Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Daughter of ‘Godfather’ Author Owes No Money for Work Done on Script for Movie She Suggested Where Estate, Not She, Owns Film Rights
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A husband and wife writing team is entitled to no damages based on work they did on a screenplay adapted from a novel by the author of “The Godfather,” the Court of Appeal has held, because any evidence of profits that would have been realized if a movie had been made would have been speculative given that the owner of the rights to the book had no obligation to consent to a production.
Presiding Justice Elwood Lui of this district’s Div. Two wrote the opinion, which was filed Friday and not certified for publication. It affirms a judgment on a cross complaint in favor of cross-defendant Dorothy Puzo, daughter of the late author Mario Puzo.
She proposed to cross-complainants Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski that they collaborate with her in preparing a screenplay based on her father’s novel, “Fools Die,” with the amount of recompense they would receive from profits specified. However, it was understood that she did not own the film rights, and that any project would have to be approved by the estate’s executor, Anthony Puzo, son of Mario Puzo, who died in 1999.
A movie was not made.
Assumptions Are Inadequate
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge H. Chester Horn Jr. granted a motion in limine excluding testimony on the writers’ damages, then granted a motion for a judgment of nonsuit. In his opinion affirming the judgment, Lui said:
“Testimony cannot be based on assumptions of fact lacking evidentiary support.”
Noting that Anthony Puzo had sole discretion as to whether a film would be made, Lui wrote:
“Any notion that he would have allowed the project to go forward as written— and at what price—was pure speculation based on an assumption of fact lacking evidentiary support. The trier of fact would have to guess whether Puzo would disapprove of the screenplay or demand an exorbitant price no producer would accept. No jury could find it ‘certain or reasonably certain that the rights would have been gotten’ just because respondent is one of the heirs to the Estate, sister to the executor, or has health issues that elicit family sympathy.”
The jurist added:
“The jury could not infer any agreement on the part of the Estate. The only testimony about the Estate would come from its literary rights attorney, Bertram Fields, who stated in deposition that he would not allow the project to go forward: He would refuse the film rights to respondent or appellants because their screenplay was substandard; their proposed budget was too low; the rights to a novel by a famous author command a maximum price; and Jerzy Kromolowski was unacceptable as the film’s director. As appellants write in their brief, the Estate always follows Fields’s recommendations.”
Following judgment against them on their cross-complaint for expectation damages, the screenwriters sought reconsideration, desiring to advance a theory that they were entitled to recompense based on the reasonable value of their services, which they estimated to be between $400,000 and $650,000.
Horn denied the motion.
Lui said Horn did not abuse his discretion because “appellants did not show diligence about raising their reliance damages claim” before judgment.
Dorothy Puzo’s Suit
Dorothy Puzo had sued Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski on a $30,000 note based on a loan. Their defense was that it had been understood repayment was to be made from profits from the movie.
That was not memorialized in the note.
“The courts cannot rewrite the Note to add new terms limiting appellants’ repayment obligation to the sale of a screenplay or production of a film when the Note says the debt is due on a specified date,” Lui said, declaring Horn’s judgment for Puzo on the complaint to be affirmed.
The case is Puzo v. Kromolowski, B294569.
Counsel on behalf of Dorothy Puzo was Encino lawyer Steven J. Horn. Representing the defendants was Century Park attorney Martin E. Jacobs.
Copyright 2020, Metropolitan News Company