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Hollywood scored a victory on Thursday when a federal district court judge in Los Angeles dismissed an Iraq war veteran’s suit against the makers of “The Hurt Locker.” The plaintiff, Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver, had alleged that the film’s director and writer used him as the basis for the film’s main character, Will James, without permission. Sarver claimed that the filmmakers “cheated [him] out of financial participation in the film” and that he was defamed by the film’s depiction of Will James as “a man who had no respect and compassion for human life.”
The judge’s dismissal of Sarver’s claims included an order for him to pay the filmmakers’ attorneys fees for defending the suit. In her order, the judge stated that the film’s value “unquestionably” derived from the creativity and skill of the filmmakers. She noted that the filmmakers made significant changes to Sarver’s alleged character in the film, and those changes were sufficient to satisfy the “transformative” requirement for an on-screen depiction of a real-life person. The judge also rejected Sarver’s defamation charge, pointing out specific scenes in the film where Will James is portrayed as a man who loves his son and shows compassion for Iraqi citizens.
Mark Boal, the film’s writer, had spent time embedded with Sarver’s bomb disposal unit in Iraq while reporting for Playboy magazine, an article that became the basis for “The Hurt Locker.” Boal claimed that the film was inspired by many soldiers he met throughout his time in Iraq, and he called Sarver’s suit a “disservice” to the other soldiers on whose experiences the film was also based. Boal’s attorney called Thursday’s dismissal “a huge victory for all filmmakers who should feel comfortable using real-life events as inspiration for their films.” However, given the growth of the fact-based film segment and the potential for huge damage awards, filmmakers should expect to face similar suits in the future despite this victory.
- Henson Millsap
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