writing stories on historical figures

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  • writing stories on historical figures

    I am thinking of writing a film based on a famous historical figure who died in the 1920s - is it safe to do so as long as I stick to the facts and don't base it on any existing biographies or books? Should I look into obtaining the life rights of this person before doing anything?

    Thanks.

  • #2
    If the personality your using is considered an historical figure and thus falling within the realm of public domain I don't think you need anything except research time!

    If you were writing about a living person or someone considered not to be a public or historical personality then you are in a different situation and your concerns are justified.

    However, with the facts you supplied, an historical figure from the 20's... don't think you'll have any problems and can also incorporate extensive literary license.

    Just my own opinion. If you want to be absolutely sure about your legal position I would consult an entertainment attorney.:smokin

    Best of luck in any case!

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    • #3
      Dupcpho what do you mean by an extensive literary license?

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      • #4
        I think it's a fancy way of saying you can bend the truth.

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        • #5
          At least in Canada and the UK there is a legal principle that says dead people (and animals) cannot be slandered, but you'll definitely want to double check that with an attorney in your own country. And be very careful what you imply about that person's children, etc, because if they are alive they can definitely take action, should they be peeved about what you said.

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          • #6
            Legality aside, is it morally right to take too much license with the truth when you base it on someone who actually existed? Debate.

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            • #7
              It is also true in the U.S. that dead people have no rights against slander.

              The real issue is that you cannot appropriate certain rights from private individuals who have a 'story' that could represent a financial interest to them. It gets really murky at this point. In general, change some things so that the story is really not the same anymore. It is usually more appealing like that anyway.

              (I am not a lawyer in real life, but I sometimes play one on discussion boards. )

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              • #8
                I think it's a fancy way of saying you can bend the truth.
                I thought it was about novelistic erotica.

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                • #9
                  Cheers for the input people.

                  The person in question is the Great Houdini. I know loads of scripts have been lost in development hell over the years about Houdini. But I am going to try anyhow.

                  I found out that Houdini had an affair with Jack London's wife...how safe a topic do you think this is to tackle slander/lawsuit wise?

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                  • #10
                    For shock value or for truth?

                    Hope your source is not from CBS...so you can show non-altered authentic documents. Best of luck!!!!!!!!

                    Seems to me so unlikely that these two persons met...but if you know something, power to you.

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                    • #11
                      Re: For shock value or for truth?

                      First, check this out:"Houdini" (1953)

                      The second thing you need to do is to see if London left any heirs. Houdini and his wife didn't have any children, so you may be okay with that side of it. But London undoubtedly has a literary estate, either managed in an ongoing way by his agents, and Houdini may well have a trust that owns certain copyrights either to his illusions and/or to his name.

                      The other issue to consider is that, fascinating as Houdini is, Jack London is, these days, a much less-well-known name. It's not going to burn up the box-office.

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                      • #12
                        Re: For shock value or for truth?

                        The London connection is only a small part of the varied life story of Houdini - it wouldn't be the central focus anyhow - but I'll look into the literary estate. Probably more important was Houdini doomed friendship with Conan Doyle.

                        Saw the Tony Curtis version last week on good old TCM. Very romanticised with plenty of literary license. I'm trying for a truer, gritty take on the man behind the myth. More of a Raging Bull kind of a biopic than a hollywood by the numbers affair.

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                        • #13
                          Re: For shock value or for truth?

                          Matt--

                          Just so you know, Tom Cruise's company (Cruise/Wagner) buys nearly all magician/escape artist scripts they can get their hands on (I know, because they didn't buy mine--a contemporary story, not historical--and, because of their established interest, it went to them first).

                          I would go back into the sales archives to see if anything with the name Houdini either in the title or text of the pitch/spec/synopsis/assignment has been sold in the past five years or so.

                          I think the well-known dispute with Doyle over spiritualism is not going to pose a problem, and won't need any negotiations with estates and the like. But I'd still check out previous sales.

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                          • #14
                            wha?

                            Tom Cruise's company (Cruise/Wagner) buys nearly all magician/escape artist scripts they can get their hands on
                            That is bizarre. Some product of Cruise's childhood?

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                            • #15
                              Re: wha?

                              Don't know what the story is, but from what I understand (from someone who would know), Cruise has always had a deep interest in magicians and escape artists. So if a Houdini biopic has passed by his office in the past five years, I would bet he bought it.

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