NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Producers of Oscar-winning film "The Hurt Locker" have lobbed a free-speech grenade at Iraq war veteran Jeffrey Sarver, who filed a lawsuit on the eve of last year's Academy Awards claiming that the story of an Army bomb squad was a thinly veiled account of his own story.
The case was originally filed in New Jersey, but the defendants successfully got it transferred to California. As a result, those sued -- including distributor Summit Entertainment, financier Voltage Pictures, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal -- are now able to exploit California's "anti-SLAPP" statute, a law that essentially allows them to countersue over attempts to stifle free speech.
On Tuesday, the defendants took that opportunity in a 25-page motion to strike Sarver's lawsuit. The producers allege that Sarver has interfered with their enjoyment of free speech and are asking a judge to order Sarver to pay more than $19,000 in attorneys' fees to them.
Sarver alleged he was the basis for the film's main character, "Will James" or "Blaster One." He claimed "The Hurt Locker" put him in false light and defamed him with dishonest treatment about his character. He said he was the one who coined the phrase "The Hurt Locker" and that the filmmakers had cheated him out of participating in the financial success of the film. To get around the First Amendment, Sarver asserted that Boal signed an agreement from the U.S. military in order to be embedded with Sarver's unit while doing research for a Playboy article that inspired the film.
But the defendants countered that Sarver's claims don't past muster.
"It is apparent from a review of the Film that it is not about Plaintiff," says the motion to strike. "It is a fictional work. The fact that the writer who wrote the screenplay for the Film may have drawn inspiration and realistic details about the events he witnessed and people he met while embedded as a reporter with Plaintiff's unit in Iraq does not convert the Film from fiction to fact, or turn its fictional lead character into Plaintiff."
The defendants say Sarver's publicity rights claim must fail because his name or likeness was never used; that his privacy and defamation claims must fall because the film wasn't about Sarver; that the breach of the military's embed contract must fail because the terms of the contract aren't spelled out and there's no basis why the defendants should be held liable.