Anschutz, Cussler in 'Sahara' standoff
By Paula Moore
Denver Business Journal
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz's hotly contested legal
battle with writer Clive Cussler is scheduled to finally go
to trial late next month in Los Angeles.
Cussler, best-selling novelist and creator of the Dirk Pitt
action hero, sued Anschutz's Los Angeles-based Crusader
Entertainment LLC movie company in January 2004. The suit,
which has become one of Hollywood's toughest legal battles,
alleges Crusader failed to give Cussler promised approval
rights for a script of his novel "Sahara."
Anschutz and Crusader countersued, saying Cussler tried to
coerce the movie company by not consenting to a "Sahara"
script until Crusader agreed to use Cussler's script,
according to court documents. The countersuit further
alleges Cussler bad-mouthed the movie before its 2005
release, and made negative comments about Jews and blacks in
dealings with Crusader.
The jury trial, scheduled for Jan. 29, 2007, will be held in
California Superior Court in Los Angeles. The trial is
expected to take roughly two months.
In a 76-page deposition taken in early 2005, Anschutz said
that while he had four or five discussions with Cussler
about the movie, he wasn't involved in contract negotiations
with the author. Anschutz's later conversations with
Cussler were about getting the writer, who had distanced
himself from the project, involved in the movie again.
"I was very interested in re-engaging him, so he could keep
his bargain ... to support the picture and help promote the
picture," Anschutz said in the deposition. "I paid a lot
for not only the rights to make this picture, but in my
mind, I was acquiring a franchise."
Anschutz also admitted in his statement that investing in
movies is a bad habit. "That would be the second bad habit
I've got," he said. The first is chewing on expensive
cigars, according to those who have seen him do it.
Crusader released "Sahara," starring Matthew McConaughey as
Dirk Pitt, in April 2005. It still hasn't broken even.
"Sahara" cost $145 million to make, according to the Los
Angeles Times, including paying $10 million for the book
rights to Cussler and another $4 million for script
rewrites. Anschutz estimated the project cost closer to
$160 million in gross dollars, up from initial projections
of $80 million to $100 million, in his deposition.
The movie has grossed only about $120 million worldwide
since its release, according to movie box-office tracking
companies such as
Box Office Mojo LLC.
Cussler's deal with Crusader involved making movies of other
Dirk Pitt books, as well. The author has written 19 books
featuring the Pitt character.
Neither Anschutz's attorney, Alan Rader, nor Cussler
attorney Bert Fields, both of Los Angeles, returned phone
calls for comment.
Since the Cussler suit was filed, Crusader has been
reorganized as the
Anschutz Film Group, which includes Bristol Bay
Productions and Walden Media. The group produced the
blockbuster "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," one of
2005's most successful movies with a worldwide gross of $745
million. The company also made "Charlotte's Web," starring
Julia Roberts and Dakota Fanning, scheduled for release Dec.
In addition to doing business with Denver's Anschutz,
Cussler has other Colorado connections. He owns the Cussler
Car Museum, which includes 65 models from his auto
collection, in Arvada and a home in Telluride.