Stealing someone's screenplay is serious stuff. I know first-hand, for, a decade ago, the LA-based director-co-writer of a feature we wrote together crossed my name off the script. When I sued via a nice-guy Hub attorney, she countersued with a Beverly Hills big shot who had defended Spielberg. What chance did I have, when this $$$$$ shyster contended that I stayed over at the young lady's house not to write the screenplay but because I was desperately trying to bed her! It just got uglier, more traumatic. And costly.
So I can feel sympathy for fledgling screenwriter Reed Martin whose Two Weeks Off, 12 versions of which are registered at the US Copywright Office, seems, in his mind, to have been stolen from him. Worse, its been put on screen, made into a most successful film, and with others taking credit and money. Martin's sad tale became the basis of a June 28 Boston Globe story, written by a long-time staffer, Joseph P. Kahn, According to Kahn, Martin and his attorney, John Marder, filed suit last March in US District Court asking $40 million in damages,.
Who is the heinous culprit who claimed this script as his own? Incredibly, Martin is suing New York filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, alleging that his Two Weeks Off became the basis of Jarmusch's 2005 "Broken Flowers." Martin told Kahn, "It was the perfect crime" because "Who would believe that someone like Jarmusch, an icon of indie-film integrity, would rip off a struggling screenwriter like me?"
Here's where we split. I don't believe it, and Kahn, to my mind, believes Martin much too much. So much so that Kahn did an old-fashioned hatchet job on Jarmusch. He found the Stranger than Paradise/Dead Man director guilty as charged, before the case goes to court. And on the flimsiest evidence provided to him by Martin.
Well, I know Jarmusch a bit: several interviews, several personal meetings. I am convinced that his reputation for integrity and honesty is absolutely true. And I'm persuaded by his e-mail answer to the Globe about Martin: "I have never had any contact with him or his work. I've never even heard of him..... Anyone who is familiar with my films and my writing process will know that this claim is ridiculous."
His writing process: Jarmusch doesn't read anyone's scripts, ever. Ever. No agent or actor sends him any. There's no reason to: Jarmusch works from scratch, doing original works, not even adaptations. He has a cabin in the Catskills where he sequesters himself to write. Would a squirrel have brought him Reed Martin's screenplay?
What proofs does Kahn give that the script was lifted? (A) Kahn:"One curiosity was the lack of information about its script and plot" on website's prior to the movie's release. Actually, few films based on original scripts offer on-line details: someone might steal them? (B) Kahn: "In a burst of candor," Jarmusch wrote a magazine column saying, "Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere.... And don't bother concealing your thievery." This is a preposterous point! Anyone familiar with Jarmusch's aesthetic knows exactly what that means: "steal" great visual moments from the masters of cinema, openly honoring them! It doesn't mean swiping a script from some poor writer!
The only things we know from Kahn's article that are in Martin's script are (a) the protagonist 's girlfriend walked out on him and he wants to know why, and (b) a character talks to her cat. Both are--stop thief!- in Broken Flowers! But, hey, remember Susan Alexander bolting on the perplexed Charles Foster Kane? And every film fan relishes Marlowe's conversations with his feline in Altman's The Long Goodbye!
Boston Phoenix, July 2006