Helmer tearfully recounts 'Pinocchio' fallout

An emotional Francis Ford Coppola took the stand Thursday in his $22 million suit against Warner Bros., and told the jury he never had a deal to make a live action “Pinocchio” because the studio wouldn’t meet his price.

Coppola, who broke into tears while describing his vision of the pic, testified that his friend Lucy Fisher, then an exec at Warners, urged him to bring projects to the studio despite a history of bad blood.

According to Coppola, Fisher said, “Show them you’re a nice guy and not a maverick,” and Coppola said he tried to do just that.

Although L.A. Superior Court Judge Madeline Flier limited questioning on Coppola’s prior dealings with Warner Bros., Coppola did manage to testify that he’d been told Warner chairman and co-CEO Bob Daly didn’t like him.

During a development period when “we were all on our best behavior,” Coppola said he worked with Fisher and then-Warner exec Lisa Henson on “Pinocchio,” as well as “Hoover” and “The Secret Garden.” At the urging of Fisher and Henson, Coppola told the jury, he finally wrote a treatment for “Pinocchio” to get the project moving. He said he considered the services he rendered part of the courtship process.

Coppola testified that he wanted to direct and write “Pinocchio,” as well as produce. But once he realized Warner Bros. was not going to give him the directing deal he had at Columbia Pictures — $5 million to direct and 15% of the gross — he considered his relationship with Warners terminated, he said.

In an opening statement before Coppola took the stand, Warners’ attorney J. Larson Jaenicke portrayed the veteran helmer as a director who once upon a time had made “The Godfather,” but in recent years was responsible for box office disappointments “Gardens of Stone,” “Tucker” and “One From the Heart.”

As Jaenicke described it, Warners had a traditional development and producing deal with Coppola on three projects, “Pinocchio,” “The Secret Garden” and “Hoover,” and both sides believed and acted as if there was at least a producing deal. Because they had not been able to agree on a directing fee for “Pinocchio,” both sides decided to defer that issue, Jaenicke said. But everything changed when “Dracula” came out, he said.

“Coppola was like a quarterback who had a great season and suddenly wanted a better deal,” Jaenicke said.

Refuting several of the plaintiffs’ opening arguments, the Warner attorney asserted that Coppola came to Warners at the suggestion of his agents at CAA. Jaenicke also pointed out that Coppola had abundant representation from agents Rick Nicita and John Levin as well as prominent entertainment lawyers Barry Hirsch and Geoffry Oblath.

As for the basic legal claim made by Coppola, that Warners improperly interfered with his deal at Columbia, Jaenicke said Columbia had already concluded the Warner situation needed to be resolved. And when the project finally failed, it was because of budget concerns.

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