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Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

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  • Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

    Anschutz blames Cussler for $105 million film flop

    By Glenn F. Bunting
    Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
    2:18 PM PST, February 1, 2007

    Attorneys for Philip Anschutz allege as part of a lawsuit going to trial this week that author Clive Cussler duped the Denver industrialist into paying $10 million for film rights to the adventure novel "Sahara" by flagrantly inflating his book sales to more than 100 million copies.

    "Cussler and his agent had gotten away with these numbers for years," said Alan Rader, Anschutz's lawyer. "It was a lie and it doomed the movie."

    The claim is "ridiculous," Cussler said this morning outside a Los Angeles Superior Court room. "They wanted the book. They solicited us."

    The allegations surfaced at the start of a trial that seeks to settle a long-running dispute over who is responsible for Anschutz's company losing $105 million on "Sahara," the 2005 action movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.

    The trial, which includes claims of sabotage, fraud, profligate spending and racism, is expected to provide a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the often mysterious world of moviemaking. Lawyers are expected to finish picking a jury today and begin opening arguments Friday.

    Among those on the witness list are Anschutz, the secretive, 67-year-old multibillionaire who shuns publicity; former Paramount Pictures Chairwoman Sherry Lansing; Breck Eisner, the son of the former Walt Disney Co. chairman; McConaughey, who also served as executive producer, and Cussler, the 75-year-old bestselling author.

    Cussler initially sued Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment in 2004, charging that producers reneged on a contract that gave the author extraordinary approval rights over the screenplay. Anschutz countersued, alleging that Cussler deliberately torpedoed the film through his repeated attempts to write his own script, all of which were rejected by the producers. Both sides are seeking millions of dollars in damages.

    In court papers, Anschutz's attorneys claim that Cussler "perpetrated a massive fraud" to secure an "unprecedented" $10-million per book contractual agreement during negotiations with Anschutz in 2000.
    "If you don't know how to draw, you don't belong in this building" - John Lasseter 2006

  • #2
    Re: Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

    The book was amusing but nothing special. If you're making a film, sales figures for the book shouldn't affect your decision. A good story and interesting characters should.

    The movie was a confusing mess. Who's fault is that?
    "Yesterday, a man walked up to me and said, 'Isn't it a shame that Walt Disney couldn't be here to see this?' and I said, "He did see this, that's why it's here."
    -Art Linkletter July 17, 2005-

    When you wish upon a star your dreams come true.


    • #3
      Re: Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

      Gad! Unfortuantely, I'm a MASSIVE Cussler fan, and it grieves me to say that part of the movie's failure was Cussler's fault. Cussler's claims that the producers had enough with the author's insistant rewrites of the miserable script, and finally went ahead with a script that Cussler did not OK (final script approval was in his initial contract).

      But, it would be Cussler who would turn to his MILLIONS of INTERNATIONAL fans and ask them to boycott the film. Frankly, had Cussler begrudgingly turned to his readers and said, "Listen, they're gonna hack the crap out of the novel. Just enjoy the fitful romp and cross your fingers they get the characters right," (which, surprisingly, Bret Eisner did) we wouldn't be here today.

      The movie was fun, fast-paced, and for the most part, harmless. Had this movie come out in the Spring of 1981 against Spielburg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," I think it would have given Indy a run for his money (dare I say). But, twenty years later, the stakes have been raised and audiences expect more. The movie, alas, just wasn't "enough."

      I felt that had Cussler decided not to sue and actually promoted the film, it wouldn't have been hung up in legal limbo enough to have a better release date and thusly, earned more money. The money earned would encourage a sequel and there, I feel, Cussler would have succeeded. Heck, there were rumors Morgan Freedman wanted to play the villan in "Inca Gold," the next script in line...

      Such is the movie business, sadly. Cussler got screwed in 1980 with Hollywood's HORRIFIC adaptation of "Raise the Titanic," and for that reason, the author was so difficult in OK'ing the script, actors, director, sets, etc. on this movie.


      • #4
        Re: Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

        Okay, I see this is a case of you'll enjoy the movie if you don't read the book - because I did enjoy the movie. Didn't even know that there was even a controversy over it!
        Will trade husband for Disneyland and DCA Pins!


        • #5
          Re: Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

          I happened to have liked this movie. I mean it was no Indiana Jones, but it was okay. And Matthew McConaughey is easy on the eyes too.


          • #6
            Re: Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

            We'll see if Matthew wears a shirt to court when he's called to testify:

            Lawyer to the stars Fields eclipsed by none
            By Matthew Belloni
            The Hollywood Reporter
            Feb 6, 2007

            Visitors to the drab downtown Los Angeles courtroom of Judge John Shook this week will be forgiven for becoming a tad starstruck. Sure, the case of Cussler v. Crusader Entertainment pits a well-known author, Clive Cussler, against billionaire "Sahara" producer Philip Anschutz with $100 million in damages potentially at stake.

