Hasbro Wrangles With Producer Over ‘D & D’

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – In the third day of a trial over movie rights to fantasy role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons,” a film producer haggled with lawyers over the meaning of “sequel,” a decision that could determine who gets to make the next D&D movie: Universal or Warner Bros.
     Hasbro’s attorney on Thursday challenged a film producer’s testimony that the last “Dungeons & Dragons” movie was conceived as a sequel, by claiming that a script for the movie was formatted as a made-for-television movie.
     Producer Steve Richards had testified Wednesday that he had entered into an agreement with a writer to write a feature script for a 2012 D&D movie because a feature had more commercial potential than a TV film.
     Richards and Silver Pictures partnered with Courtney Solomon’s Sweetpea Entertainment to make the movie, “Dungeons & Dragons 3: The Book of Vile Darkness,” the focus of the legal battle between Hasbro and Sweetpea for movie rights to the game.
     Silver Pictures is owned by producer Joel Silver. Richards, once a president of the company, has produced numerous blockbusters, including “The Matrix Trilogy,” “The Book of Eli,” and “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.”
     Hasbro owns “Dungeons & Dragons” game through its subsidiary publisher, Wizards of the Coast. Hasbro claims that sequel rights reverted back to it because “Vile” is a made-for-television movie.
     But Sweetpea, which secured movie rights more than two decades ago, claims the film is a sequel that came out non-theatrically on DVD in the United Kingdom before it premiered in the U.S. on the SyFy cable channel. Therefore, lawyers for Solomon claim, reversion rights don’t apply.
     Both parties are relying on a 1998 amendment to Sweetpea’s licensing agreement. U.S. District Dolly Gee is presiding over the trial that began in downtown L.A. on Tuesday morning.
     Hasbro attorney Jeremy Goldman on Thursday afternoon introduced exhibits to show that a first draft of the “The Book of Vile Darkness” screenplay, written by Brian Rudnick, was in a television format. He showed the court in which where Richards had attached a draft of the script in that format.
     “The Book of Vile Darkness” script had “teaser” and “act breaks” that indicate where cliffhangers and commercial breaks in the movie will occur.
     “Isn’t it a fact, Mr. Richards, that this screenplay had already been written for television at the time you entered into the writer’s agreement with Mr. Rudnick?” Goldman asked.
     “Yes,” Richards agreed.
     Sweetpea’s attorney Christopher Caldwell objected. He noted that Richards never testified about the structural elements of the screenplay, only about a Nov. 19, 2009 writer employment agreement for a feature film.
     Later, Goldman asked Richards to explain what elements “Vile” have in common with 2000’s “Dungeons & Dragons” and 2005’s “Wrath of the Dragon God.”
     Richards struggled to cite specifics. He said he had not watched the movies for a long time but that various similarities were discussed during preproduction.
     Several times the producer alluded to the writer of the film, testifying that he would be better equipped to answer the questions.
     “Can you identify any creative element that was in the first movie that also appeared in the third movie?” Goldman said.
     “I did not prep myself to answer that question,” Richards replied.
     “So, the answer is no?”
     “I wish I could call my creative person and ask him,” Richards said.
     “You don’t get a lifeline,” Judge Gee said, injecting some humor into proceedings that have been wrought with tension and testiness on both sides.
     When Rudnick signed on to write the movie, the producers had not decided where the movie would end up, and was not in discussion with SyFy to broadcast the film as television movie, Richards confirmed during Caldwell’s redirect examination.
      Hasbro sued Sweetpea Entertainment in Federal Court in 2013.
     Judge Gee rejected Sweetpea’s motion to dismiss, and Sweetpea filed counterclaims a few months later.
     Universal has a stake in the outcome after Hasbro partnered with the studio to make a new D&D movie. Sweetpea has developed a D&D project called “Chainmail” with Warner Bros.
     The first “Dungeons & Dragons” movie featured Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch and Jeremy Irons, and was directed by Solomon.
     While the movie was a critical and commercial failure, Universal and Warner Bros. must be banking that in the right hands the franchise could have enormous potential.
     Warner reportedly has entered into a multimillion-dollar agreement with Sweetpea for “Chainmail,” and has put up $1 million for legal costs.
     Expert witnesses for Hasbro and Sweetpea are expected to testify on film industry customs and practices on Friday. They are Roger Toll for Hasbro and Peter Dekom for Sweetpea.
     Hasbro is represented by Maura Wogan and Jeremy Goldman, with Frankfurt Kurnit Klein + Selz, of New York City.
     Patty Glaser of Glaser Weil and Christopher Caldwell with Caldwell Leslie represent Sweetpea.

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