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Coppola Agrees to Settle Debt With Developer : Litigation: Payments to Jack Singer will begin in August. The filmmaker also asked the court to dismiss his personal bankruptcy case.

July 26, 1990|MICHAEL CIEPLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola has agreed to settle his long-running dispute with Canadian developer Jack Singer.

Coppola also asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court here to dismiss his personal bankruptcy case and a second bankruptcy that had been filed by Zoetrope Productions, a small film unit.

Under the proposed settlement of an $8-million debt to Singer, Coppola will make a cash payment to the real estate magnate in August. He will make further payments through 1992 on a note that will be secured by his Napa Valley home and winery, according to papers filed Tuesday in the bankruptcy court. Precise terms of the settlement were filed with the court in documents that are sealed from public view.

The settlement comes just as Coppola--plagued by debts despite his film successes and grand lifestyle--is pushing to finish "The Godfather, Part III" for Christmas release by Paramount Pictures.

Singer had asked a Los Angeles court to extend a judgment enforcing his debt to include Zoetrope Corp., Coppola's principal holding company. Coppola's representative had argued that such a move might jeopardize the director's ability to finish the film.

A Coppola spokesman refused to comment on the settlement.

Robert Chapman, an attorney for Singer, said some aspects of the proposed agreement still had to be ironed out. He added that smaller creditors had a right to oppose the settlement in court even though "the major creditors are seemingly all on board."

The Singer debt grew from the developer's $3-million loan to Coppola in 1981 when the director was scratching for cash to finish "One From the Heart." The movie bombed, and Coppola lost his Los Angeles studio facility to creditors who subsequently sold it to Singer. Despite a long series of reverses in several courts, Coppola had resisted paying the $3 million-plus in accumulated interest and accused Singer of using the loan as a wedge to take away his studio.

Under a separate agreement, the two companies owned by Coppola associate Fred Roos agreed to "subordinate" a $32-million debt against Coppola to other creditors. The Roos debt was attacked by Singer in court as a "sham" that allowed Coppola to hide from real creditors and to avoid paying income taxes on his multimillion-dollar earnings as a filmmaker in the last three years. Representatives of Roos and Coppola denied that claim.

Martin Zohn, an attorney for Roos, said he regarded the Roos debt as valid but believed that repayment terms could be reached outside bankruptcy court. "What's been done should have been done a long time ago," Zohn said of the proposed settlement.

Court filings in the bankruptcy cases had laid Coppola's finances bare to public view. According to the papers, Coppola personally owns property worth at least $21 million before debt, although the filmmaker's representatives contended that his assets might bring as little as $12 million in a forced sale.

Coppola's winery is valued at $10 million or more, while his Zoetrope Corp. office building in San Francisco is worth about $1.9 million. The filmmaker has earned about $3 million per movie as a director and expects net income of $200,000 in 1991 from his winery.

For "Godfather III," a sequel to two highly successful Paramount films, Coppola will receive 15% of the studio's gross receipts, according to the papers.

The papers said he has been trying to sell his condominium at the Sherry Netherland Hotel in Manhattan for at least $2 million but hasn't received any acceptable offers.

Friends of the filmmaker said he complained during the stormy process of shooting "Godfather III" in Italy about the mounting pressure of his finances. He privately blamed advisers for leading him into his long fight with the Singers and contended that the Singers were trying to ruin him.

Alan Singer, Jack Singer's son, has insisted there was nothing personal in his family's attempt to collect its debt.

Settlement talks started in June after opposing attorneys began taking Coppola's deposition in the bankruptcy case on his return from Italy. In asking that the settlement be approved by the court, one Coppola attorney wrote: "Given the history between the parties and feelings about the issues involved, this matter could last for years unless the settlement agreement is approved."

A Santa Rosa judge is expected to consider Coppola's motions to dismiss the bankruptcy cases late next month.

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