A jury determined Tuesday that adventure author Clive Cussler breached his contract and ordered him to pay $5 million to the production company that turned his novel “Sahara” into a box-office flop.
The complex ruling left open the possibility that Cussler could end up pocketing more than he pays out. Jurors said Superior Court Judge John P. Shook should determine whether Crusader Entertainment, since renamed Bristol Bay Productions, must pay Cussler about $8 million for the screen rights to a second book.
An attorney for Crusader said his client shouldn’t have to pay Cussler, in light of the verdict. “We clearly don’t want the rights to the second film,” Marvin Putnam said.
Jurors heard 14 weeks of testimony and deliberated for eight days in the multimillion-dollar dispute between Cussler and the company over the 2005 action-adventure film. They finally decided Cussler had breached an “implied covenant of good faith” and inflated book sales when dealing with Crusader.
Cussler smiled and hugged his fiance after the verdict was read.
“I’m relieved that it’s over, and now we can go home,” Cussler said. His fiance, Janet Horvath, stood holding his hand.
“I think that Cussler is the winner,” said attorney Bert Fields, who represented the writer. “If the judge upholds what the jury has done, he gets a net gain of $3 million.”
The decision followed a seven-year struggle to get “Sahara,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz, to the big screen.
Cussler sued Crusader in 2004, claiming the company, owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, reneged on a contract that gave him approval rights over the film’s screenplay. Cussler, 75, sought $40 million in damages.
Crusader countersued, accusing Cussler of duping it into adapting his book into a film based on an inflated number of novels he had sold over his lifetime.
The company also said Cussler clashed with a fleet of screenwriters brought in to polish the script, tried to get producers to accept his screenplay version and bad-mouthed the film before its April 2005 release.
Crusader asked for more than $110 million in damages.
‘It’s a massive vindication’Attorney Marvin Putnam, who represents Crusader, called it a victory for his client.
“It’s a massive vindication not only for Crusader and all the people who made the film, but also for the industry at large,” Putnam said.
The case hinged on two key points: what rights were given to Cussler and which side first acted in bad faith.
Cussler maintained the contract gave him sole and absolute rights over the screenplay and a less-authoritative consulting role once filming began.
Crusader’s attorneys argued the company would have never paid Cussler an unprecedented $10 million to adapt a book into a film if it had known the novelist had only sold 40 million novels — not the 100 million he claimed at the time the contract was negotiated in 2000.
Cussler countered he was deceived from the outset and Crusader failed to honor the terms of the contract.
The trial featured testimony from producers, screenwriters, lawyers and Cussler, who all explained why “Sahara” was difficult and lost money.
Among those who gave their accounts in court were the film’s director, Breck Eisner, son of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner; producers Howard and Karen Baldwin; and Cussler’s literary agent, Peter Lampack.
But others on the witness list — McConaughey, former Paramount Pictures executive Sherry Lansing and Anschutz — never were called to the stand. Attorneys did play for jurors a videotaped deposition of Anschutz.
Although the film debuted No. 1 at the box office, it grossed only $68 million in the U.S. Crusader’s attorneys claim the movie lost more than $80 million.
Cussler has been called the “Grandmaster of Adventure.” He has written 32 books, 19 of which feature the fictional adventurer Dirk Pitt.
Anschutz is one of the richest men in the United States. He co-owns the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a company that operates Los Angeles’ Staples Center.