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Film trial plays up contradictions

Novelist Clive Cussler's lawyer tries to show studio duplicity in production of `Sahara.'

February 22, 2007|Glenn F. Bunting | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles jury received a primer on Hollywood backstabbing and deceit during testimony Wednesday in a breachof-contract trial between movie mogul Philip Anschutz and best-selling novelist Clive Cussler.

Karen Baldwin, executive producer of the 2005 film "Sahara," testified that a former top executive at Paramount Pictures deliberately misled Cussler by saying the studio "loved" his screenplay when it did not.

"They lied to [Cussler] so they didn't have to have an argument with him," Baldwin said in a video deposition played in the courtroom.

Cussler sued Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment in 2004, claiming that producers ruined the film adaptation of one of his Dirk Pitt adventure novels by making unauthorized changes to the screenplay.

Anschutz contends in court papers that Cussler doomed the project by acting unreasonably in exercising his approval rights.

Anschutz's production company has lost about $105 million on the movie, which starred Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.

Baldwin spent a second day on the witness stand facing hostile questioning from Cussler's attorney. Bertram Fields sought to portray Baldwin as an untrustworthy producer who repeatedly lied during the development phase of the film. She is expected to resume her testimony this morning in the downtown courtroom of Superior Court Judge John P. Shook.

Lawyers for Anschutz criticized Fields for attempting to "sully" Baldwin's reputation as part of an effort to shift the jurors' attention away from the facts of the case.

"He is trying to make Ms. Baldwin the scapegoat for all of the bad actions of Mr. Cussler," Marvin Putnam, a lawyer on Anschutz's team from O'Melveny & Myers, said in an interview.

But Fields said Baldwin's behavior undermined the claim that Cussler was "difficult and disruptive" during the development of "Sahara."

"The real disruption to the movie was the breathtaking duplicity of Karen Baldwin telling one person one thing and another person another thing," Fields said. "I can't help it if she has no credibility."

Fields showed the jury a 2003 e-mail that Baldwin wrote to Cussler that blamed former executives at Paramount, the distributor of "Sahara," for deceiving him.

"Paramount is a studio notorious for distortion of the truth whenever necessary in order to avoid conflict or cast themselves in a good light," Baldwin wrote.

"Paramount executives, all the way to the top, are the consummate Hollywood executives -- i.e. they will say [or] do anything to protect their own skin and avoid conflict."

Baldwin testified that it was "probably a little unfair" to portray studio executives as untruthful, but added, "We were having problems with that." She singled out former Paramount Production Chief Karen Rosenfelt as the executive who deceived Cussler.

At the time Paramount was run by Jonathan Dolgen and Sherry Lansing. Since 2005, the studio has operated under new management.

Fields spent much of the day showing instances in which Baldwin praised Cussler's work in rewriting the "Sahara" screenplay. Those compliments served to contradict claims by Anschutz's attorneys that the novelist's screenplays were "racist and unprofessional," he said.

"Their contentions are demolished by Baldwin's own letters saying the scripts were wonderful and terrific," Fields said.


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