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David Elliot and Paul Lovett, two of the credited screenwriters on the 2009 film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, have filed a massive lawsuit against Paramount, MGM, Hasbro and producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura.
At issue is the sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which came out in March and grossed nearly $120 million in the domestic box office.
According to a complaint filed in California federal court late last week and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Elliot and Lovett had a contractual “first opportunity” to write the first sequel to the Joe Cobra movie if they were the sole writers. But they weren’t. Stuart Beattie was also given a co-screenwriting credit.
Nevertheless, the two writers say that shortly after the premiere of the 2009 film, the defendant film companies asked them to present plot lines, themes, characters and more for a potential sequel “with the stated intent that the PDH defendants would hire plaintiffs to write the screenplay if they liked plaintiffs’ proposed sequel.”
Elliot and Lovett said that they did just that, and now after seeing their work allegedly taken without credit, they are seeking more than $23 million in damages for copyright infringement and breach of implied contract.
“These original inventions, which make plaintiffs’ proposed sequel a compelling piece of storytelling, have been stolen by the (defendants) in the hopes of infusing the Joe Retaliation movie with the blockbuster power of plaintiffs’ work.”
The lawsuit says that when Elliot and Lovett saw the results of the 2009 movie, they were “shocked to see how completely the Joe: Cobra movie had departed from” their script.
As a result, when it came time to work on the sequel, the writers said they got more granular in their pitch, “presenting not just suggestions for possible storylines and character arcs but a comprehensive vision to completely re-imagine the G.I. Joe franchise, from the live-action films to the toy line.”
Included in the enhanced pitch, says the complaint, were an “exhaustive array of documents, verbal presentations, original conceptual art, photo collages, video clips, mock movie posters with suggested subtitles, marketing images and mock marketing trailers.”
The writers also say that more than 100 phone calls as well as emails detail the extent of their pitch over a two-month period.
On December 3, 2009, Elliot and Lovett say they were notified that the film companies had decided to engage a different writing team. Retaliation is credited to writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.
But the plaintiffs see their pitched ideas in the final film.
“Even the most cursory review of the Joe: Retaliation movie and the plaintiffs’ work reveals that they are substantially similar in every material way,” says the complaint. “While plaintiffs make no claims to the elements of the Joe: Retaliation movie that are subject to Hasbro’s pre-existing copyrights in the G.I. Joe characters, plaintiffs take great issue with those elements of the Joe: Retaliation movie that are the expression of plaintiffs’ personal creativity and plaintiffs’ unique creation of plaintiffs’ proposed sequel that were not part of the Joe: Cobra movie and that were not scenes a faire of the genre.”
The lawsuit goes into detail about how “nearly every aspect of the Joe: Retaliation movie, from the beginning to the end” incorporates their work and includes a side-by-side comparison of the similarities. The writers say it was their idea, among other things, to take the franchise “back to a simpler time, where the focus is less about high-tech wizardry and gadgetry and more about nostalgic, grounded characters.”
The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Henry Gradstein. The lawsuit seeks at least $20 million in actual damages and at least $3 million in compensatory damages.
Paramount declined to comment on the suit.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @eriqgardner
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