The lawsuit over the film version of the Clive Cussler book Sahara is in full swing. And it's a doozy -- the main backer of the film, billionaire Philip Anschutz, is suing Cussler saying that Cussler lied about how popular his books were, which caused Anschutz to lose $105 million when the film was not a giant box office success. Cussler is furious that they wouldn't let him write the script and said they messed up his book. Millions of dollars are at stake, not to mention the fact that the way book sales are calculated is now squarely in the public eye.
Attorneys for Philip Anschutz allege that author Clive Cussler duped the Denver industrialist into paying $10 million for film rights to the adventure novel "Sahara" by flagrantly inflating his book sales to more than 100 million copies.
"Cussler and his agent had gotten away with these numbers for years," said Alan Rader, Anschutz's lawyer. "It was a lie and it doomed the movie."
The claim is "ridiculous," Cussler said Thursday outside a courtroom at Los Angeles County Superior Court. "They wanted the book. They solicited us."
The allegations surfaced at the start of a civil trial that seeks to settle a dispute over who is responsible for Anschutz's company losing $105 million on "Sahara," the 2005 movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.
The trial, which includes claims of sabotage, fraud, profligate spending and racism, is expected to provide a rare behind-the-scenes look at the world of moviemaking. Lawyers selected a jury Thursday and are scheduled to make opening arguments today.
Among those on the witness list are Anschutz, the secretive 67-year-old multibillionaire; former Paramount Pictures Chairwoman Sherry Lansing; director Breck Eisner, the son of the former Walt Disney Co. chairman; McConaughey, who also served as executive producer; and Cussler, the 75-year-old author.
Cussler initially sued Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment in 2004, charging that producers reneged on a contract that gave the author extraordinary approval rights over the screenplay. Anschutz countersued, alleging that Cussler deliberately torpedoed the film through his repeated attempts to write his own scripts, all of which were rejected by the producers. Both sides are seeking millions of dollars in damages.
In court papers, Anschutz's attorneys claim that Cussler "perpetrated a massive fraud" to secure an "unprecedented" contractual agreement in 2000.
"The essence of Cussler's fraud was simple: He lied about how many books he had sold to induce Crusader to enter the agreement," the papers state.
In addition to their effect on the trial, the allegations may raise broader questions about the authenticity of publishing-industry sales figures.
Although they declined to comment on the specifics of the Cussler case, New York publishing experts said Thursday that the industry had a long history of inflating book sales and hyping an author's success. But these practices have declined, they added, with the emergence of Nielsen BookScan in 2001.
Cussler's publisher Simon and Schuster says Cussler has sold 100 million copies of his books worldwide, which sounds about right. You can't walk into a bookstore, drugstore or airport store without stumbling over several of the man's books. We think Anschutz is a sore loser: there are no guarantees in the movie business. And any way, we saw Sahara: it was the script that doomed that movie. And any juror who saw the movie will agree: we like McConaughey, but his character wasn't anything like the Dirk Pitt of the books. And Penelope Cruz was woefully miscast. But it was the script that doomed the movie: maybe they should have let Cussler write it, after all.