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Lord of cha-ching

Zaentz settles $20 mil New Line suit

Saul Zaentz now holds the record for the biggest payday ever earned by a movie producer for a film franchise he didn’t even produce.

Zaentz purchased the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in 1976, and papers in a lawsuit filed by the 84-year-old movie and music mogul against New Line reveal just how savvy a move that turned out to be. Mini-major paid his company an astonishing $168 million in royalties from the three movies.

A settlement of the $20 million suit, reached earlier this month, brought him even more coin, though details were not revealed by either party. Settlement came down to the wire; a jury trial had been set for July 19, but companies entered negotiations that led to the deal shortly before it began.

Deal marks an end to one of the two multimillion-dollar suits filed over the blockbuster film trilogy. Earlier this year, director Peter Jackson and producing partner Fran Walsh sued New Line, alleging they were shortchanged payments related to homevideo, merchandise and vidgames.

Reps for the studio and Saul Zaentz Co. declined to comment beyond confirming that the matter has been resolved.

Zaentz did little with the “Rings” rights for 20 years — save for a failed 1978 toon version directed by Ralph Bakshi — until 1997, when he made a deal with Miramax, with which he was working on “The English Patient.” (Producer also sued Miramax over allegedly unpaid royalties for that pic.)

After Miramax and Jackson couldn’t agree on a vision for the films, New Line scooped them up in 1998, agreeing to make three pics rather than the one Harvey Weinstein had proposed and gave Miramax $10 million for its development costs as well as a cut of the gross.

Trilogy ultimately grossed $2.9 billion in worldwide B.O.

In his lawsuit Zaentz claimed that New Line cheated him out of nearly $20 million by calculating royalties based on the net grosses it received from foreign distributors. Producer claimed he was entitled to royalties based on foreign distribs’ gross receipts, an assertion the studio disputed.

Difference was $198 million, of which Zaentz claimed he was entitled to 10%, along with $700,000 in compensatory damages.

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