“Internationally bestselling author” Tess Gerritsen has released the latest bulletin from the frontline in an ongoing court battle against Warner Bros., under the modest title “My GRAVITY lawsuit and how it affects every writer who sells to Hollywood.” And while at other times I might be tempted to be snarky or suspicious, in this case I suspect there really is substance behind her words, and her case really is that significant.
Tess Gerritsen’s statement leads off as follows:
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 a single issue: the corporate relationship between Warner Bros. and New Line Productions.
The background, explained in detail in Gerritsen’s post, is that New Line bought the rights to her book Gravity in 1999. Director Alfonso Cuaron was then attached to the project, which however, never got past development. In 2008-09, following a “brutal” takeover of New Line by Warner Bros., Cuaron produced a screenplay which was then made into the movie Gravity. Gerritsen’s case against Warner Bros. hinges on their obligation to honor the terms of the original contract with New Line, including: “‘based upon’ credit, a production bonus, and a percentage of net profit.”
Warner Bros. does not appear to be spending too much time trying to deny resemblance between the film and Gerritsen’s work – which would be kind of hard in the case of a film called Gravity following a book with the same title, both concerning a female astronaut adrift in space. Tes Gerritsen did indeed produce a book titled Gravity in 1999, though the film’s screenwriting credits currently don’t mention her. However, as Gerritsen continues:
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.
Gerritsen is right to contend that, if the facts are so, then all writers should have an interest in the outcome. It’s not hard to imagine even that a sharp-minded Hollywood producer might engineer a dummy takeover of a studio purely for the purposes of doing a legal end-run round the rights of the original author. Paranoid, perhaps, but not inconceivable – if Gerritsen loses.