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With more than $140 million in international revenue, God’s Not Dead is a faith-based film success — but that success is based on someone else’s story, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in California federal court.
Screenwriter Kelly Kullberg claims she developed a story inspired by her 2006 autobiography Finding God Beyond Harvard: The Quest for Veritas with the help of family-friendly film multihyphenate Michael Landon Jr., who was tapped to produce and direct.
Her screenplay, Rise, never made it to production and she says it’s because God’s Not Dead producers used her story. So Kullberg and Landon are suing Pure Flix Entertainment and David A.R. White for copyright infringement and seeking at least $100 million in damages.
“The theme, set-up, opportunity, turning point, change of plans, complications, setback, final push, climax, and aftermath of the Rise screenplay and the God’s Not Dead motion picture are the same,” states the complaint. “By producing God’s Not Dead, defendants destroyed plaintiffs’ prospects for producing a motion picture based on their Rise screenplay.”
Kullberg says it’s clear how Pure Flix got her story, but the others involved might not have realized what they were doing. First, she described her story to Woody White, the president of a faith-based group at Harvard, hoping he might invest in the project. Then, according to the lawsuit, White was so excited about Rise that he passed the information on to Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission. Next, Baehr discussed the plot with God’s Not Dead actor-producer David A.R. White at a time when Pure Flix was working to develop a Christian Apologetics project but struggling to conceive a story.
The film and Kullberg’s story both depict “a young college student who has to confront a popular and charming atheist professor in three debates, who struggles in the first debate, but succeeds in the next two after encouragement from supporting characters, including an unmarried local pastor, a rural married couple, the atheist professor’s wife who is also the professor’s former student (a lapsed Christian who questions her own beliefs and observances) and an international student ally, and manages to persuade many others, including the professor, that God does exist,” according to the complaint.
Kullberg says she contacted Pure Flix leadership after seeing a trailer for the film, but the company’s board of directors felt the similarities were nothing more than a coincidence — although she says they have yet to explain the origins of their story.
Pure Flix and White have not yet responded to the lawsuit.
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