Best-selling Richmond author Dean King is suing the makers of a new Russell Crowe film, "In Sand and Blood," saying the film is based on his 2004 book, "Skeletons of the Zahara."
King is seeking $5 million in federal court from the Los Angeles-based film financing company, IM Global, the Independent Film Co. of London and its chief executive, Luc Roeg, the son of cinematographer and director Nicolas Roeg.
According to a story in Courthouse News Service, King says that Luc Roeg "undeniably, substantially, willfully and admittedly" used his book as the basis for the coming film. The movie is currently in preproduction.
King's book tells the story of American sailors shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815 who are sold into slavery and endure incredible hardship on their journey through the Sahara Desert.
King tells Style that his book had originally been optioned by producers Paula Weinstein and Barry Levinson, along with DreamWorks, who had "worked on it a bunch." But after films such as "Troy" and "Alamo" bombed, the market for historical epics bottomed out and DreamWorks backed out. That's when Luc Roeg stepped in.
"He optioned it [three times] and didn't meet the requirements for auto-renewal, but I let it slide," says King. "We eventually parted ways and he decided he was going to do it anyway. I'm very disappointed in the way this guy has conducted his business. We shouldn't have reached this point. I gave him plenty of opportunities to do this right; the legal system was a last resort."
Interestingly, Roeg acted as a child in a famous 1971 film "Walkabout" directed by his father that is based on a similar story of children abandoned in the rough outback of Australia, led through the desert by an Aboriginal boy.
King says he found the similarities intriguing when he first began working with Luc Roeg, and that he tried to work with him on the project.
"But you can't erase six years of having optioned my work, and me working as consultant on the script, and various other factors," King notes.
More from that Courthouse News story:
"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 Co. that promised King a minimum purchase price of $250,000 if the company exercised the option agreement; 5 percent of producer's profits; and as much as $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 Luc 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, California, and Kevin O'Hagan in Chicago.