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Lynyrd Skynyrd Biopic Maker Decries Effort to Block Film’s Release

Variety logo Variety 6/20/2017 Gene Maddaus
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The producer of a Lynyrd Skynyrd biopic on Tuesday denounced the efforts of surviving band members to block the film’s release, saying it poses a threat to freedom of expression.

Brian Perera is president of Cleopatra Entertainment, which just wrapped production of “Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash.” On Friday, a judge unsealed a federal lawsuit which alleges that the production violates a 1988 consent decree limiting the exploitation of the Lynyrd Skynyrd story.

Cleopatra is making the film in cooperation with Artimus Pyle, a former drummer in the band and a survivor of the 1977 crash that killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steven Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, and three others. Pyle is a party to the 1988 agreement.

The suit was filed by Gary Rossington, the band’s lead guitarist; Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie’s brother; and the estates of Ronnie Van Zant, Steven Gaines, and late band member Allen Collins.

In an interview, Perera said the suit could have a chilling effect in Hollywood.

“This takes a turn, and somebody can crush somebody’s art and somebody’s story,” he said. “It’s not a good signal for the rest of Hollywood. Everyone’s going to feel a little nervous about making these movies and telling these stories.”

Perera said he became aware of the consent decree when he received a cease and desist letter from the surviving band members last year. He said he originally intended to have Pyle help produce the project, but subsequently decided it would be better if he were merely involved as a historical consultant.

“He’s not a writer. He’s not giving out his story,” Perera said. “The director did a lot of research outside of consulting with Pyle from various sources. He contacted other people that had information. We wanted to make sure that this was not Pyle’s story. It was the writer’s story.”

Perera argued that the film, which focuses on the three days around the crash, is based on historical events that are in the public domain. He has tried to reach out to the plaintiffs to reach an agreement, but said he found them unwilling to negotiate.

The film, with a budget of $1.3 million, is now in post-production. Perera said he hoped that it could be released by the end of the year, but the litigation will likely push it into 2018.

“I think the people that are trying to stop the movie would actually enjoy the movie,” he said. “It’s done very tastefully.”

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