Filmmakers Robert Fiveson and Myrl Schreibman have a message for director Michael Bay, Warner Bros., Dreamworks and anyone else responsible for this summer's sci-fi flick "The Island":
"I feel like I've been slapped in the face."
Those are the words Schreibman is using to express his own resentment toward the Ewan McGregor-Scarlett Johansson cloning film released in July, and which continues to play in theaters even as it faces a lawsuit that the duo filed earlier this week.
Fiveson and Schreibman — the director and producer, respectively, of the 1979 cult film "The Clonus Horror" starring Peter Graves, Dick Sargent and Keenan Wynn — claim that there are no fewer than 90 similarities between the two movies, and they are determined to make Bay, the studios and the producers acknowledge those similarities — and pay.
"Where were the armies of lawyers that the studios have during development of this project?" Fiveson fumed. "How could this have ever occurred?"
"I would just say they stole it, period," said Schreibman, before listing a few of the striking similarities between the two films. It's total theft."
"One of the biggest and most obvious is when the clones are being introduced to the island," he continued. "[They see it] on these huge projection screens over their heads, and they see their former colleagues in this paradise called 'The Island,' and it's all being narrated by a beautiful, female, soothing, engaging voice. In 'Clonus,' we had a slide show in this large auditorium where all of our clones were, and they were being shown an idyllic place that we called 'America,' with their friends who have gone to America all dressed up in white. And again, it's all narrated by an engaging, soothing voice."
"In the escape sequence in 'Clonus,' " Fiveson added, "when the clone escapes, he dodges people in a building that looks like an office building, then he takes an elevator, then he's running through some basement areas, then he runs through a corrugated pipe, pops out into sunlight, runs along a desert environment and through a fence that says 'Keep Out,' and makes his way to a [place] overlooking a valley. It's a very dramatic shot, when he first realizes there's a world beyond this place that he's been in. The sequence in both movies is exactly the same; the shots are exactly the same."
In their suit, the "Clonus" makers seek unspecified damages, a portion of the proceeds from "The Island," and demand that the latter movie be withdrawn from theaters and blocked from further release.
While some of the suit's listed parallels (the soon-to-be-hatched clones are similarly laid out) are stronger than others (both have scenes set in L.A.), the two argue that their compilation of similarities annihilates any theories of mere coincidence.
"It's just like a DNA forensic test," Fiveson said. "You take the genetic markers from both films, you hold them next to each other under the light and say, 'How many of these match?' Then you do the math, and you say, 'What are the probabilities of this occurring in nature by accident?'
"They'll throw out a certain number of similarities, and then a certain percentage they'll chalk up to the copyright rule that says you can't copyright an idea. So, the whole idea that there's a place where clones are raised for spare parts, one of them thinks something is weird and escapes — they'll throw that out," Fiveson said of his expectations for the lawsuit. "That's still going to leave, out of [90 parallels], a large number that are unexplainable."
And although relatively few moviegoers have, perhaps, ever even seen "Clonus," Fiveson and Schreibman assert that their movie still carries a certain cachet among genre fans.
"['Clonus'] won an award from the Academy of Science Fiction Fantasy and Horror in a nationally televised ceremony," Schreibman remembered. "It has been considered, for some reason, a cult classic. There's a whole underground group of people who know about it."
A quarter-century later, as both continue their movie production careers and Schreibman doubles as a film professor at UCLA, they also insist that they hope to make an example of the studios with their lawsuit.
"Here at the university, we teach ethics in filmmaking," he said. "My first question to any student would be, 'Do you have the rights to this?' I'd say, 'Do your homework — talk to an attorney.' "
According to the filmmaking team, representatives for "The Island" have barely acknowledged their claims. "Do you know what we've gotten as a response from Dreamworks so far? 'Would you like to meet the writer?' " Fiveson laughed. "My response to my attorney was, 'Gee can I get a crew jacket, too?' "
[Spokespeople for DreamWorks and Michael Bay had no comment; a spokesperson for Warner Bros. could not be reached by press time.]
"We do know that [Dreamworks co-founder and CEO] Jeffrey Katzenberg knew about the movie," Schreibman chimed in. "We showed him 'Clonus' when we were looking for a distribution deal."
"It's called stealing. It's against the law. People are in prison for [stealing]!" Fiveson barked.
"What do we have that makes us rich in this industry?" he said. "Ideas. Ideas are the coin of our realm. If you need to steal someone else's coins, then you're impoverished. If you Google 'The Island' and 'Clonus,' those three words — right now I think it's up to about 23,000 hits." (In fact, as of Friday, August 12, the number of results for that Google search was about 24,500.)
Was "The Island" as much of a clone as the characters it sought to portray? With "The Clonus Horror" newly available on DVD, and Michael Bay's far-bigger-budget film still in theaters, exhibits A and B are available for public comparison. And if the suit goes forward and the courts side with Robert Fiveson and Myrl Schreibman in their David-and-Goliath legal battle, much of the proceeds from both products may soon find their way into the same pockets.
Check out everything we've got on "The Island."
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