'Sahara' director Eisner testifies on Cussler film


Despite hearing whispers around Hollywood there were troubles making the film adaptation of "Sahara," Breck Eisner said Wednesday he decided to direct the movie because he thought it could lead to a lucrative franchise.

Eisner was the latest witness to testify in a trial involving dueling lawsuits over the 2005 film that starred Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz. Over the past 2 1/2 months, jurors have seen a steady stream of screenwriters, executives and lawyers who have testified about the struggles to put "Sahara" on the big screen.

Eisner, a son of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, said he knew there had been some complications making the movie but after consulting with his lawyer he was brought aboard in 2003.

"I knew I could nail this film," Eisner said. "I was going to take that chance."

Eisner admitted, however, he had no idea of the maelstrom he was about to enter.

The problems with "Sahara" are at the core of the trial that began in late January and is expected to last several more weeks.

Best-selling author Clive Cussler has sued Crusader Entertainment, a company owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, claiming it reneged on a contract that gave him creative control over "Sahara," which is based on his book with the same name.

Crusader filed a countersuit against Cussler, claiming he was disruptive during the film-making process and disparaged the movie before its release.

Each suit seeks millions of dollars.

Both sides are blaming each other for "Sahara's" dismal showing at the box office. The movie grossed only $68 million in the United States, and Crusader's attorneys estimate the company has lost more than $80 million on "Sahara."

"Sahara" was Eisner's first feature film after directing commercials and several TV series. He had consulted with film producers Howard and Karen Baldwin as early as 1998 about turning Cussler's books, featuring the fictional adventure-seeker Dirk Pitt, into movies.

Although he felt the story had to be pared down, Eisner believed "Sahara" would be the start to a film franchise much like the "Indiana Jones" series.

"I sensed there was excitement about the creation of a film franchise," Eisner recalled after meeting with Cussler at his Phoenix-area home.

Eisner eventually replaced Ron Bowman who unexpectedly resigned as "Sahara's" director. By the time Eisner arrived, the screenplay had gone through numerous revisions. Screenwriters were hired, fired and in one case, rehired.

Cussler has argued he had screenplay approval rights and while he accepted some of the revisions, there were others he didn't like.

Crusader's attorneys have maintained Cussler did not get final say on the script and his rights were replaced with a less authoritative consultation role when a director was hired.

Cussler, 75, has been called the "Grandmaster of Adventure." He has written 32 books, 19 of which feature Pitt.

Anschutz is one of the richest men in the United States. He co-owns the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a company that operates Los Angeles' Staples Center.

In other developments, a judge on Wednesday dismissed a male juror for undisclosed reasons.

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