Battle over ‘Amistad’ credit intensifying

This article was corrected on March. 6, 2003.

Did “Amistad” scribe David Franzoni read Barbara Chase-Riboud’s book “Echo of Lions?” The Writers Guild of America West seems to think he did.

A five-page document obtained Thursday by Daily Variety — which was sent to Franzoni on Nov. 7 and synopsizes the testimony of Franzoni and scribe Steve Zailian during a pre-arbitration hearing convened to determine screen credit for the film — asserts Franzoni said he had read Chase-Riboud’s book before discussing the story with Steven Spielberg during a pitch meeting.

“Mr. Franzoni stated that at the times of the pitch, he had already read two books on the subject, ‘Echos of Lions’ and ‘Black Odyssey’ and had previously attempted to develop the project at Warner Bros,” the special committee concluded.

But lawyers for Franzoni and DreamWorks assert the guild’s Special Committee erred and that Franzoni has never read the book.

Franzoni’s attorney, Linda Lichter, of Lichter, Grossman, Nichols & Adler, said late Thursday that the guild made a mistake. “We told them that wasn’t correct when we got it and that he never said that,” Lichter said. “The guild corrected their mistake.”

As a result of the protestations from Lichter and DreamWorks, the guild revised their finding and on Nov. 26 generated a letter that in part said “the special committee was left with the impression that Mr. Franzoni had read this book. Mr. Franzoni never said at the hearing that he had read “Echoes (sic) of Lions.”

The committee determined in its Nov. 7 letter that Franzoni should receive sole screen credit and that the story was not based on a book.

But lawyers for Chase-Riboud noted that the hearing was held on Sep. 26, three weeks before the author’s lawsuit was filed, the synopsis of the testimony was generated on Nov. 7, three weeks after the lawsuit’s filing, and that the revision was created on Nov. 26.

“It’s amazing. Their house of cards is crumbling,” John Shaeffer, one of Chase-Riboud’s lawyers told Daily Variety, referring to DreamWorks’ lawyers. “We can now see why they are focusing all their efforts on Bar-bara’s credibility.”

Attorneys for DreamWorks have begun checking into other books authored by Chase-Riboud to advance their claims that the author cribbed from other books in order to pen “Echo of Lions.”

Chase-Riboud claims in her $10 million lawsuit that Franzoni used her book as source material for “Amistad.” Franzoni has said he relied only on historical material.

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