Francis floored

Warner wins $80 mil reversal on 'Pinocchio'

Warner Bros. snatched victory from the jaws of defeat Tuesday when the California Court of Appeal reversed the $80 million jury verdict Francis Coppola won in 1998 in the much-watched “Pinocchio” case.

The three-judge appellate panel reversed the $20 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded the director and they upheld the trial judge’s 1998 post-trial ruling setting aside the $60 million in punitive damages.

Coppola sued Warners for “tortious interference” in 1995. Although he had a live-action “Pinocchio” feature in development at Warners, Coppola claimed he did not have a signed deal and was free to bring a “Pinocchio” project with a new script to Columbia pictures in 1993.

Warners informed Columbia by letter of its rights to any Coppola “Pinocchio” project. After Columbia ultimately pulled out of the project in 1994, Coppola sued WB.

In its 18-page opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the letter sent by Warner to Columbia was protected by litigation and common-interest privileges and could not be the basis for a tort claim.

The court stated, “We conclude that a reasonable attorney, considering the facts before the court, would believe that Warner had a legally tenable claim in any Coppola ‘Pinocchio’ project and that such claim was not totally and completely without merit.”

Fred Cohen, of Horvitz and Levy, who handled the appeal for Warner Bros., said, “The studios are going to be very relieved by this decision. After the jury’s verdict, people were nervous about sending these kinds of letters putting others on notice of their rights. This opinion says they don’t need to worry about trying to resolve matters informally without a lawsuit.”

Coppola’s attorney Robert Chapman said, “We think the Court of Appeal was wrong and the jury was right. We intend to appeal this to the Supreme Court. The people who saw the witnesses and heard the testimony decided overwhelmingly for Coppola and we believe that was the correct decision.”

While Coppola can seek a rehearing before the same panel or petition the California Court of Appeal for review, both avenues are a long shot.

The court on Tuesday did not need to decide the much-pondered question of when a deal is a deal in the movie business because Warner only had to show that it had a reasonable belief that it had a legal right to the project.

The court pointed out that Warner and Coppola had worked together for approximately two years on “Pinocchio” and he had two other pictures in development there. Coppola also signed a certificate of employment and Warner expended $350,000 on the project.

Said attorney Carole Handler, who has represented several studios: “Everyone in the industry knows that while a signed contract is a nice thing, a contractual relationship does not depend on a signature. Much more important is the expectations of the parties and the course of dealing between them. When a large corporation sees an artist through the rough times, it has every reason to expect that the artist will honor his contract even though his bargaining position may have improved.”

Popular on Variety

More News

  • Disney-Family-Movies

    Disney Family Movies SVOD Service Is Shutting Down Ahead of Disney Plus Debut

    After 11 years, Disney is pulling the plug on Disney Family Movies On Demand — with the service’s shutdown coming just days before the launch of the Mouse House’s Disney Plus. Disney Family Movies, which cost between $5-$10 per month, has been available via pay-TV providers in the U.S., including Comcast Xfinity, Charter Communications, Verizon [...]

  • Album Review: The Muffs' 'No Holiday'

    Album Review: The Muffs' 'No Holiday'

    It is heartbreaking that Kim Shattuck, the forthright singer and cocksure songwriter for the Muffs, died at the beginning of October. Renowned for her short, sharp brand of power-pop punk song, yearning but prickly lyrics, and screamy, shredded vocals with a tender, expressive edge, Shattuck — who spent time in the Pandoras, the Coolies and, for [...]

  • Dewanda Wise Captain Marvel

    'Jurassic World 3' Casts DeWanda Wise in Leading Role (EXCLUSIVE)

    DeWanda Wise, best known for her breakout role in Netflix’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” has landed a leading role in the third installment of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment’s “Jurassic World” saga. She joins Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who will reprise their roles from the previous films, as well as Sam Neill, Laura [...]

  • awkwafina-taron-egerton-split

    Awkwafina, Taron Egerton Get Santa Barbara Fest Salute

    The 35th Santa Barbara Intl. Film Festival will honor Awkwafina, Taron Egerton, Florence Pugh and Taylor Russell with Virtuoso Awards on Saturday, Jan. 18. The quartet mark the first wave of recipients of honorees at the festival. The four actors are being saluted for their 2019 work, including “The Farewell,” “Rocketman,” “Midsommar,” and “Waves,” respectively. The festival [...]

  • Sunnyside

    TV Ratings: 'Sunnyside' Stable in Final Broadcast Episode

    NBC’s “Sunnyside,” which was pulled from the network’s schedule this week, closed off its broadcast run to roughly the same numbers as last week. The Kal Penn comedy posted a 0.3 rating and 1.2 million total viewers, continuing its run as the lowest rated and least watched new fall show in Live+Same Day. NBC has [...]

  • Hear Prince's Acoustic Demo of 'I

    Hear Prince's Acoustic Demo of 'I Feel for You'

    In honor of the 40th anniversary of Prince’s self-titled second album, “Prince” — which was released on October 19, 1979 — late artist’s estate and Warner Records have released a previously uncirculated, solo acoustic demo recording of his song “I Feel for You,” available on streaming services and as a limited-run 7” vinyl single. The demo features [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content