Bringing Hollywood glitz to a Santa Ana courtroom, Franchise Pictures topper Elie Samaha told a federal court jury that his main expertise was getting top talent to do films for below-market prices.
By turns gregarious and testy, Samaha was called as an adverse witness by Intertainment attorney Scott Edelman. At his engaging best, Samaha’s testimony brought smiles and laughter to the normally silent jury.
German distributor Intertainment is suing Franchise for $100 million, claiming it was defrauded into paying for rights based on vastly inflated budgets for a slate of pics including “Get Carter” and “The Whole Nine Yards.”
Franchise maintains it had a secret agreement with Intertainment CEO Barry Baeres under which Intertainment would pay what was needed on a given picture, even though it was supposed to be limited by its distribution agreement with Franchise to paying just 47% of the budget on each film.
Samaha’s three hours of testimony Thursday ranged widely over subjects that included his background in the dry cleaning business, his film start and his philosophy of filmmaking.
Presumably, he will later testify about the central issue in the trial, the alleged secret deal with Baeres.
On the witness stand, Samaha said it was not until he hooked up with Baeres that he became involved in film financing.
Not necessarily in response to Edelman’s questions, Samaha volunteered that it was his philosophy that actors are paid too much. “I don’t think I need to pay an actor retail,” he said.
In other comments, he noted that he didn’t have a high school education, but said he was “very good with numbers.”
Bantering with Edelman, he told the attorney he was sure he could get him into his celebrity nightclub White Lotus.
The testimony turned more tense when Edelman went through Samaha’s 1998 output deal with Morgan Creek, trying to get Samaha to concede that important deal points needed to be in writing.
Samaha admitted he wanted a written agreement from Morgan Creek’s Jim Robinson regarding advance payments for the film budget because he didn’t trust him.
“Robinson was very star-struck,” Samaha testified. “He said all sorts of things just to have dinner with John Travolta and Bruce Willis.”
By way of the Morgan Creek testimony, Edelman was able to show that another Samaha deal involved litigation and that Samaha had other forms of financing besides selling foreign distribution rights. That line of questioning was an attempt to counter the Franchise argument that Intertainment always knew it would have to put up more than 47% of a film’s budget because Samaha had no other source of funding.
Family fee spree
Edelman also questioned Samaha about various fees paid to a company called Glickson, which was formed by Samaha, his brother, his sister and former Franchise president Andrew Stevens and Stevens’ wife.
Samaha demanded a $750,000 bonus from Baeres to be paid to Glickson on three films that Intertainment distributed before they entered into the multipicture agreement. After the multipic agreement, the completion bond company also made payments to Glickson.
Samaha described the payments as “no-claim rebates,” but Edelman said the bond company has described them as “marketing fees.” He also noted that they were paid after the bank loans closed but before the pictures were completed, raising the question of how anyone knew there would be no claims on the bond.
After court, Franchise attorney Richard Schirtzer said, “Intertainment has spent two weeks putting on a trial. They have not put on the only witness that really matters, Barry Baeres. They want to see how everyone else testifies before he has to take the stand.”
In response, Edelman said, “We’ve been delighted to start with Franchise’s witnesses because they have been helpful in laying the foundation for the case and have been so effective for us. Barry’s story has always been consistent and he’ll be on the stand very shortly.”
Trial resumes Tuesday with Samaha expected to be on the stand all day.