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Talk about an Oscar buzz kill. Just four days before the Academy Awards, the Oscar-nominated movie “The Hurt Locker” has been sued by an Army sergeant who claims the film’s main character is based on him, but he hasn’t been offered a dime for his exploits. In a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed March 3 in federal court in New Jersey, Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver alleges that Hollywood producers cheated him out of a share of the profits, even though the film is, in large part, about him. He is suing for a cut of the film’s profits and his name added to the credits. Geoffrey Fieger, one-time lawyer to Dr. Jack Kevorkian, is representing Sarver. “The movie disingenuously claims that it’s a fictional account, which is absurd….The only fiction here is that they claim that it’s fiction,” said Fieger of Southfield, Mich.’s Fieger, Fieger, Kenney, Johnson & Giroux. Screenwriter Mark Boal suggests Sarver has misunderstood the writing process. “Jeff is a brave soldier and a good guy. Like a lot of soldiers, he identifies with the film, but the character I wrote is fictional,” Boal said. “The film is a work of fiction inspired by many people’s stories, not the life story of any one person.” Having read Sarver’s complaint, entertainment and copyright attorney E. Leonard Rubin of Chicago’s Querrey & Harrow predicted that the case would be “an uphill battle.” Just because a movie character is loosely based on a real person, Rubin said, doesn’t automatically entitle that person to profits from the movie. According to the lawsuit, Sarver’s exploits in Iraq were first publicized by Boal, who was a journalist embedded in Iraq with Sarver’s bomb-dismantling squad. Boal wrote a story that appeared in Playboy magazine and then turned the story into a screenplay, which inspired the movie. “All you have to do is read that Playboy article, and if they [the film makers] ever subsequently try to claim that the movie is not based on Sergeant Sarver, they’ll be laughed out of court,” Fieger said. The lawsuit argues that “the title alone illustrates the plain and simple fact that the Playboy Article is really a personal article about Plaintiff Jeffrey Sarver — ‘For Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Sarver … the war in Iraq couldn’t get any more personal. What’s it like to be THE MAN IN THE BOMB SUIT.’ “ Sarver also claims that he coined the phrase “the hurt locker”; that the main character’s nickname in the film, “Blaster One,” was his “call signal” while in Iraq; and that the main character, Will James — played by best-actor nominee Jeremy Renner — is really him. Further, he alleges that the movie defamed him by portraying him as a father who did not love his son and as a “reckless, gung-ho war addict who had a morbid fascination with death” and carelessly risked the lives of his colleagues. But Rubin said, “The plaintiff’s burden here is to show that the movie makers went beyond simply relating the historic facts.” Sarver must show that “really personal, private aspects of his life that shouldn’t have been made public” were revealed, said Rubin, who 13 years ago was general counsel for Playboy Enterprises Inc., a defendant in this suit. Moreover, “there has to be some identification with him,” Rubin said. He said Sarver will have to show that people see the movie and say, That’s him. And then, Rubin said, “He has to show that he has been damaged…to the tune of a piece of the movie’s profits.” The film’s distributor, Summit Entertainment LLC, issued a statement reiterating that the movie is a “fictional account” about soldiers in the battlefield. “We have no doubt that Master Sergeant Sarver served his country with honor and commitment risking his life for a greater good, but we distributed the film based on a fictional screenplay written by Mark Boal,” Summit said. “The Hurt Locker” has been nominated for nine Oscars. Fieger admitted that he intentionally waited until after the nominations were out to file the suit. “I don’t want to hurt this movie,” he said. “I want the movie to be as successful as possible because [Sarver] will reap the rewards.”

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