started realizing that they needed legal representation. A friend from home put them in touch with Matthew Rosenberger, a Philadelphia entertainment lawyer.
After Wegman consulted with its attorney and Rosenberger, the film company decided that if anyone owned the rights to the material it was Eddie Lee and Mitchell. Eddie Lee says Wegman told Gibbs it would pay him an agents fee of $20,000, a far smaller figure than had been discussed prior to Eddie Lee and Mitchell's involvement in the project.
Gibbs flipped out, Eddie Lee says. He hired Century City entertainment lawyer John Mumford to craft a retaliatory legal argument: The tapes were not copyrightable because they represented an invasion of Raymond and Peter's privacy and did not constitute an original work. Gibbs' play, Mumford pointed out, was derivative of the tapes but constituted an original work. Gibbs copyrighted his play and proceeded to forget about Eddie, Mitchell, and the Wegman Co.
Meanwhile, Eddie Lee and Mitchell sold the rights to their story to Wegman for a little more than $1,000 each. They also secured a copyright for the tapes.
Rosenberger, the attorney for Eddie Lee and Mitchell, says Gibbs' copyright is invalid. He tells me that the tapes, while made without the consent of either Raymond or Peter, are legal. He says the two retirees were so loud that their expectation of privacy was seriously diminished, if not rendered irrelevant. He also says the tapes are edited and arranged so uniquely that they now carry Eddie Lee and Mitchell's creative stamp, making them worthy of a copyright.
Armed with this argument, Wegman threatened to seek an injunction against the New York production of Gibbs' play. After a few letter exchanges between Mumford and the Wegman legal team, the threat evaporated. But one thing was for sure: War had been declared between Gibbs and the "boys," as he calls them.
Even the soft-spoken, ethereal Eddie Lee, who protests that he's above the wrangling, can get worked up over the mundanities of making a movie. When I tell him Gibbs is working on a movie and he plans to call it Shut Up! Little Man, he blurts, "He must be crushed. He must be destroyed."
Gibbs refuses to discuss his falling-out with Eddie Lee and Mitchell, except to say, "I really liked them. It's a shame that movie company drove a wedge between us."
The feud between the "boys" and Gibbs would be the first of several ugly rights battles. Next up was Mitchell's best friend at the time, David Stein. Mitchell had given Stein a copy of the compact disc as a present, and the next thing he knew Stein had hooked up with a movie producer named Patrick Lavache and was writing a script based on the CD.
Mitchell says Stein knew he was working with Wegman on a film but still rejected pleas to cease the project. Stein and Lavache incorporated as Zebra Films and went looking for Peter to secure the rights.
They found him in his Tenderloin hotel in 1993 and took him out on a drinking binge. From 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Lavache says they barhopped across town, buying Peter gin after gin until they ended up in a Castro District bar and started talking rights. Completely trashed, Lavache says, he and Stein got Peter to sign away the rights to his story for $10.
"We left him there in a Castro bar," Lavache says.
Once they had secured the contract, Zebra Films attacked Mitchell and Eddie Lee as the two tried to work with a record label to re-release the Shut Up Little Man CD.
Zebra had a San Francisco entertainment lawyer phone Ectoplasm Records, an imprint of Matador, the label that produced the CD, threatening to sue for copyright infringement if the CD was released. Ectoplasm ceased the re-release. But Zebra dropped the threat and the record label is going ahead with the project.
Lavache has also accused Rosenthal of stealing the idea to do a Raymond-and-Peter movie from him -- a charge Rosenthal emphatically denies.
Lavache says he asked a video distributor he knows to show his script around to producers in the hopes of generating financial backing for his project. He contends that the distributor gave the script to Rosenthal, who used it to generate his own project. He says Rosenthal acknowledged receiving the script when he and Lavache met at a film festival in New York last year.
But Rosenthal denies ever receiving Lavache's script and says he got involved with Shut Up! Little Man last fall when a producer he knows in L.A. put him in touch with Gibbs.