Spider-Man's Pay Dispute With Fired Director Julie Taymor
Nearly seven months after it first went into previews, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is finally scheduled to open on Broadway on June 14. But the opening-night gala may not be the only place producer Michael Cohl has to get dressed up for. He may also be headed to court.
The reason? A nasty, escalating dispute with fired director Julie Taymor over what she’s owed for her work on the show.
Taymor apparently is owed six months of pay for her work on the production, and efforts to recover it haven’t been successful, according to Laura Penn, the executive director of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the union that reps Taymor and other theater people.
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Penn reluctantly confirmed rumors of the ongoing dispute, although a “dispute” may be the wrong way to characterize it, since Penn has heard nothing back from representatives for the show.
“Julie was paid $125,000 five years ago. For nine years of work on this project that is all she has been paid,” Penn said. “It’s startling. People assume it’s an $85 million production and she made $10 million or walked away with a settlement in the six figures. And it’s just not true.”
“One of the requirements we have from producers,” Penn continued, “is that they provide us with statements of activities, things like box-office receipts and operating costs. And not only are they not paying her, they’re not providing us with those statements. We have no information.” (Reached Wednesday night, a spokesman for the show declined comment.)
In any event, if the letter Penn sent on Taymor’s behalf about a month ago isn’t responded to within the next week, the whole thing will move toward arbitration.
How that could play out is hard to say. Since the show’s lawyers have provided the SDC with no financial information, determining how much Taymor is actually owed is difficult. Penn’s “best guess” is that the director’s fees are in the “$200,000 to $300,000 range,” but she notes that this does not include other royalties Taymor is entitled to as an author of the show. (Whoops! Seems Taymor hasn’t seen those either.)
"People assume it’s an $85 million production and she made $10 million or walked away with a settlement in the six figures. And it’s just not true.”
The ugliness over what Taymor is owed for her work is just the latest in what has been one of the most drama-laden productions of all time. Four actors have been injured since Spider-Man went into previews back in November, tens of millions of dollars have been spent, and the show’s composers, U2’s Bono and The Edge, have gone from being called potential Broadway visionaries to being a textbook case of how not to manage the transition from rock stars to Broadway composers.
In recent weeks, Bono has claimed in interviews that Taymor had to be fired because she was “too close” to the show—a statement that drew a shocked reaction among people in the director’s camp, who fairly note that the U2 frontman spent most of the preview period away on a world tour. They are also happy to point out that the music hasn’t been better received by critics than anything else in the production.
To them, the narrative of these Broadway outsiders coming in at the last minute to “rescue” the show from auteur-inflicted disaster rings particularly hollow, coming a week before the Tony Awards, which The Book of Mormon is expected to dominate.
Like Spider-Man, The Book of Mormon was also conceived with the help of two guys who are giants in the field of popular culture—Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of South Park fame. But where Bono and The Edge were M.I.A. during the crucial run-up to Spider Man’s openings, Parker and Stone barely left the theater to shower.
Now, The Book of Mormon has 14 nods while Spider-Man was rendered ineligible by its constantly changing opening date. Spider Man’s main hope of being at the Tonys? As a punchline.
Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.