My GRAVITY lawsuit and how it affects every writer who sells to Hollywood

Yesterday, the court granted Warner Bros’s motion to dismiss my lawsuit against them. While Warner Bros crows victory, the judge has in fact left the door open for me to pursue my claim, allowing my legal team twenty days to revise our complaint and address the single issue of concern: the corporate relationship between Warner Bros. and New Line Productions.

For those unfamiliar with why I sued, you can find my original statement here:

A quick wrap-up of the facts:

In 1999, I sold the film rights to my book GRAVITY to New Line Productions. The contract stipulates that if a movie is made based on my book, I will receive “based upon” credit, a production bonus, and a percentage of net profits. The book is about a female medical doctor/astronaut/Mission Specialist who is stranded aboard the International Space Station after the rest of her crew is killed in a series of accidents. A shuttle is destroyed, and damages to ISS require the heroine to perform a hazardous space walk. A biological hazard aboard ISS traps her in quarantine, unable to return to earth. While my film was in development, I re-wrote the third act of the film script and my additional scenes included the shooting down of a satellite which results in a debris cloud colliding with ISS, the complete destruction of ISS, and the lone surviving female astronaut left adrift and untethered in her spacesuit.

Alfonso Cuaron was attached to direct my film — a fact I did not know at the time. My project never made it out of development.

In 2008, Warner Bros acquired New Line Productions. The takeover was rumored to be brutal, with numerous New Line employees losing their jobs overnight.

Sometime around 2008 – 2009, Alfonso Cuaron wrote his original screenplay “Gravity” about a female Mission Specialist astronaut who is the sole survivor after her colleagues are killed by satellite debris destroying their shuttle. She is left adrift in her space suit, and is later stranded aboard the International Space Station. I noted the similarities, but I had no evidence of any connection between Cuaron and my project. Without proof, I could not publicly accuse him of theft, so when asked about the similarities by fans and reporters, I told them it could be coincidental.

In February 2014, my literary agent was informed of Cuaron’s attachment to my project back in 2000. Now the similarities between my book and Cuaron’s movie could no longer be dismissed as coincidence. I sought legal help, and we filed a Breach of Contract complaint that April. Please note: this is not a case of copyright infringement. Warner Bros., through its ownership of New Line, also controls the film rights to my book. They had every right to make the movie — but they claim they have no obligation to honor my contract with New Line.

This is why every writer who sells to Hollywood should be alarmed.

It means that any writer who sold film rights to New Line Productions can have those rights freely exploited by its parent company Warner Bros. — and the original contract you signed with New Line will not be honored. Warner Bros. can make a movie based on your book but you will get no credit, even though your contract called for it.

It means that any parent film company who acquires a studio, and also acquires that studio’s intellectual properties, can exploit those properties without having to acknowledge or compensate the original authors.

This is alarming on many levels, and the principles involved go far beyond my individual lawsuit. Every writer who sells film rights to Hollywood must now contend with the possibility that the studio they signed the contract with could be swallowed up by a larger company — and that parent company can then make a movie based on your book without compensating you. It means Hollywood contracts are worthless.

But as I said, the door is not yet entirely closed on my lawsuit. My attorney Glen Kulik has issued the following statement:

The court issued a long, detailed, and very thoughtful opinion in which it noted that we need to include more facts in our pleading relative to the relationship between Warner Bros. and New Line — that was the only issue before the court on the motion. This happens quite often in litigation, and now we need to go ahead and file an amended complaint which corrects the technical deficiencies using the court’s decision as our roadmap. I do not think that will be hard to do as we have learned a great deal more information about the Warner Bros/New Line relationship since the original Complaint
was filed.

We will push on.

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Addendum: visit my 6/29/15 blogpost to see the conclusion to my lawsuit.

Some commenters have asked how I can possibly prove that the movie “Gravity” was inspired by my novel “Gravity.”  Aside from the fact Alfonso Cuaron was involved with both projects, I offer this example:

If there were a movie called “Ralph and Julia,” about two young lovers who commit suicide in a tomb in Verona, I don’t think anyone would doubt which work of literature inspired the movie.  Even though the movie may have no feuding families or Montagues and Capulets.  Even if there’s no guy named Mercutio who gets stabbed in a duel.  There are enough unusual elements (setting, characters, situation, title) that point you straight to “Romeo and Juliet” as inspiration.

It took me two years to research and write my story GRAVITY.  I read dozens of textbooks on aerospace science, astronaut training, and shuttle operations.  I visited Johnson Space Center in Texas and Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  I corresponded with NASA engineers, program managers, and flight doctors.

To see the Cuarons’ description of how they wrote their GRAVITY script, you can read an interview with them here:

“They regrouped in the elder Cuaron’s London home one afternoon and began talking about the theme of adversity, about knowing when to fight and when to give up, and the theme of rebirth. And two images drove them: an astronaut spinning into the void and someone getting up and walking away. “Gravity was a metaphor, the force that keeps pulling us back to life,” says Jonas Cuaron.

A first draft was written in three weeks.”

Apparently the Cuarons didn’t need to do any research.