'Hurt Locker' lawsuit claims breach of agreement with U.S. military

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'Hurt Locker' lawsuit claims breach of agreement with U.S. military

Wed Mar 03, 2010 @ 01:15PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Writer Mark Boal while visiting Sgt. Jeff Sarver We've tracked down a copy of the complaint filed today in New Jersey District Court by the Iraq war veteran who claims producers of "The Hurt Locker" ripped off his life story.

As we've noted, Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver faces a long road uphill in showing that filmmakers breached his rights in making the film.

We also noted that Sarver's best claim might be that the film was wrong in its veiled depiction of him. And indeed, in addition to claims for right of publicity and intentional infliction of emotional distress, the defendants are being sued for defamation for portraying a character who is a "bad father," "messed up," "reckless," "unstable," enjoys playing cruel practical jokes on people, etc.

But the lawsuit -- which names distributor Summit Entertainment, production company Grosvenor Park, screenwriter Mark Boal, director Kathryn Bigelow, producer Nicolas Chartier, Playboy Enterprises (Boal's screenplay was based on his Playboy article) and others -- holds a big surprise that may inform how the plaintiff intends to overcome the First Amendment issues.

According to the complaint, before Boal was embedded with the military, he and Playboy agreed to "ground rules" set by the Department of Defense. One of the rules was that reporters would be restricted in the type of personal information they could report on a service member. Reporters were limited to releasing a member's name and hometown only, and only on the condition the service member had provided consent.

Was this agreement sufficient to give Sarver a stake in the story and film? He says so. Another claim in the lawsuit is for breach of contract. Another is violation of privacy.

It's also worth pointing out that there were reports last week that the U.S. military was unhappy about the film, including saying that "the film's makers were shooting scenes that weren't in the screenplay submitted to the Defense Department, including a sequence that the government believed showed troops unflatteringly."

We've reached out to Boal for comment. Summit issued the following statement: “We have no doubt that Master Sgt. Sarver served his country with honor and commitment risking his life for a greater good, but we distributed the film based on a fictional screenplay written by Mark Boal. We hope for a quick resolution to the claims made by Master Sgt. Sarver.”

Finally, and this probably isn't consequential to the merits of the case, but we got a hold of an amusing e-mail sent by Chartier to the law firm representing Sarver. Chartier's emails have landed him in hot water lately but here he seems to not know who Sgt. Sarver is:

"Hi I'm sorry I've never heard of sergeant sarver/will james. I don't understand is he an actor named will james or jeffrey sarver, I just looked on internet movie database and neither are in the film. I can google but maybe you can tell me who is he and why he's not happy? Everyone says it's one of the best movies of the year, did he just not like the popcorn when he watched the movie? I haven't taken any grossly unfair action against him, I've never heard of him. what negative impact, who's that man? Did I steal his girlfriend? Never heard of him.

Photo above: Claimed evidence of writer Mark Boal visiting Sgt. Jeff Sarver in Iraq

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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