LOS ANGELES (CN) – Witness testimony continued Wednesday in a high-stakes trial to resolve who has the right to make movies based on the fantasy role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons.” The case hinges, in part, on whether a movie already made was a sequel or a made-for-TV movie.
Hasbro sued director and producer Courtney Solomon’s Sweetpea Entertainment in 2013, claiming to hold sequel rights to “Dungeons & Dragons,” through Hasbro subsidiary, publisher Wizards of the Coast.
But if the case seems like a David and Goliath legal battle, the influence of two major Hollywood studios looms large.
Universal has a stake in the outcome after Hasbro partnered with it to make a new D&D movie. Sweetpea has developed a D&D project called “Chainmail” with Warner Bros.
The dispute hangs on whether the last D&D film Sweetpea made under its license for movie rights, 2012’s “Book of Vile Darkness,” was the third in a series of sequels, or as Hasbro argues, a television movie.
Under the terms of a 1998 amended license that would mean that sequel rights revert to Hasbro. Or so the toymaker argues.
But Sweetpea says “Vile” is a sequel to the other two movies in the series, and that Hasbro knew that the company was making a follow-up and participated in its development and marketing through Wizards of the Coast.
Sweetpea’s attorney Christopher Caldwell, with Caldwell Leslie, attempted to support that claim during cross-examination of Steve Richards on Wednesday. Richards is the producer of “Vile” and a former executive with Silver Pictures.
Richards testified that screenwriter Brian Rudnick was hired to write a script for a feature film, not a TV movie.
Caldwell asked Richards why Silver Pictures wanted to avoid making a film for television.
“I think it has negative connotations associated with it,” Richards said. “When you’re selling a movie that is made for TV it greatly reduces your ability to sell it internationally.”
In addition, the budget for “Vile” was $2.6 million. A budget for a television movie would be in the “low seven figures” or less than $1 million, Richards said.
Sweetpea hopes to persuade U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee that Hasbro’s involvement in the development and marketing of the movie meant that it was aware that Sweetpea and Silver’s intention was to make a sequel, even if it ended up premiering in America on the SyFy channel.
Solomon’s attorneys have made much of the wording on DVD cases, which refer to the movies as parts of a saga or trilogy.
Early Wednesday, Wizards of the Coast branding executive Liz Schuh said she was surprised to learn that Silver Pictures had planned a DVD release in the United Kingdom months before it premiered on SyFy.
“We felt that they were not dealing with honest partners and that we not get an honest response,” Schuh said.
She schooled Caldwell on the plot points of the third film, and the rules of the D&D universe, sometimes leaving the attorney floundering at his lectern.
Though there was a dearth of returning characters in Sweetpea’s two follow-up movies, Caldwell suggested that that’s consistent with the rules of the game, where characters die at the end of a “campaign.”
Schuh testified, however, that D&D fans love to follow characters in spinoffs of the game, such as the bestselling books written by R.A. Salvatore.
Furthermore, D&D campaigns can sometimes go on for months “or oftentimes years,” before players kill off their characters, the executive said.
While the first “Dungeons & Dragons” movie was a critical and commercial failure, Universal and Warner Bros. could capture a franchise that has legions of international fans.
Warner reportedly has entered into a multimillion-dollar agreement with Sweetpea for “Chainmail,” as well as putting up $1 million in legal costs.
Senior vice president Jun Oh of Warner Bros. is scheduled to appear in court Thursday as a third-party witness.
Maura Wogan and Jeremy Goldman are lead attorneys for Hasbro.
Patty Glaser and Caldwell represent Sweetpea.
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