LOS ANGELES - Clive Cussler testified he was told by a producer that he didn't have screenplay approval rights for "Sahara" following numerous attempts to polish the script.
Cussler, 75, maintains he entered into an agreement with Crusader Entertainment that paid him $10 million for the adaptation of his novel and approval of the final screenplay before filming began.
The dispute over Cussler's creative control is the key point in his lawsuit against Crusader, owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz. Cussler argues Anschutz's company breached the contract reached between the two sides, while Crusader has sued the novelist, accusing him of being uncooperative and disparaging the movie publicly before it came out.
Each lawsuit seeks millions of dollars.
The 2005 film starred Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz. It cost about $160 million to make but earned only $68 million in the United States. Attorneys for Anschutz's company claim about $80 million in losses.
Cussler, whose testimony lasted a brief 1 1/2 hours Tuesday, wasn't cross-examined by attorneys representing Crusader. Outside of court, they said they planned to question Cussler when they present their case.
"They just gave us their best case, and it didn't warrant a response," attorney Marvin Putnam said.
Cussler disputed the notion put forth by Crusader's attorneys during opening statements that he was a defiant presence during the filmmaking process. He testified he approved at least four versions of the screenplay but each time was told by producers another writer would be hired to work on the script.
"I can appreciate other writers' works," he said.
Cussler said he provided three screenplay rewrites between September 2001 and July 2002. Attorney Bert Fields displayed e-mails from producer Karen Baldwin praising Cussler for his input.
"It was my fervent hope using terrific sections (of prior screenplays) with my own expertise, at last we would come out with a screenplay everyone would like," Cussler said.
But Cussler grew upset when he saw a version created by Josh Friedman, who wrote "War of the Worlds" and "The Black Dahlia." Cussler scribbled a note in 2002 to Baldwin and called Friedman's screenplay "amateurish" and "juvenile."
"I told her I wouldn't approve it," Cussler said in court. "It didn't follow the story line and strayed from it."
After several more writers were brought in, Cussler testified, he was told by producers in 2003 he didn't have approval rights to the final screenplay. He didn't elaborate but said the final product changed major plot points and "tore the heart" out of the story.
"They ruined it," Cussler said.
Cussler later bashed "Sahara" in various media interviews, according to court documents.
Cussler said he's received about $12 million from Crusader , $10 million for "Sahara" and another $2 million for a second film based on another of his books.