Robert Fiveson loves living in Loudoun but it seems he can not get away from California. Fiveson is the director of the 1979 science fiction film "Parts: The Clonus Horror" otherwise known as "Clonus." This summer when the film "The Island" came out, Fiveson, Myrl Schreibman, the film's co-producer, and Fiveson's close friend, noticed some striking similarities between the their film and it. So many in fact that on Aug. 8 they filed suit against Dreamworks SKG, the production company for "The Island," for copyright infringement.
"We're alleging that the film "The Island" is a copyright infringement of "Clonus," Fiveson said over the phone. "We have found 90 different points of striking similarity between the two films."
Fiveson, a resident of Loudoun since 1994 said that he was alerted to the similarities when a friend of his e-mailed him and asked if "The Island" was a remake of "Clonus." "I went to see it at a sneak preview and afterwards the more I thought about it the more crossover points resonated with me," Fiveson said.
He then got in touch with Schreibman, who lives in California teaching film production at UCLA, about the film. "I went and saw it hoping it wasn't a remake. I like to believe in integrity in film making still but there is no doubt that "The Island" is a remake of 'Clonus,'" said Schreibman.
Fiveson and Schreibman made the film after Fiveson acquired the script from a friend that went to film school with him at USC, where Fiveson got his master's degree in fine arts. "We made it on 35 mm and had seven investors, one of whom was my dad," said Fiveson. The film was made for $257,000 over a period of 18 days.
"'Clonus' has our heart and our blood in it, it was made by the seats of our pants," said Schreibman.
After its release in 1979 the film became a sort-of cult classic and also made an appearance on the television show Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
RECOGNIZING THE SIMILARITIES between the films and proving there was actual copyright infringement can be two different things, however. "Under copyright law you can protect the expression of an idea, but you cannot protect the idea itself," said Steve Kunin, director of the Intellectual Property Law Program at George Mason University School of Law. Kunin explained that for a lawsuit like this to win the film makers would have to prove that there had been previous access to the film and that the access was what led to the copying. The producers would also have to prove that the ordinary observer would be able to recognize the film as copying the original.
Both Fiveson and Schreibman agree that they can prove all three of these factors. "My lawyers said this is the hardest thing in the world to prove," said Fiveson, "but they think we have enough to win."
To start with, the film's producers point to the 90 points of similarity between the two films. Fiveson points out the escape scene from the cloning facility that takes place in both films. Both characters follow the same path to escape and the scene ends in a long shot of the escaping character looking out over a valley, said Fiveson.
Schreibman points to another similarity he finds striking. "What I was very surprised about is that of all the cities in the world they choose L.A., which is where Richard Ñ the protagonist in "Clonus" Ñ escapes to also. I mean they used the exact same streets that we used in downtown L.A.," he said.
Clearly, according to Fiveson and Schreibman, there has been copying. The two also claim that producers who are now working at Dreamworks had previously viewed the film. "When we made 'Clonus' we screened it for distribution and these producers and other people who have connections with 'The Island' saw the movie," Schreibman said. "There is a paper trail here."
Finally if any proof is needed that the average person recognized "The Island" as a copy than Fiveson suggests viewers look online. "The Island" was listed on the Internet Movie Database as a remake of "Clonus" even before it was released and there are literally dozens of online articles that pertain to the fact that the two films are incredibly similar, even major magazine and newspaper reviewers mentioned links.
The two co-producers hope the lawsuit, which has been filed in a federal court in New York, will show that large companies are not above the law. The lawsuit is requesting damages of a monetary value but that is not the main point the two say. "There are a couple of issues here that are important to me," Schreibman said. "This has to deal with integrity of the film profession.
Fiveson says that Dreamworks has responded and has denied all the allegations. Dreamworks SKG was unavailable for comment.
FIVESON, 58, has moved away from directing motion pictures since he made "Clonus" and now works in Loudoun producing documentaries for channels like Discovery and A&E. He also has a reality company with his wife, Monica, called Fiveson Reality, www.fiveson.com. "Right now, I am working on a special for National Geographic International, NDR, National Geographic Canada and France 5 called 'Escaping Death,'" Fiveson said. "It is about new technologies that are saving lives."
After "Clonus," Fiveson wrote several feature films that were commissioned or optioned and has worked on more than 800 television shows. He was also the head of production for the Air Force Department at the Defense Media Center.
Schreibman and he have been best friends since they met making the film and are the godfathers of each other's children. "He and I have a unique sort of bond that keeps us young," said Schreibman. "He's one of the few people that have creative integrity that makes longevity work."
Fiveson's son, Josh, 17, goes to Stone Bridge High School and plays on the ice hockey team as a goalie.
"I love it here. I wouldn't live anywhere else," said Fiveson, "There is no amount of money or job they could offer me to get me back to California."