Imagine this scenario:
You write a novel called Gravity. It’s a hit with readers, and soon catches the attention of Hollywood. You sell the film rights to New Line Film Productions who create a screenplay. You wait for the film to hit the theaters.
And wait… until ten years pass and you’ve given up hope of seeing your book become a movie.
Then, in 2010, you hear that another film is in the works. It’s called Gravity. The synopsis is the same as that crafted by New Line. The producer is the same. But there’s one big problem. Turns out New Line has now merged with Warner Brothers - and WB says it’s not obligated to make good on the original terms guaranteeing you a production bonus and 2.5% of the net proceeds.
So you sue, of course. But you can’t claim copyright infringement because you’ve sold your film rights. You instead claim breach of contract, but a judge decides you have no grounds for litigation.
The movie is produced, earns a worldwide gross of more than $700 million, and wins seven Academy Awards. You get no production bonus; no piece of the net. But that’s not the worst part of this story. The worst part is that this actually happened to best-selling physician-turned-author Tess Gerritsen on whose book the Bullock/Clooney blockbuster was based.
If there could possibly be an upside to this case, it is this: because the lawsuit never made it to court, Gerritsen never signed a nondisclosure agreement - a rarity for any settlement or suit involving the motion picture industry. As a result, she’s free to talk about her experience, and that’s exactly what she does.
Prose ‘n Cons asked Gerritsen if she believes WB regrets its inability to restrict her public discourse on the matter. “I have no idea what they’re thinking, or if they regret anything,” she says. But because the case was dismissed, she can share the details and “...what I reveal may not be particularly flattering.”
WB has been largely silent on the legal challenge. “Everyone [else] has an opinion,” Gerritsen says, “from trade reporters to industry commentators. Those who work for the studios tend to take ‘the writer’s always a scumbag’ point of view. Writers tend to think ‘the writer’s always screwed.’ I know what the truth is. So do those deeply involved in the case. At least I can feel good about everything I’ve done.”
The experience has not left Gerritsen broken, but it has left her wiser and she hopes to share her wisdom in a non-fiction work. “I would like to write a book for other writers about the process of suing Hollywood - and how the writer is always at a disadvantage, even when he is absolutely correct that his work has been stolen.”