Benjamin Melniker, co-exec producer of “Batman,” admitted Wednesday under cross-examination that he may have had knowledge of a Warner Bros./PolyGram Pics deal to produce one of the decade’s biggest hits as early as 1981, despite his claim that he knew nothing about it until 1988.
Melniker was cross-examined by Warner attorney William Vaughn regarding notes he had written in 1981 from a meeting with PolyGram exec Ed Labowitz that described the “secret” deal PolyGram and Warners had made.
“The notes tie in exactly to what this ‘secret’ contract with PolyGram and Warners says. He clearly would have known about the Warner deal,” said Warner attorney Robert M. Schwartz.
The admission may be a key for the Warner Bros. team in the lawsuit that started before a jury Monday. Melniker testified in Los Angeles Superior Court on the third day of the trial to determine whether Warner Bros. and PolyGram illegally shut Melniker and co-exec producer Michael Uslan out of the deal.
Melniker and Uslan, operating as Batfilms Inc., originally optioned the rights to “Batman” in 1979. After receiving only $ 400,000 for their “producing” interest in the pic — which grossed some $ 300 million — the pair sued Warners and PolyGram Pics for $ 8 mil, claiming they were treated unfairly.
According to testimony earlier this week in the case, Melniker and Uslan structured a deal with Casablanca Films (which later became PolyGram Pics) to bring Peter Guber on board as a producer.
Melniker testified Tuesday that he discovered in 1988 through the trade papers that Guber, along with Jon Peters, inked a separate pact with Warners to produce the pic. Subsequently, Warner tried to move Melniker and Uslan to exec producer roles. Batfilms claims the deal allowed them 40% of the net profits, while Guber and Peters were partaking in a “gross percentage” deal. The high-grossing pic has yet to yield any net profits, Melniker said.
Melniker said Wednesday that, after threats about being thrown off as the pic’s producing team, he and Michael Uslan agreed to conditions they never would have accepted otherwise.
Under cross-examination, Melniker testified once more that Warners biz exec James Miller strongly suggested they take an offer of exec producer.
Vaughn has argued that Warners lived up to its contract, though the deal might not have been to the plaintiffs’ liking.
Wednesday, Vaughn introduced a letter from Warner exec Patti Connoly to Batfilms, agreeing to virtually every stipulation that Batfilms made under a new agreement with Warner.
In the only tinge of controversy in an otherwise dry afternoon session, Girardi unsuccessfully argued for the dismissal of one of the jurors after she was seen speaking in a Pilipino dialect to one of Vaughn’s associates.