            But in a trial whose witness list includes actor Matthew McConaughey and former Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing, the biggest name in the room might still be the plaintiff's 77-year old attorney. Bert Fields is the Clint Eastwood of entertainment lawyers, a multihyphenate, seen-it-all figure who is seemingly becoming more productive after a half-century of practicing law.
            "If you don't know how to draw, you don't belong in this building" - John Lasseter 2006


            • #7
              Re: Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

              I've been reading Clive Cussler's novels for years, and I've thoroughly enjoyed them. Certainly they're escapist fare, just like Indiana Jones and James Bond. In fact, Dirk Pitt always seemed to me to be a cross between the two.

              I think there are four ways the movie "Sahara" failed: First, one of the things that makes a Dirk Pitt book fun is its historical context, and while they paid tribute to it with the Confederate ship, they missed an even more interestign historical feature by skipping over the Abraham Lincoln connection. Second, they missed the point completely in the casting of Steve Sahn as Giordino, but that's understandable. Giordino was always going to be the toughest part to cast in the movie (which is probably why he wasn't even included in the "Raise the Titanic" movie made years ago). Third, Rudy Gunn was supposed to be an ex-navy commander (a sub commander if memory serves). They made him into a computer nerd. Fourth, Admiral Sandecker casting was good, but the part wasn't given its full measure of the character's power.

              There are, however, some things that worked in the movie: First, McConaughey does make an interesting Dirk Pitt. He has the on screen charisma, even if it is, as someone put it, "a good ol' boy." Second, Steve Zahn's character was enjoyable, even if it wasn't Giordino as portrayed in the books. His "How are ya?" comments were priceless. Third, in an action-adventure movie, one expects some concessions have to be made because there are differences in the audience, so most of the changes, while they may have torn away the heart of the novel, are understandable from a commercial viewpoint. "Sahara" was a lot of fun to watch, and it's a shame there may not be more to follow.


              • #8
                Re: Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

                Cussler struggles on the stand; another suit is filed

                The novelist's agent is accused of overstating book sales before the 'Sahara' film flop.

                By Glenn F. Bunting
                Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
                February 14, 2007

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                "If you don't know how to draw, you don't belong in this building" - John Lasseter 2006


                • #9
                  Re: Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

                  Jurors hear tales of studio maneuvering

                  On the stand, a 'Sahara' producer dishes on how Michael Eisner's son won the job as director.

                  By Glenn F. Bunting
                  Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
                  March 5, 2007

                  In Hollywood it pays to have connections, even if you are the son of former Disney Chairman Michael Eisner.

                  Stories of back-lot feuding, deceitful negotiations and high-strung egos are all part of a drama unfolding in the wood-paneled Los Angeles County Superior Court room of Judge John P. Shook. Names such as Breck Eisner, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Penelope Cruz, Heath Ledger and Jack Black spill from the witness stand.

                  Testimony resumes today in the trial pitting media mogul Philip Anschutz against bestselling author Clive Cussler. Both sides have spent millions of dollars waging a bitter legal battle.

                  At issue: Who is responsible for the failure of "Sahara," the 2005 action-adventure film that lost about $105 million? It starred McConaughey and Cruz.

                  The breach-of-contract case, which began with jury selection in late January, is expected to last at least a month more. Currently on the stand is Karen Baldwin, an executive producer of "Sahara" who has testified for several days.

                  It was she who recounted that, several years ago, Breck Eisner desperately wanted to direct "Sahara," even though the USC film school graduate had little experience.

                  Executives at Paramount Pictures, the movie's distributor, balked at putting an untested director in charge of a production budget that grew to $160 million.

                  But when director Rob Bowman unexpectedly left "Sahara" before filming began, Eisner again raised his hand after directing "Taken," a 2002 television miniseries created by Steven Spielberg.

                  "I believe Spielberg actually placed a call to Paramount to say, 'You know, Breck Eisner would be great, blah, blah, blah," Baldwin recalled.

                  Breck Eisner, who got the job, is on a list of witnesses scheduled to testify later in the trial.

                  Baldwin, a former executive with Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment, dished on the stand about how the stars were chosen and how Cussler created a furor by constantly fiddling with the script.
                  Many top-tier actors were considered for the lead role of the swashbuckling Dirk Pitt, among them Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Owen Wilson, Heath Ledger and Christian Slater. Baldwin testified that in a telephone conversation with Cruise, the actor "indicated that he was a fan" of Cussler's books and "excited" about the project.

                  But Cruise passed on the script, and Baldwin's team turned its attention to Jackman. Paramount executives were "adamant that we move off" Jackman, Baldwin wrote in an e-mail produced in court.

                  "Hugh Jackman was doing a Broadway play," Baldwin testified. "So it wasn't that they didn't like Hugh, but they didn't want to wait for him."

