Fatal Subtraction

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In the tradition of Indecent Exposure and Final Cut, Fatal Subtraction is a reads-like-a-novel account of the most sensational, precedent-setting lawsuit in Hollywood history, told in the voice of the flamboyant lawyer who took on a major studio and won. In 1988, Art Buchwald, America's most popular humorist, and his partner, producer Alain Bernheim, sued Paramount Pictures, claiming that the studio failed to give them credit for the original story of Eddie Murphy's hit, Coming to America. To represent them, ...
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Overview

In the tradition of Indecent Exposure and Final Cut, Fatal Subtraction is a reads-like-a-novel account of the most sensational, precedent-setting lawsuit in Hollywood history, told in the voice of the flamboyant lawyer who took on a major studio and won. In 1988, Art Buchwald, America's most popular humorist, and his partner, producer Alain Bernheim, sued Paramount Pictures, claiming that the studio failed to give them credit for the original story of Eddie Murphy's hit, Coming to America. To represent them, Buchwald and Bernheim hired Pierce O'Donnell, the brash, charismatic Los Angeles trial lawyer whom Forbes has called "the new Perry Mason." In Fatal Subtraction, O'Donnell and Dennis McDougal chronicle the enthralling narrative of the history-making four-year-long clash between a writer/producer team and the corporate monolith that pulls the strings of a modern motion picture studio. After O'Donnell proved that Paramount used Buchwald's story, the studio asserted that the $350-million-grossing movie never earned "net profits" for his clients. The Buchwald-Bernheim challenge to the very legitimacy of creative accounting in the motion picture industry ultimately invalidated the boilerplate contract language that shackles Hollywood's creative talent. Buchwald v. Paramount has changed forever the way business is done in the "Industry." Fatal Subtraction goes behind the scenes and headlines, exposing from the inside how stars are made, ideas are stolen, deals are struck, and profits are hidden in a labyrinth of power, money, and ambition known around the world as Hollywood. Relying on dozens of interviews, hundreds of heretofore secret studio documents, and thousands of pages of sworn testimony, Pierce O'Donnell and Dennis McDougal unravel the mystery of Buchwald v. Paramount: why it happened, what it means, and how it altered the balance of power in Hollywood.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hailed as a landmark victory for writers, Art Buchwald's 1988 lawsuit against Paramount Pictures is the subject of this lengthy, compulsively readable brief written by O'Donnell, the Los Angeles lawyer who represented Buchwald, and Los Angeles Times reporter McDougal. Buchwald and his partner, producer Alan Bernheim, claimed that Paramount had failed to give them credit for the original story of Eddie Murphy's 1988 hit movie Coming to America . Though O'Donnell and McDougal focus on procedural aspects and the courtroom drama, they blow the lid off the major Hollywood studios's sleazy accounting practices, which have enabled them to deprive creative talent of millions of dollars in royalties by claiming that top-grossing films earned zero net profits. Murphy, given credit for the story line in the film, is portrayed here as ``a talented human being . . . reduced to a commodity.'' The authors also unreel withering profiles of director John Landis, Paramount executive Martin Davis, Arsenio Hall and others. Photos. Aug.
Library Journal
One of 1988's biggest movie hits was Coming to America , which starred Eddie Murphy. One of Hollywood's biggest lawsuits ever soon ensued when humorist Art Buchwald and his partner, Alain Bernheim, sued Paramount, claiming that they had actually created the story upon which the movie was based. O'Donnell, their attorney, and McDougal, a Los Angeles Times investigative reporter, have turned this legal battle into a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how Hollywood really works and how major litigation really takes place. Detailing the dispute from the very beginning to the very bitter end, the authors show how legal strategies evolved e.g., why the plaintiffs sued for breach of contract, not plagiarism and the courtroom machinations that culminated in a trial to determine how a blockbuster movie could somehow fail to turn any profit, according to the studio. The strongest depictions, however, are of the cast of characters--sympathetic plaintiffs, overworked attorneys, witnesses both helpful and otherwise, and studio executives who were often either devious or greedy, if not both. Very highly recommended for all collections. Photos not seen.-- Sally G. Waters, Stetson Law Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Booknews
An account of the four-year-long legal fracas surrounding columnist Art Buchwald's suit against the 1988 Eddie Murphy hit movie "Coming to America." O'Donnell was Buchwald's primary counsel on the case, McDougal is a reporter for the LA Times. Eight pages of (b&w) photos. No bibliography. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Boff Hollywood trial epic in which Art Buchwald, his screenwriter/producer partner Alan Bernheim, and legal whiz Pierce O'Donnell battle Paramount Pictures over Buchwald's part in the script of Eddie Murphy's dizzyingly successful Coming to America. After Buchwald goes to the Capawock Theater on Martha's Vineyard to see Paramount's new Eddie Murphy comedy (about an African king who comes to the States, finds a wife in Queens, and takes her back home to marry), he arms his sling with stones and goes looking for Paramount. The story, in part, is taken from a treatment Buchwald sold to Paramount, which then spent over a half million on scripts (the first being by Bernheim) for this Murphy vehicle. Aside from cash, Buchwald-Bernheim were offered points in the picture's net profits, should it be made and there be such profits. Then the top execs who bought Buchwald's story and put it into development moved to other companies and the Buchwald/Bernheim script was dropped. The authors resold it, to Warner Brothers, but then Paramount announced Coming to America and Warner dropped its flick as too similar to the new Murphy vehicle. Enter O'Donnell (writing here with Los Angeles Times entertainment reporter McDougal), whose legal firm breaks a rule and takes the case on contingency. Paramount and its legal team deny any theft of Buchwald's ideas but then find themselves defending Hollywood's net-profits clause, which allows a studio to deduct its overall losses from its hits' earnings. Huge stars get points in gross profits, but, through creative accounting, small-time creators are denied rewards, despite a film's massive returns. Here, the case's legal stages are spellbinding and not excessivelydetailed. Don't miss Buchwald's drolleries to the servile Writers Guild of America or Eddie Murphy's toothy two-day deposition, though he's a no-show at the clause-busting trial. You'll never eat net profits in these contracts again. (B&w photographs—not seen.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385416863
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/1/1992
  • Edition description: 1st ed.
  • Pages: 608

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