Can Kevin Spacey's replacement in All the Money in the World lead to scandal clause in Hollywood contracts?

FP Staff

January 11, 2018 13:45:16 IST

When Sony and filmmaker Ridley Scott cut Kevin Spacey from All the Money in the World, they set a bold but risky precedent for dealing with scandal-hit talent. Spacey was replaced by Christopher Plummer for the part as US millionaire J Paul Getty in the story about the 1973 kidnapping of his teenage grandson John Paul Getty III.

While filmmakers have been forced into quick recasting decisions before, such a bold move for non-creative reasons in a finished movie was unprecedented. Soon, others followed. The release of the Louis CK film I Love You Daddy was scrapped by the film’s distributor The Orchard following allegations of sexual misconduct against the comedian.

File image of Kevin Spacey. Reuters

File image of Kevin Spacey. Reuters

But the question remains whether this decision was legal. In an article in The Conversation, law lecturer Mathilde Pavis discusses how Hollywood is still trying to figure out ways to operate legally in the aftermath of the Weinstein scandal.

The idea of digitally replacing Spacey with Plummer in the film raises interesting questions in relation to Spacey's performers’ rights. Although it is pretty routine in stunt scenes, it is not hard to imagine why a court could find placing another actor's head on Spacey's body harmful to his reputation. So, could Spacey have objected to this on legal grounds?

No, to put it simply, the US intellectual property framework does not provide for performers’ rights. But, if he were in France, he could. Under French law, performers enjoy a moral right that protects not only their performance, but also their name and reputation as performers from prejudicial exploitation. The French legal framework believes that such intentional modification of the performer's work may harm the performer's reputation.

Also, as traditional editing methods were used, Spacey couldn't possibly object to being replaced merely on the basis of performer's rights. Director Scott had quelled any such rumours in an interview with The New York Times, saying “There was no digital trickery required, either, contrary to the speculation. A little bit of good-morning makeup and some front lighting and he was ready to go. It was quite simple.”

So, unless Spacey had specifically stipulated in his contract that he could not be replaced in the production or post-production phase, he cannot seek any legal recourse.

But Pavis argues that "the opposite may be true." If Spacey's contract had included a morals clause, Sony could have taken legal action against the actor for breach of contract. Pavis writes, "In the future it is likely that there will be big changes in the way film industry contracts are written and negotiated. Production companies may ensure that performers waive their rights to object to being replaced or their performances edited if their names are linked to scandals. Producers may decide to make sure that no intellectual property right of an actor gets in the way of cutting them out of the picture."

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jan 11, 2018 13:57 PM