Billionaire claims that novelist duped him in selling film rights
As a trial over the movie 'Sahara' begins, Philip Anschutz's lawyers say Clive Cussler inflated book sales figures.
By Glenn F. Bunting and Josh Getlin, Times Staff Writers
February 2, 2007
Anschutz's Hollywood Adventures
- Cussler sues over 'Sahara'
Attorneys for Philip Anschutz allege 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 Thursday outside a courtroom at Los Angeles County Superior Court. "They wanted the book. They solicited us."
The allegations surfaced at the start of a civil trial that seeks to settle a dispute over who is responsible for Anschutz's company losing $105 million on "Sahara," the 2005 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 world of moviemaking. Lawyers selected a jury Thursday and are scheduled to make opening arguments today.
Among those on the witness list are Anschutz, the secretive 67-year-old multibillionaire; former Paramount Pictures Chairwoman Sherry Lansing; director Breck Eisner, the son of the former Walt Disney Co. chairman; McConaughey, who also served as executive producer; and Cussler, the 75-year-old 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 scripts, 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" contractual agreement in 2000.
"The essence of Cussler's fraud was simple: He lied about how many books he had sold to induce Crusader to enter the agreement," the papers state.
In addition to their effect on the trial, the allegations may raise broader questions about the authenticity of publishing-industry sales figures.
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When it comes to announced sales of titles, I'm a born skeptic. I hope the trial does air the industry's dubious sales figures and hype. I especially hope to see some airing of the alleged book publicity budgets that appear in catalogues and which are intended to make a book seem important and well-supported by a publisher. In Cussler's case I wouldn't be surprised to find the true numbers rather modest.
Even if Cussler's book HAD sold 100,000 copies (which would put it up past "Da Vinci Code" numbers), Sahara was still a bad movie that didn't deserve a big audience.
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