A California man was charged with fraud after securing millions in funding and using most of the money on himself, prosecutors say
On paper, Legends looked like a box-office hit. Adam Joiner billed his movie as an anachronistic mash-up of legendary 19th-century American figures, a steampunk Avengers tailor-made to satiate the ever-expanding appetite for big-ticket, fantasy-action pictures.
With Endgame, the latest Avengers installment, grossing more than $1.2bn in its opening weekend, it isnt hard to understand how Joiner was able to secure a relatively measly $14m in investment for the project.
The only problem? Beyond its screenplay, Legendsdidnt exist and it never would.
Joiner, 41, was arrested on 27 August and was charged in a Los Angeles federal court with wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft. Prosecutors allege he orchestrated an elaborate scheme of fraud, convincing at least two foreign firms to invest millions in Legends. Through email and telephone communications, and a series of forged documents, federal prosecutors say, he claimed to have executed distribution agreements with companies like Netflix and Amblin Partners, Steven Spielbergs production outfit.
In reality, no such agreements were made, the prosecutors charge, and Joiner did very little with the ill-gotten funds to produce a film. He spent much of the money on himself, including on the purchase of a $5m home in Manhattan Beach, California, the FBI special agent Nathan Cherney wrote in an affidavit to the criminal complaint.
Sweeping epics in the style of Game of Thrones or the recently Disney-fied Star Wars universe have inspired an undeniable gold rush for premium content so much so that the genre has, in some ways, come to define the contemporary economics of the film industry.
The success of Marvel, the comic publisher turned studio juggernaut, has been particularly game-changing, building the concept of epic film universes.
Its success inspired a slew of other franchises to pursue film-verses, the media reporter Ashley Rodriguez wrote for Quartz in 2017. Lucasfilm, also owned by Disney, borrowed the model forStar Wars, which studio boss Kathleen Kennedy hopes to carry on for another decade. Hasbro is rolling out its Transformers and GI Joe franchises into a broader movie-verse, based on its popular childrens toys. Warner Bros and JK Rowling are creating a cinematic universe set in the Harry Potter authors magical world.
The story behind Legends begins in South Korea, according to the affidavit to the criminal complaint. Paul Huh, a director with Korean Investment Partners Co, Ltd (KIP), told the FBI he met Adam Joiner in late 2015 through John Yi, a Korean associate. Joiner hailed from Granite Bay, California, a small town of just over 20,000 in the Sacramento area. He described himself as the owner of a film production company called Dark Planet Pictures, LLC, the affidavit says, and claimed to be seeking investment to produce a screenplay written by his brother, Andrew.
Adam had registered Dark Planet with the California secretary of states office in 2014, and although the companys registration is currently inactive, he and his brother are listed as one-time officers. (Andrew Joiner has not been named in the case against Adam.)
Joiner came to the table with what he claimed was a pre-existing relationship with Netflix, Huh told the FBI. Things have begun to pick up steam with Netflix as a potential distributor of the film, Joiner wrote in a February 2016 email to Huh that is referenced in the affidavit. I have another meeting with them this week, he added.
On Netflix, I have another good meeting with them yesterday, and expect to receive a contract from them by the end of the week, Joiner allegedly wrote three days later.
Before KIP would agree to invest in Legends, Huh wanted to see a copy of the Netflix deal. He told investigators he received a fax bearing a Netflix-branded cover sheet two days later. It included a letter, dated 5 April 2016, purporting to confirm that an agreement between Netflix, Inc and Dark Planet Pictures, LLC, was executed March 31st 2016. The letter was allegedly signed by an individual titled Vice President, Business & Legal Affairs/Content Acquisition.