Despite hearing whispers around Hollywood there were troubles making the film adaptation of “Sahara,” Breck Eisner said Wednesday he decided to direct the movie because he thought it could lead to a lucrative franchise.
“I knew I could nail this film,” the son of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner said. “I was going to take that chance.”
Eisner admitted, however, he had no idea of the maelstrom he was about to enter.
Eisner was the latest witness to testify in a trial involving dueling lawsuits over the 2005 film that starred Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz. Over the past 2½ months, jurors have seen a steady stream of screenwriters, executives and lawyers who have testified about the struggles to put “Sahara” on the big screen.
Best-selling author Clive Cussler has sued Crusader Entertainment, a company owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, claiming it reneged on a contract that gave him creative control over “Sahara,” which is based on Cussler’s book of the same name.
Crusader filed a countersuit against Cussler, claiming he was disruptive during the filmmaking process and disparaged the movie before its release. Each side blames the other for the dismal box-office showing of “Sahara,” which grossed only $68 million in the U.S.
Cussler has argued he had screenplay approval rights and while he accepted some of the revisions, there were others he didn’t like. He also had the authority to choose the director and two lead actors.
Crusader’s attorneys have maintained Cussler did not get final say on the script and his rights were replaced with a less authoritative consultation role when a director was hired.
Eisner, 37, was called as a witness for Crusader but did not offer any disparaging testimony about Cussler.
He said he knew there had been some complications making the movie but after consulting with his lawyer he was brought aboard in 2003. It was Eisner’s first feature-length film after directing commercials and several TV projects.
Although he felt the story had to be pared down, Eisner believed “Sahara” would be the start to a film franchise much like the “Indiana Jones” series.
“I sensed there was excitement about the creation of a film franchise,” Eisner recalled after meeting with Cussler at his Phoenix-area home.
Eisner eventually replaced Ron Bowman, who unexpectedly resigned as the film’s director. By the time Eisner arrived, the screenplay had gone through numerous revisions. Screenwriters were hired, fired and in one case, rehired.
Eisner testified that he reviewed various drafts of the “Sahara” script, including one by Cussler, and felt none of them could be turned into a movie.
“There were problems with all of them,” Eisner said.
He also testified he never saw the contract between Crusader and Cussler, but was aware the novelist had the authority to select the director and two lead actors. He called it a “milestone” once he, McConaughey and co-star Steve Zahn were hired.
Eisner acknowledged he grew frustrated with Cussler because the author didn’t return his phone calls about approving Zahn for the role, but eventually all three men met at Cussler’s home, where the author agreed to Zahn.
Eisner was expected to face cross-examination Thursday.
Cussler, 75, has been called the “Grandmaster of Adventure.” He has written 32 books.
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.