Though Johnny Depp may have once had “F-you” money as one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood, the modern legend is going through a bit of a tough time. He’s separated from Amber Heard and is suing his former managers and attorneys in a case that could have far-reaching implications for Hollywood–specifically for any of those workers who aren’t the ones cutting Ari Gold-level deals.
Johnny Depp’s vanished millions are the subject of a lengthy and excellent piece in The Hollywood Reporter tracking his lawsuit against The Management Group and its co-founder (and one-time confidante) Joel Mandel.
Normally, this would seem like a petulant and transparent cashgrab as the star scrambles for a financial foothold. Certainly, his managers agree in their countersuit. The most interesting piece is that Depp argues that his managers aren’t entitled to any commission because they also acted as attorneys. And Depp may have a point.
Depp’s case hinges on the fact that TMG, who are his business managers, offered legal advice. But, he hasn’t paid them any commission on the newest Pirates movie and they believe they are due something.
“I don’t think a commission agreement is enforceable without writing,” Jay Dougherty, director of Loyola Law School’s Entertainment & Media Law Institute, tells THR. “Without a written agreement, I think the client can back out of the deal.”
Depp’s attorney, Adam Waldman, obviously agrees.
“I believe we are on to something that will change how Hollywood business is done in the future,” Waldman told THR. “If that is correct, the Depp case will have a larger meaning and effect beyond the personal interests of the parties.”
Those effects might not be visible to viewers but could mean that relationships between talent and management become much more oppositional. That includes additional contracts and further silo-ing of agents, managers and attorneys. That means you’ll need additional people taking additional cuts of an actor or director’s slice of the pie, which implies that talent demands higher salaries. That, in turn, means that there’s less money available for below-the-line talent, the people that make movies work. Five-percent of someone like Johnny Depp’s income is quite a tidy sum.
All this, over a Pirates of the Caribbean movie literally nobody asked for.