Warren Miller is synonymous with ski movie. Almost every skier on the planet has watched at least one of his adrenaline-fueled documentaries of extreme skiers. This week a Colorado arbitration panel has denied Warren Miller Entertainment’s breach-of-contract claim against the filmmaker. But while the decision gives Miller more control over his name, it could force him out of the ski-film industry he created more than 60 years ago.
Miller created the genre as a camera- toting ski bum in 1949. Miller sold his movie company in 1988 and signed endorsement and noncompete contracts with the company as part of the sale. Warren Miller Entertainment argued that his narration in a competitor’s movie violated those contracts.
The arbitrating panel last week ruled that the noncompete clauses in five contracts negotiated between the man and the company between 1988 and 1998 had expired but that Miller’s participation in “Refresh,” a movie produced by Denver’s Level 1 Production, breached his promises for exclusive publicity of WME’s annual movies. The ruling comes 13 months after the Boulder-based Warren Miller Entertainment group sued to block screenings of “Refresh.”
The ruling states that WME owns the exclusive right, in perpetuity, in all media, to the name, the personal endorsement, use of voice and the likeness of Warren Miller, only when used with its existing business, and the fruits of its related efforts. The ruling also forbids Miller from working with other ski-film makers, essentially banning him from the ski film business, but Miller can use his name and support for projects outside the scope of WME.
Even though Miller broke his contractual obligation for endorsement, the arbitrators could not determine the financial impact of that violation. They found the company’s claims for damages to be “speculative, insufficient and lacking credibility to support any specific damage.” That lack of specific evidence led the arbitrators to ultimately rule there was no breach of contract.