                  Crusader Entertainment wanted Christian Bale but ran into opposition from then-Paramount chief Sherry Lansing.
                  full article at
                  "If you don't know how to draw, you don't belong in this building" - John Lasseter 2006


                  • #10
                    Re: Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

                    Cussler's writing is taken to task

                    Screenwriting guru Robert McKee rips into the novelist's script for the movie 'Sahara.'

                    By Glenn F. Bunting
                    Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
                    April 11, 2007

                    In the film "Adaptation," a screenwriting instructor named Robert McKee humiliates a struggling scribe played by actor Nicolas Cage.

                    Launching into an obscenity-laced tirade, the McKee character screams, "You, my friend, don't know crap about life! And why are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don't have any bloody use for it!"

                    The real-life McKee turned in an equally dramatic performance last week in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. This time, he berated the work of bestselling author Clive Cussler.

                    "I mean, I cannot overstate how terrible the writing is," McKee testified. "It is flawed in every way writing can be flawed."

                    McKee appeared as an expert witness in a Hollywood breach-of-contract case that pits Cussler against Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz. Both sides are fighting over who is to blame for the financial failure of the movie "Sahara," which was financed by Anschutz's production company.

                    The jury trial, which began in late January, is expected to continue until early May.

                    Anschutz's attorneys hired McKee to evaluate a draft of the "Sahara" screenplay that was written by Cussler.

                    McKee said he did not accept the consulting work with the intent of assailing a fellow writer. "To find myself in a situation where I have to take a side against a writer is very upsetting to me," he said.

                    But McKee was well-compensated. At a rate of $500 per hour, he has received more than $60,000 as one of Anschutz's experts, McKee said.

                    Cussler declined to comment Tuesday about McKee's testimony. He referred questions to his lawyer.
                    "If you don't know how to draw, you don't belong in this building" - John Lasseter 2006


                    • #11
                      Re: Anschutz sues Cussler for 'Sahara' failure - Los Angeles Times 2/2/07

                      'Sahara' director testifies in trial over script, author's role

                      LOS ANGELES (AP) — Despite hearing whispers around Hollywood there were troubles making the film adaptation of Sahara, Breck EisnerSahara on the big screen.

                      Eisner, the 37-year-old son of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, said he knew there had been some complications making the movie but after consulting with his lawyer he was brought aboard in 2003.

                      "I knew I could nail this film," Eisner said. "I was going to take that chance."

                      Eisner admitted, however, he had no idea of the maelstrom he was about to enter.

                      The problems with Sahara are at the core of the trial that began in late January and is expected to last several more weeks.

                      Best-selling author Clive Cussler has sued Crusader Entertainment, a company owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, claiming it reneged on a contract that gave him creative control over Sahara, which is based on his book with the same name.

                      Crusader filed a countersuit against Cussler, claiming he was disruptive during the film-making process and disparaged the movie before its release.

                      Each suit seeks millions of dollars.

                      Both sides are blaming each other for Sahara's dismal showing at the box office. The movie grossed only $68 million in the United States, and Crusader's attorneys estimate the company has lost more than $80 million on Sahara.

                      Sahara was Eisner's first feature-length film after directing commercials and several TV projects. He had consulted with film producers Howard and Karen Baldwin as early as 1998 about turning Cussler's books, featuring the fictional adventure-seeker Dirk Pitt, into movies.

                      Although he felt the story had to be pared down, Eisner believed Sahara would be the start to a film franchise much like the Indiana Jones series.

                      "I sensed there was excitement about the creation of a film franchise," Eisner recalled after meeting with Cussler at his Phoenix-area home.

                      Eisner eventually replaced Ron Bowman who unexpectedly resigned as the film's director. By the time Eisner arrived, the screenplay had gone through numerous revisions. Screenwriters were hired, fired and in one case, rehired.

                      Cussler has argued he had screenplay approval rights and while he accepted some of the revisions, there were others he didn't like. He also had the authority to choose the director and two lead actors.

                      Crusader's attorneys have maintained Cussler did not get final say on the script and his rights were replaced with a less authoritative consultation role when a director was hired.

                      In afternoon testimony, Eisner said he reviewed various drafts of the Sahara script and felt none of them could be turned into a movie.
                      "There were problems with all of them," Eisner said.

                      He also testified he never saw the contract between Crusader and Cussler, but was aware the novelist had the authority to select the director and two lead actors. He called it a "milestone" once he, McConaughey and Steve Zahn, who plays Pitt's sidekick in Sahara, were hired.

                      Cussler, 75, has been called the "Grandmaster of Adventure." He has written 32 books, 19 of which feature Pitt.
                      Anschutz is one of the richest men in the United States. He co-owns the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a company that operates Los Angeles' Staples Center.

                      In other developments, a judge on Wednesday dismissed a male juror for undisclosed reasons.
                      "If you don't know how to draw, you don't belong in this building" - John Lasseter 2006


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