The “Pinocchio” case, Francis Coppola’s epic 1998 battle with Warner Bros., returns to court today.
The California Court of Appeal in Los Angeles will hear oral arguments from both sides. Coppola appealed a post-trial order throwing out a jury award of $60 million, while Warners appealed the $20 million in compensatory damages that the jury awarded and the trial judge let stand.
In voluminous court papers, Warners argues that the $20 million verdict sends a chilling message to the business community that if you try to protect your legal rights you do so at your peril.
Coppola argues that the evidence establishes that he would have made the “Pinocchio” movie at Columbia Pictures but for Warner’s improper assertion that it owned the rights to the film.
Coppola is represented by Robert Chapman, who also handled the trial. Warners is represented by two law firms, Horvitz & Levy and Munger, Tolles & Olson.
The “Pinocchio” trial riveted Hollywood during the summer of 1998. The ill-fated “Pinocchio” project began in 1991 when Coppola entered into negotiations to do three pics for Warners, including a live-action version of “Pinocchio.”
Much disputed at trial was whether the parties ever made a deal for Coppola to produce the film. In 1993, nearly two years into development, Coppola brought what he claimed was a script for a reconceived “Pinocchio” to Columbia. Col ultimately pulled the plug in 1994 when Coppola lost his foreign financing.
At trial, Coppola’s attorneys argued that Warners never had a deal for Coppola to produce “Pinocchio,” and when the director tried to take the project to Col, he was unlawfully stopped for no other reason than to teach the maverick director a lesson about defying the studios.
Propelling the case, according to Coppola, was the animus of former Warner heads Bob Daly and Terry Semel.
Warner argued that the studio believed there was an agreement for Coppola to produce “Pinocchio.” When Coppola had a hit with “Dracula,” it maintained, he went behind Warners’ back and took a script to Columbia.