Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Cussler/Anschutz Battle Winds Down

It's been about three weeks since we last checked in with the Cussler trial out in Los Angeles. Closing arguments were held May 1 and 2, and then the case went to the jury one week ago today. They are still deliberating.

To quickly summarize what's been going on, this case is a series of cross lawsuits featuring novelist Clive Cussler and billionaire Phil Anschutz together with his film production company, Crusader Entertainment. Back in 2000, Anschutz agreed to pay Cussler $20 million for film rights to two of his novels, a deal intended to turn Cussler's hero, Dirk Pitt, into a movie star a la Indiana Jones.

The first film made under that deal, Sahara, released in the spring of 2005, reportedly lost Crusader Entertainment almost $105 million dollars. Cussler sued Anschutz, claiming he had been given contractual approval over the screenplay, but that Crusader reneged on the agreement. Anschutz cried foul and counter-sued, claiming that Cussler had committed fraud, deliberately lying about the number of books he'd sold in order to nail the film deal.

When last we checked in on the trial, Cussler was on the stand, where he admitted he'd been warned by his agent not to talk about the number of books he'd "sold." The agent told Cussler to talk instead about the number of books "in print." Of course, Cussler ignored the advice, repeatedly claiming sales of over 100 million books when, in reality, the number was closer to 42 million.

According to the LA Times, the movie made $122 million, which isn't shabby. However, it cost $160 million in production costs (twice the original budget of $80 million) and more than $81 million in distribution expense.

The link to my last post is here. The day after that post, Anschutz' attorney abruptly rested his case. Maybe I'm cynical, but it could have had something to do with a scathing article that morning by Steve Lopez in The Los Angeles Times. Lopez described the trial as "exasperating" and "torturous," keeping the jurors on "the edge of slumber" while attorneys asked the same questions again and again. A few hours later, after thirteen weeks of testimony, Anschutz' attorney unexpectedly rested his case. Probably the only people who were disappointed were those few souls who had been hoping to see Matthew McConaughey or Anschutz himself testify.

My favorite part of the case has been the line item budget for the film, which was made overseas. That budget included euphemistic explanations like "gratuity" and "courtesy payments" alongside the more honest "local bribes." Among those payments was one to halt a river improvement project in Morocco.

Neither Cussler nor Anschutz came off looking good in this trial. Cussler spent five long, ugly days on the stand during which a reporter described him looking "as as if he'd swallowed a small furry animal and had lockjaw." Anschutz didn't take the stand, but was described by the same reporter as making "the biggest boneheaded financial decision ever made by a billionaire," for giving Cussler $10 million per book and "control over things like the cast and script."

Stay tuned. I'll let you know as soon as the jury comes back.


Stephen Parrish said...

Hi. Your recent comments over at Nathan's place were great. Thanks.

Maya Reynolds said...

Stephen: Thank you so much.

And thanks for stopping by here. Hope to see you again.



Stephen Parrish said...

You have a clear, uncluttered writing style I admire. I'll be a regular visitor from now on.

Just one question: is your name pronounced MAY-ya or MY-ya? If the latter, I can greet you with, "Hi ya, Maya!"


Maya Reynolds said...

{grin} It's pronounced MY-ya, and you can greet me any way you like.

I'll look forward to your visits.