Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Novelist Takes on the Filmmaker

A drama began in a Los Angeles courtroom on Friday with the opening statements in a lawsuit, a lawsuit that pits a best-selling novelist against the production company that brought one of his books to the big screen.

The novelist--Clive Cussler--claims that the production company--Crusader Entertainment--destroyed his hope of ever getting another film deal because of the terrible adaption they did of his novel Sahara.

For their part--Crusader Entertainment--owned by billionaire Phil Anschutz, claims that Cussler lied about the number of books he sold in order to lure them into a two-book $20 million deal.

Crusader says that Cussler told them his books sales were approximately 100 million when the real number was under 50 million. Cussler's attorney says the 100 million figure included remaindered and used books. Today's Publishers Lunch remarked sarcastically, "Not to mention library checkouts."

Both parties have filed cross lawsuits in what promises to be a contentious trial, one that emphasizes the huge chasm between novelists and filmmakers. On December 8th, LATimes.com (LAT) did a lengthy story on the problems plaguing the making of the film, which featured Cussler's adventurous hero, Dirk Pitt.

The Times says that Phil Anschutz "not only agreed to pay $10 million per book for rights to the . . . adventure novels, he gave author Clive Cussler extraordinary creative control over Sahara . . . Cussler had final say over the director and lead actors . . . as well as wide discretion over the script . . . By ceding so much authority to a novelist, Anschutz broke a fundamental rule in the film business: Keep the author out of the screenwriting process."

According to Anschutz, Cussler used his veto power to turn down multiple versions of the script, demanding that the production company use the script Cussler himself had written.

Here is a list of the script doctors Crusader Entertainment hired to try to satisfy Cussler's creative vision along with some of their previous credits:

Thomas D. Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer (A Sound of Thunder)
David S. Ward (The Sting and Sleepless in Seattle)
James V. Hart (Hook and Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula)
Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds and The Black Dahlia)
Breck Eisner (oldest son of Michael Eisner)
Thomas D. Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer (Yes, they were rehired)
Douglas Cook and David Weisberg (The Rock and Double Jeopardy)
John Richards (Nurse Betty)

"In all, Anschutz's firm spent about $4 million on writers, many of whom produced scripts that Cussler deemed inferior." (LAT)

Filming finally started in November, 2003 in London. Cussler "blasted Sahara during a national tour to promote a new Pitt novel. He predicted that the film would be a 'disaster' and warned Pitt fans that the screenplay was 'awful.'" (LAT)

When Sahara opened, it earned $69 million in total U.S. box office receipts. According to Variety, the film lost approximately $60 million. Anschutz estimates his losses at about $105 million.

I'll keep you posted on how the trial goes.

1 comment:

Emjay said...

Maybe he should have named his hero Brad Pitt instead.