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John Sullivan, co-director of Dinesh D’Souza’s popular documentary films, is suing the producers of God’s Not Dead claiming that he and actor Brad Stine originated the plot of what became one of the biggest Christian films of the modern era.
In a lawsuit filed Friday against Pure Flix Entertainment and co-founder David A.R. White, Sullivan and Stine allege they co-created and wrote a comprehensive original treatment for a faith-based film similar to what eventually became God’s Not Dead and negotiated its production with Pure Flix, which then cut the two out of the equation.
God’s Not Dead stars Kevin Sorbo as a college professor who challenges a Christian student, the Disney Channel’s Shane Harper, to prove the existence of God. The $2 million film was released March 21, 2014, by Freestyle Releasing and earned $60.8 million at the domestic box office.
According to the lawsuit, Sullivan and Stine had a treatment for a movie they were calling Proof, and it contained several plot details that ended up in God’s Not Dead, though neither of the filmmakers were credited or compensated for their work.
The lawsuit says Pure Flix began an effort to raise money for Proof in 2009, pitching it as sort of a faith-based version of Dead Poets Society, the 1989 movie starring Robin Williams as an inspiring prep-school teacher.
Pure Flix hired screenwriters and agreed that Sullivan and Stine would get producer credits and 10 percent of the net profits, and Stine would also receive $10,000 for playing a role in the film.
In 2012, according to the lawsuit, Pure Flix attempted to sell the script it had commissioned back to Stine and Sullivan for $6,500, even though the two were still under the impression Pure Flix was producing the film. They declined the offer, and Pure Flix lowered the price to $5,000, which White and Stine also declined.
Eventually, Stine and Sullivan learned that Pure Flix had decided against making Proof but that it was making a similar movie called God’s Not Dead without them.
“God’s Not Dead, which is the Proof film simply slightly modified and re-titled, liberally and substantially draws upon material from the Proof Treatments, including the genre, mood, pace, themes, settings, characters, and plot points,” says the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also notes that reviewers have compared God’s Not Dead to Dead Poets Society and that when the former is purchased through iTunes the site then recommends the latter.
Sullivan and Stine are suing for 10 percent of the movie’s profits, which could amount to something near $10 million given their assertion that it racked up $40 million in home-video revenue after a surprisingly successful turn at the box office.
“Brad and I take our faith very seriously, so we made several attempts to resolve this outside of the courts, and we were never given the opportunity to sit down and talk to them about this,” Sullivan tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Sullivan most recently co-directed America and 2016: Obama’s America with D’Souza and is currently executive producing the movie Gosnell, the true story of an abortion doctor convicted of murder.
Pure Flix wasn’t available for comment. The company’s founding partner, Russell Wolfe, who is not named in the lawsuit, died Wednesday of ALS at age 50. Wolfe produced and co-starred in God’s Not Dead.
Singh Singh & Trauben is representing the plaintiffs.
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