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Producer settles suit over crime drama

By Matthew Belloni

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The legal wrangling over the troubled crime drama "Black Water Transit" has taken another turn, with the film's backer quietly settling a $3.1 million lawsuit brought by a producer on the eve of trial.

Ascendant Pictures and principal Chris Roberts filed suit in February 2008 against David Bergstein's Capitol Films and other entities for breach of contract, claiming Bergstein kicked him off the indie project without paying agreed-upon producers' fees.

"Ascendant got cut off at the knees and wasn't able to do anything," said Glen Rothstein, the company's attorney. "They basically told us to take our ball and go home."

A trial in the case had been scheduled to begin Monday, but Bergstein personally negotiated a settlement with Ascendant lawyers during the holidays, and a request for dismissal of the case was filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Bergstein, whose banner is now Pangea Media Group, did not respond to requests for comment. Rothstein would not reveal the value of the settlement. Sources said Bergstein agreed to pay Ascendant a substantial sum but less than $1 million.

The settlement is the latest strange turn for "Transit," a noirish thriller set in post-Katrina New Orleans directed by Tony Kaye ("American History X") and starring Stephen Dorff and Laurence Fishburne. Bergstein unveiled the project at Cannes in 2007, but it has not been released and instead has spawned a stack of litigation.

The indie impresario is said to have rejected delivery of the film because he considered it unreleasable. He sought to recoup the film's budget, said to have ballooned to $48 million, from completion bond company CineFinance. That disputed was settled. The film's insurance carrier, US Specialty Insurance, later sued Capitol, asking a court to rule that it wasn't required to cover any losses on the film.

Last month, Bergstein's Westwood-based shingle sued insurance broker Aon for $20 million to recover losses incurred on the film. Bergstein argues in that case that Aon negligently sold Capitol a policy that did not cover injuries of an "essential element" during preproduction and that Capitol lost millions when star Samuel L. Jackson had to drop out of the film because of a back problem (he was replaced with Fishburne).

Capitol also was sued in November by New York hedge fund D. B. Zwirn, which provided Bergstein and partner Ron Tutor with the money for their movies from 2004-07 and demanded reimbursement for about $120 million that was used to acquire Capitol, ThinkFilm and other entities.

On Wednesday, a day before the request for dismissal of the Ascendant case was filed, Capitol was sued by print advertising house XL Laboratories for $50,000 in unpaid fees. In that complaint, XL alleges, among other things, that Capitol engaged its services without making it aware of four pending federal court cases against the company.

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