Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Creative Writing Doesn't Include Sales

In early February, I did a post on a lawsuit that began in Los Angeles on February 2. The lawsuit 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 executives say that Cussler repeatedly told them he'd sold 100 million books when the real number was less than half that.

In an article dated Monday, The Los Angeles Times (LAT) reported on testimony during which Cussler was forced to talk about his actual sales.

[W]hen pressed Friday on the witness stand, Cussler acknowledged he had been warned in the late 1990s that the 100 million number was unreliable. In fact, an extensive audit presented as evidence . . . revealed that the actual number of Cussler books sold through 2000 was at most 42 million.

The disclosure appears to bolster allegations by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz that Cussler and his literary agent deliberately inflated the novelist's book sales.

The 77-year-old Cussler has already testified for three days and was expected to take the stand for a fourth day on Monday.

When he was asked if he pulled the 100-million figure out of thin air, Cussler replied, "Pretty much."

Cussler admitted that his agent had warned him against talking about the number of books "sold." The agent told him to talk about the number of books "in print" instead. Claiming he forgot, Cussler ignored this advice in letters, on his website and in a promotional video.

Anschutz was so determined to prove Cussler wrong that he paid approximately $200,000 for a forensics audit of the writer's royalty statements from three publishing houses.

Anschutz estimates his losses on the Sahara project to be $105 million.

Sahara is almost a textbook example of what can go wrong in the making of a film. In a February article, The LA Times said that 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.

When the film finally made it to screen (after no fewer than seven re-write attempts costing a total of $4 million), Cussler "blasted" the movie. He predicted that the film would be a 'disaster' and warned fans that the screenplay was 'awful.'" (LAT)

Cussler's attorney is expected to try to rehabilitate his client on the stand this week.

Stay tuned for more on the trial . . .


POD Critic said...

This reminds me of a story I heard once of a UK publisher falsely claiming (on the cover of an author’s book) a certain number of millions sold, and when it came to light that that figure was grossly inaccurate, the author demanded retroactive payment in royalties for the imagined figure, and got it!

Informative post. Necessary blog. Good stuff.

Maya Reynolds said...

P.C.: Thanks for stopping by.

I've been amazed by Cussler's seeming nonchalance in the face of evidence that he deliberately inflated his sales figures.



Peter L. Winkler said...

I don't think that Anschutz has anyone to blame except himself. Perhaps he should have invested the $200,000 he spent discovering what Cussler's sales figures are before he paid him $10 million.

I think Anschutz is just angry that the film flopped, is looking for someone to blame, and decided that Cussler is that someone.

Maya Reynolds said...

Peter: I absolutely agree that Phil Anschutz made a bad deal for which he is responsible. He should NEVER have given that much power to Cussler.

On the other hand, Cussler did negotiate in bad faith, and he did trash the project in public. I suspect there is a case to be made for both fraud and malicious breach of contract.

I doubt that Anschutz is going to get his entire $105 million back. That's the price HE pays for stupidity above and beyond.