Coppola's Love Of A Wooden Boy

A courtroom turned into a theater Friday as director Francis Ford Coppola passionately spoke about his doomed Pinocchio film and displayed early test scenes and animation to give jurors an idea of what his musical would have looked like.

A large TV, several story boards and sketches, and even a 3 and1/2-foot clay-and-wood sculpture of the big-nosed character were crammed into the courtroom as the acclaimed director sat in the witness chair.

"That's how big he would have been," Coppola said as the sculpture was shown to jurors. "He's a bad boy Pinocchio."

The director of the Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now filed the Superior Court lawsuit against Warner Bros., alleging the studio thwarted his attempt to make a modern version of Pinocchio, a project that had been a lifelong dream.

The suit seeks more than $23 million in damages. Judge Madeleine Flier had previously dismissed the studio's cross-complaint, saying there wasn't enough evidence to show the director broke a contract with Warner Bros.

During his first day on the stand Thursday, Coppola said he began developing the film for Warner Bros. in the early 1990s, but the studio abandoned the project. After Coppola signed with Columbia Pictures, Warner Bros. "resurfaced with a vengeance" claiming rights to the Pinocchio project, according to the suit. Columbia dropped the project in 1994.

Warner Bros. attorney J. Larson Jaenicke told jurors Coppola was the only one to blame for Pinocchio's failure. The attorney said Columbia told Coppola it wouldn't make the film until he reduced the estimated $100 million price tag.

On Friday, Coppola attempted to show Warner Bros. was never really that interested in his film and emphasized the movie project was his idea - that he was the one who wrote several drafts of the script, penned songs and paid artists to draw thousands of sketches and story boards.

He said actors Lauren Bacall, Christopher Walken and Anthony Quinn were interested in the movie and Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld had agreed to do the costuming.

"The movie was going to have many techniques to tell the story," Coppola said, explaining it would have combined human actors and animation.

When "bad feelings" began to erupt during negotiations between attorneys for Coppola and Warner Bros., Coppola said he wrote a letter to studio executives saying they could call him directly at his Napa Valley winery so "we could resolve the problems."

He said he even offered a deal in the letter that would have alleviated much of the financial risk for the studio.

"I'd be the one responsible for everything. The weight and the burden falls more to me," he explained.

However, he said, he never got a response to his letter despite a Warner Bros. memo shown by Coppola's attorney that proved studio executives were aware of his letteand offer.

"It hurt my feelings and it confirmed my feelings that they really had no respect and really didn't want me. An artist wants to be wanted," Coppola said.

"To just be cut off and left in limbo as I had been for a while ... I was surprised they had such lack of courtesy."

At Columbia, where he had made Peggy Sue Got Married and Bram Stoker's Dracula, he got a better reception to his Pinocchio proposal, Coppola said.

Colombia executives were prepared to give him $26 million upon delivery of the film, which Coppola said he estimated to cost $50 million.

Additionally, he said, international distributors were prepared to give him another $40 million but did not make the deal because they were concerned about "the Warner Bros. problems." Coppola said.

With the courtroom lights dimmed, jurors watched a videotape shown to Columbia executives around the fall of 1993, as well as various animation techniques the director was considering at the time.

"I wasn't nuts about those," he told jurors about one computer-generated animation method.

"That was my favorite," he said of the old-fashion, stop-motion animation. "The other made him look like he was made of sponge."

Outside court, Coppola said the movie will never be made but he was happy the trial got under way.

"It's good to get my chance to tell my story," he said.

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