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‘White Men’ Director Gets $9.8 Million

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury awarded film director Ron Shelton $9.8 million Tuesday in a dispute with studio 20th Century Fox over profits he said he was owed from the hit 1992 film “White Men Can’t Jump.”

Shelton, who wrote, directed and produced the comedy starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as two playground basketball hustlers, claimed he was entitled to half the net profits of the film and part of the gross receipts.

“We’re delighted with the verdict. It is a demonstration that the traditional methods of studio accounting will not withstand scrutiny by a jury,’ Shelton’s lawyer, Brian C. Lysaght, said in a statement.

The studio said in its own statement, “Fox disagrees with the jury verdict and damage award on the breach-of-contract claim because it paid Mr. Shelton everything he was owed under his contract with the studio.”

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A Fox spokeswoman added that the studio will file a motion with the court to have the verdict set aside. If that fails, she said, Fox plans to appeal the verdict and expects to prevail.

Sharing net profits has been the source of numerous disputes in Hollywood, including such high-profile cases as writer Art Buchwald’s lawsuit against Paramount Pictures over the film “Coming to America.”

Lawyers representing the estate of the late New Orleans Dist. Atty. Jim Garrison currently have a class-action lawsuit pending against Hollywood’s major studios over the issue, stemming from profits Garrison’s heirs claim they are owed for the film “JFK,” which was based on a Garrison book.

The verdict in the Shelton case came after a five-day trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court, with the jury voting 10 to 2 to award Shelton the compensatory damages. It rejected Shelton’s fraud claim, studio sources said.

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Shelton had claimed former Fox studio chief Joe Roth, now Walt Disney’s top film executive, offered him $2.5 million for starters for the movie and entitled him to half the net profits. Lysaght had argued that Fox made $50 million on the film but that the studio’s “Alice in Wonderland” accounting showed that it lost $10 million.

The lawsuit was filed by Shelton’s Hermit’s Glen Productions. He is is best known for his hit sports-themed films, including “Bull Durham” and, most recently, “Tin Cup.”

“Sometimes you have to fight city hall, basically,” Shelton said outside court. “This is city hall.”

City News Service contributed to this report.


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