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By Lauren Berg
Law360 (August 20, 2020, 9:27 PM EDT) — “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin said a film company lost its chance to option his horror novella “The Skin Trade,” according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in California state court, saying he recouped the rights last year after the company sat on the project for too long.
Blackstone Manor LLC had five years to start production on “The Skin Trade” per a rights agreement but instead chose to wait until the very last minute to throw together a bare-bones shoot to try to hold on to its rights, according to the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Martin, best known for the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series of which “Game of Thrones” is the first installment, published his fantasy horror novella “The Skin Trade” in 1988 when it became part of the “Night Visions 5” collection of short stories by authors such as Stephen King and Dan Simmons, according to the complaint.
In 2009, Mike the Pike Productions Inc. bought the rights to create a movie based on Martin's work, the suit states, and then assigned its rights to Blackstone. Blackstone exercised the option in September 2014.
As part of the agreement, if principal photography of the movie didn't commence within five years after the option was exercised, all of the rights granted to Blackstone would revert to Martin, according to the suit. Blackstone had until Sept. 1, 2019, to commence principal photography, Martin says, but it didn't make the deadline.
On that day, Martin says he received an email from Blackstone saying it hadn't started but would be prepared to shoot “in a matter of days” if Martin would grant an extension of the reversion period.
But the agreement required any extension to be made in writing and executed by all of the parties, the author said.
Instead of honoring that agreement and the five-year deadline, Blackstone threw together a skeleton cast and crew between Sept. 1 and Sept. 2, 2019, to shoot a handful of scenes over the following month, using a working script of “unknown origin, length or quality,” Martin said.
The purpose of the token production was not to produce a full-length film, but to undercut Martin's rights to the novella by clouding whether any reversion of the rights had occurred, according to the suit. But that wasn't enough to prevent Martin from taking the rights back, he said.
“It was the equivalent of a contractor agreeing to build a skyscraper and, on the last day to begin construction — without a foreman, crew, or approved blueprints — having a handful of day laborers take a month to build a gazebo on the construction site instead,” Martin said.
Martin's suit claims breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and seeks a declaration that he, not Blackstone, owns the rights to “The Skin Trade,” as well as damages and litigation costs.
Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Counsel information for Blackstone was not immediately available.
The suit is George R.R. Martin v. Blackstone Manor LLC, case number 20STCV31575, in California Superior Court, County of Los Angeles.
–Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.