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Coppola-WB faceoff gets under way

Helmer blames co. for 'Pinocchio's' demise

Years of bad blood between Francis Ford Coppola and Warner Bros. will come to a head this week as the trial gets under way over his ill-fated film version of “Pinocchio.”

At the heart of the suit is the helmer’s claim that WB not only turned the project down, but sabotaged the live-action pic by preventing him from taking it to Columbia Pictures.

Coppola is the first witness scheduled to testify in the trial; jury selection began Monday, and opening arguments kick off this week.

The case was filed in Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles over two years ago. As a result of pretrial motions limiting the case, the only issue for trial is whether Warners unlawfully interfered with Coppola’s attempt to have the picture made at Col.

Warner attorneys say the studio believed it had a deal on “Pinocchio,” and that when execs discovered Coppola was negotiating with another studio behind their backs, the dispute mushroomed.

Coppola alleges that he commenced negotiations with Warner Bros. but never entered into any agreements — a point hotly disputed by the studio.

However, Coppola did provide development services while the project was there because he believed he would ultimately both produce and direct the film. The sticking point was his directing deal, and the parties agreed to defer a decision on whether he would helm the project.

After a lengthy period, Coppola concluded that he was not going to get the directing deal he wanted and Warner wasn’t going to make the movie.

Coppola’s attorneys then notified WB that there was no deal on “Pinocchio”; WB in turn notified Coppola they considered him at least obligated, under various agreements, to keep the project at the studio.

A few months later, in 1993, Coppola brought a “new and different version” of “Pinocchio” to Columbia, which had just made his “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” a box office success. A deal, however, was contingent on the satisfactory resolution of “the Warner Bros. situation.”

Coppola’s lawyers say the film would have been made at Columbia but for Warner’s interference.

Warner asserts that movies don’t get made for lots of reasons and that its actions weren’t the cause of “Pinocchio’s” demise. It claims Col terminated the project over budget concerns. The film was never made.

Coppola is represented by Robert Chapman and Brian Edwards of Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman & Machtinger. Warners is represented by J. Larson Jaenicke of Rintala, Smoot, Jaenicke & Rees.