WB attorneys grill Coppola on ‘Pinocchio’

Helmer's cross-examination to resume today

It was artist vs. suits Monday as Francis Ford Coppola submitted to a day of cross-examination by Warner Bros. lawyers.

During cross-examination in his suit vs. WB, an unflappable Coppola professed a nearly complete ignorance of the business side of his dealings with Warners, but firmly maintained he never had a deal on “Pinocchio.”

After lengthy questioning, however, he conceded that his lawyers and agents took care of all his business negotiations.

(Coppola said he considered Barry Hirsch to be his lawyer, but not Hirsch’s partner, Geoffry Oblath. By the same token, Coppola said he was represented by CAA agent Rick Nicita, but did not consider Nicita’s colleague John Levin his agent.)

WB attorney J. Larson Jaenicke took Coppola through a series of documents in a cross-examination designed to indicate a normal development process in which Coppola was extensively repped by lawyers and agents. The documents covered “Pinocchio” as well as “The Secret Garden” and “Hoover,” two other projects on his three-pic deal at WB.

Among the papers that WB offered were a longform producing agreement that remained unsigned on all three projects (including “Secret Garden,” which was released, though the other pics were never made); signed certificates of employment on each project; press releases and articles in the trades indicating that Warners and Coppola had reached a deal for him to at least produce “Pinocchio”; and two treatments Coppola prepared to aid scriptwriter Frank Galati.

Jaenicke also revisited a memo Coppola wrote to Warner co-chairs Terry Semel and Bob Daly in summer 1993 “trying to undo” some problems and “presenting myself man-to-man to the bosses of the company.”

Coppola’s team has used the memo as evidence of his good faith and willingness to work things out. But the Warner attorney showed that at the time he was writing to Semel and Daly, Coppola already had met with Columbia Pictures execs Mark Canton — a recent WB vet — and Gareth Wigan and given them a script he had written. When asked why he didn’t give the script to Warners, Coppola replied, “I was under no obligation to do so.”

Last week, Coppola’s lawyer Robert Chapman had said Warner paid the filmmaker $3,100 on “Pinocchio,” an amount Coppola said he paid no attention to, since it was so minuscule for a year and a half of work. However, Jaenicke on Monday stated that it was the first installment of the project’s $25,000 development fee that Coppola split with Jim Henson Prods., which was to provide the animatronics.

Carlos Collodi’s “Pinocchio” is public domain, raising questions about exactly what material Warners thought it owned. So Jaenicke also stressed the creative contributions of Coppola’s friend Mauro Barrelli, which were purchased by Warners.

Coppola has described Barelli as a starving artist he brought onto the project to help him get some money; Warners has portrayed him as giving essential input that survived Coppola’s ultimate script for Col.

Coppola’s cross-examination will resume for a final day today.