‘Truman’ suit retort

Pic origins precede Dunn play, papers

Andrew Niccol began writing the screenplay of “The Truman Show” at least a year before Mark Dunn’s “Frank’s Life” was first staged in New York, according to documents shown to Daily Variety.

Last week playwright Dunn filed a lawsuit alleging that the Paramount pic was a rip-off of his 1992 stage play (Daily Variety, June 17).

According to Niccol’s former manager, Alex Rossu, Niccol pitched him a drama entitled “The Malcolm Show” in May 1991. One week later, Niccol sent Rossu a one-page treatment for the proposed pic, copyrighted in 1991.

“Malcolm,” the treatment says, “is the star of a 24-hour continuous soap opera in the future but doesn’t know it. He has been filmed by hidden cameras every second of his life …’The Malcolm Show’ has been running since his birth. The show has 16 producers, all his family and friends are actors … all the strangers that he sees in the street are extras.”

In a letter Niccol sent Rossu a month later, in late June or early July, the scribe refers to the screenplay of “Malcolm” as being “partially completed.”

Par rejected play

Dunn’s suit says his play was performed three times a week at an Off Broadway theater between May and August 1992. Dunn also submitted a copy of his play to a Paramount office in New York in June or July 1992. Paramount rejected it in August.

In early 1992, Niccol switched representation from Rossu to Pleshette/Millner Literary Agency’s Lynn Pleshette.

Over a year later, Pleshette brought Niccol’s script (now called “The Truman Show”) to the attention of Paramount-based producer Scott Rudin. In October 1993 — following a bidding war with Warner Bros. — Par acquired “Truman” for Rudin in a deal worth a total $1.5 million, which included a provision, subsequently canceled, for Niccol to direct.

At the time Rudin was quoted as saying: “I haven’t read a spec that is so ready (to go before the cameras) in a long time.”

“Truman,” which was directed by Peter Weir and stars Jim Carrey, has grossed $85 million after three weeks on release. Dunn is seeking in excess of $300 million for copyright infringement, breach of contract, unlawful interference, breach of confidence and false designation of origin.

Had access to play?

Dunn’s attorney, Carl E. Person, contended that via either his Broadway or Paramount connections, Rudin would have had access to Dunn’s play, which he easily could have shown to Niccol after buying the script.

But Person couldn’t say whether Niccol would have seen or read “Frank’s Life” before he sold the “Truman” script to Rudin. According to Person, Dunn finished writing his play in “late 1991” and “copies of it were available” from April 1992 onward.

The Dunn suit alleges 108 similarities between “Frank’s Life” and “Truman,” including theme, setting, characters and plot.

‘Not worried’

Contacted in New York, Dunn said: “If all they had was a concept prior to (my play), then I’m not worried. All the literary elements of the (two works) are the same and the similarities go far beyond an idea.”

Niccol, a former commercials director, wrote and directed the sci-fi thriller “Gattaca,” starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. His thriller “The Undressing of Sophie Deane” is set up at MGM with Melinda Jason producing. He is repped by CAA.

Neither Niccol nor Rudin would comment, while Pleshette could not be reached. Paramount said it did not comment on active litigation.

Person and Rudin have clashed several times before, including a similar case over the 1992 Disney hit “Sister Act.”

Rudin won that one.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content