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‘Sahara’ trial heating up

Cussler camp accused of inflating sales figures

With opening statements scheduled to start today in a trial that pits author Clive Cussler against mogul producer Philip Anschutz over the failed film “Sahara,” Anschutz’s attorneys have claimed in court papers that Cussler fraudulently induced Anschutz to make an extraordinary deal by vastly inflating the amount of his book sales.

Book sales are critical to the case, say Anschutz’s attorneys, because the tremendous extraordinary creative control given to Cussler, as well as $10 million for the film rights for “Sahara” were based on Anschutz’s belief that Cussler had 100 million copies of his Dirk Pitt novels in print. According to court papers, Cussler and his agent repeatedly represented that his novels had sold more than 100 million copies. An audit of royalty statements produced during discovery for the trial reveal that the number of copies sold was inflated by millions, Anschultz’s attorneys claim. “Had Crusdaer known that Cussler’s readership was significantly lower – and that he could therefore deliver far fewer fans to any film adaptation – it would never have agreed to his exorbitant asking price or entered into the parties’ 2001 Agreement to make ‘Sahara,'” Anschutz’s attorneys claim.

“It was fraud from the very beginning,” says Marvin Putnam one of Anschutz’ attorneys, “they inflated the fan base.”

Cussler’s attorney, Bert Fields, has said that he will prove at trial that Cussler has sold more than 100 million books, as stated on publisher Simon & Schuster’s website.

The case, in which both sides are seeking millions of dollars in damages, began in 2004 when Cussler sued Anschutz’s Crusader Entertainment over “Sahara,” which starred Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz, claiming his extensive rights of approval over the script and other aspects of the film were violated. Anschutz countersued, claiming that Cussler virtually blackmailed the company by refusing to give script approval and that he tanked the movie by disparaging it in public. According to court papers, he told fans the film would be a disaster and that they should stay away from it. In support of the claim that Cussler intentionally harmed Crusader, papers allege that Cussler denigrated the work of screenwriters Josh Friedman and Josh Oppenheimer, citing their Jewish ancestry as one of their failings. He also refused, it is alleged, to consider the idea of a black actor playing the role of Dirk Pitt’s sidekick, Al Giordino.

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