The Association of U S West Retirees



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. 15.

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.^1390316