When is your story not your story?
"Something unsavoury" happening in Hollywood may not sound original, but then again, when have you seen anything original come out of Hollywood?
To answer my own rhetorical question, I would have said that Interstellar and Gravity were two recent examples of originality, not based on books, that showed that Hollywood could still produce truly engaging original content.
It turns out that I may have been only half right, and that's where this gets unsavoury. (UPDATED Below)
Thus far no one (that I’m aware of) has challenged Interstellar’s bona fides as an original piece of fiction. It turns out that the same is not true for Gravity. Like most viewers, I thoroughly enjoyed Gravity (despite Sandra Bullock and the ludicrous ending). It was good to experience something fresh and new. But how fresh, and how new?
In the 1990s, an author named Tess Gerritsen wrote a book called Gravity. In this book, a female scientists gets stranded alone in the International Space Station (ISS) when a disease kills off her fellow astronauts. In 1999, Tess sold the movie rights to New Line Productions, medium-sized film company now owned by Warner Bros. They asked her to re-write the triggering event to be a non-medical one, and she submitted that the station should be hit by debris from a satellite, “the lone surviving female astronaut adrift in her spacesuit” (quoting Tess here). Eventually the film fell out of production.
Fast forward to 2008, Warner Bros buys New Line. In the same year, they (WB) greenlight a film called Gravity co-written by director Alfonso Cuaron. In it, a lone female astronaut must survive in only her space suit because the ISS has been destroyed by satellite debris (which also kills her colleagues).
This could all be coincidences, except for one small detail. Gerritsen now claims to have discovered that New Line had hired Cuaron in 2000 to direct her Gravity adaptation. If true, he surely would have had access to her script, and her subsequent treatments. Now coincidence is beginning to look like something else.
Lawsuits are under way. You can read the whole story, or at least one side of it, here.
UPDATE: We've only really heard one side of this case, Tess Gerritsen's side, and it sounds compelling. Yet judges keep ruling against her. This screams miscarriage of justice, as it's been presented to us. Whether or not that's the whole truth, Tess has decided to give up her lawsuit. You can read about that on her site. A transcript of a podcast offering an alternative perspective can be read here.