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Arts and Culture

Maine Author of 'Gravity' Novel Sues Warner Brothers Over Movie

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Acclaimed Camden, Maine-based author Tess Gerritsen has filed a lawsuit against Warner Brothers, claiming the film company used her 1999 novel "Gravity" as the basis for the recent film by the same name.  As Patty Wight reports, Gerritsen says Warner Brothers owes her at least $10 million.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in California this week, Tess Gerritsen sold feature film rights to her book "Gravity" to Katja Motion Picture Corporation in 1999 for $1 million. Under the contract, Gerritsen was entitled to a production bonus and 2.5 percent of the net proceeds of the future film.  But by 2002, Gerritsen apparently believed plans for the film had been scrapped.  

In a statement on her Web site, Gerritsen says when she heard about the 2013 film "Gravity" starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, she noticed striking similarities to her novel. The movie, like the book, follows a female medical doctor-turned-astronaut who is stranded alone in space after a series of disasters kill the rest of the crew.  Both the film and the book detail the astronaut’s struggle to survive, and both are called Gravity.

Audio from film clip: "Houston - this is mission specialist Ryan Stone.  I am off structure and I am drifting.  Do you copy?"

On her Web site, Gerritsen says she believed, however improbable, that it was possible someone could create a story with the same character, setting, situation and title as her novel.  But that changed in February, when Gerritsen says a reliable source told her that the film's writer/director, Alfonso Cuaron, had also been connected to her project while it was in development, and would have been familiar with her novel.  

The film Gravity was produced by Warner Brothers, which has owned Katja Motion Pictures - the source of Gerritsen's original contract - since 2008.  Gerritsen's lawyer Glen Kulik says it's clear that this is more than just a coincidence.

"No one is saying they couldn't make the film based on her book," Kulik says. "But under her contract, if they did make that film based on her book, they were supposed to do certain things."

Gerritsen's lawsuit claims that under terms of  her original contract with Katja Motion Pictures,  the author should receive 2.5 percent of the film's $700 million in box office gross earnings.  It says Gerritsen is entitled to at least $10 million.  

Attorney Glen Kulik says Gerritsen filed the lawsuit after attempts to resolve the situation out of court proved unsuccessful.

"You know, Miss Gerritsen is not a litigious person.  This is not something she looked for, and we all wish we could have avoided it," he says. "But unfortunately, given the hard line position that we're hearing, we're going to go forward and see what happens."

A spokesman for Warner Brothers declined comment, other than noting statements made by Tess Gerritsen in an Oct. 8 news story in the Indiana Banner Graphic:  "Yea, 'Gravity' is a great film," Gerritsen is quoted as saying, 'but it's not based on my book."

Glen Kulik says a courtroom trial will likely begin in the next 15 to 18 months, unless the parties can reach a settlement.