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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Not So Fast, Author Tells Film Companies

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A bestselling author claims in court that a movie in the works, "In Sand and Blood," starring Russell Crowe, is a knockoff of a nonfiction shipwreck book it took him 11 years to write.

Dean King sued IM Global, a Los Angeles-based film financing company; the Independent Film Company, of London, England; and its CEO Luc Roeg, in Federal Court.

King demands $5 million, claiming the movie is based on his 2004 book, "Skeletons on the Zahara."

The book tells the true tale of American sailors on the cargo ship Commerce, who were shipwrecked in 1815 off the coast of Africa. They were captured, sold into slavery, beaten and starved. "Through the efforts of Commerce Captain James Riley, many found their way to freedom," Dean says in the Dec. 15 complaint. "The dramatic narrative details Riley's incredible physical and emotional journey ... with his Arab captor, Sidi Hamet, [who] led both sailors and captors on a hellish two month journey to freedom through the heart of the Sahara desert. Riley's and his crew's stories later influenced Abraham Lincoln's views on slavery."

Lug Roeg, best known as a producer and assistant director of the 2011 film "We Need to Talk About Kevin," is the son of Nicolas Roeg, whose cinematography work includes "Lawrence of Arabia," "Fahrenheit 451," "Performance," and "The Man Who Fell to Earth."

King claims that Lug Roeg "undeniably, substantially, willfully and admittedly" used his book as the basis for the coming film.

"Defendants did not obtain King's permission to copy 'Skeletons on the Zahara' and do not intend to compensate King or give him any credit whatsoever for exploiting the copyright owned by Dean King," the 32-page lawsuit states.

King says his book was based on two memoirs: James Riley's "Sufferings In Africa" and Archibald Robbins' "A Journal Comprising an Account of the Loss of the Brig Commerce." Both works are in the public domain.

Roeg optioned film rights to "Skeletons" from King after a previous deal with production company Intermedia ended in 2006.

In 2008, Roeg entered into an agreement through Independent Film Company that promised King a minimum purchase price of $250,000 if the company exercised the option agreement; 5 percent of producer's profits; and up to $50,000 if a U.S. film studio co-financed the film, according to the lawsuit.

After hiring "Public Enemies" screenwriter Ronan Bennett to adapt the book and renewing the option for second time, the agreement to purchase film rights expired on Dec. 7, 2012, King says.

So imagine his surprise when reported on Sept. 29 this year that the defendants were making a feature motion picture starring Russell Crowe, to be called "In Sand and Blood," based on "Skeletons on the Zahara."

Crowe is not a party to the complaint.

"In Sand and Blood" is in preproduction, according to movie industry website IMDb.

"At a minimum, defendants had access to 'Skeletons on the Zahara' through King's work with Independent and Lug Roeg. Further, defendants had access to King, his thoughts, his processes, his original research and all the previously consulting that was directly based upon his book," the complaint states.

King is represented by Chad Weaver, with Edgerton and Weaver, of Hermosa Beach, and Kevin O'Hagan in Chicago.

IM Global and Independent Film Company did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment Wednesday.

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