Settlement reached in ‘Devil’s Advocate’ case

WB agrees to cut scenes from film in order to proceed with vid release

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In a deal with a Virginia-based sculptor, Warner Bros. has agreed to cut several scenes from “The Devil’s Advocate” in order to proceed with today’s video release date — a release which a federal judge here promised to block unless a settlement was reached.

The deal, reached with sculptor Frederick Hart Thursday, allows 475,000 copies of the pic to move through video stores on a rental basis without any edits. But the studio will have to makes the cuts before it releases the video for sale. In addition, any TV screening of the pic will have to be cut to conform with the agreement.

Warner Bros. was forced into the settlement after a federal judge in Virginia ruled that Hart was likely to succeed with his claim that a key prop from the movie was based on his masterpiece “Ex Nihilo.”

Hart’s signature sculpture dominates the entrance to the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington — the sixth-largest gothic cathedral in the world. The Cathedral Foundation, which jointly owns the copyright with Hart, was also a party to the lawsuit against Warner Bros.

The pic’s helmer Taylor Hackford was informed of the pending changes by WB execs, but there is little he can do about the edits since the studio controls the copyrights. “No filmmaker wants to see any changes to a film for which he has delivered the master print,” said Hackford’s agent, CAA’s Fred Specktor.

A press release issued jointly by Warner Bros., Hart and the Cathedral stated “There is no relationship between the sculpture in ‘Devil’s Advocate’ and Mr. Hart’s ‘Ex Nihilo.’ ” The press release also stated, “Neither Mr. Hart nor the Cathedral endorses or sponsors or is in any way affiliated with ‘Devil’s Advocate’ or the art work in it.”

Sources close to the deal said other aspects of the agreement remain confidential and would not comment when asked if Hart or the Cathedral would also be given a financial settlement. It is also not clear how much of the pic will have to be cut, but the prop in question is on screen for approximately 20 minutes.

Warner Bros. was forced to enter the settlement after a judge ruled on Feb. 9 that Hart and the Cathedral had a “substantial likelihood” of success if the case went to trial. U.S. Federal Judge T.S. Ellis III made that ruling as part of a decision to block the video release unless the parties reached an independent settlement. If the agreement had not been reached, the video would have been blocked pending the outcome a trial which Ellis had scheduled to begin on March 16.

Hart, who recently suffered a severe stroke, was also eager to reach a settlement and avoid the rigors of a trial. “I am very thrilled,” said Hart’s lawyer Campbell Killefer, adding that he is thrilled in part “because Hart is thrilled.”