Studio Sues Over Internet Film Based On Stone's Script

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Chris Moukarbel was intrigued by director Oliver Stone's latest project, a $60 million movie to be released this summer about two police officers rescued from the rubble of the twin towers.

But as a 28-year-old filmmaker, Moukarbel wanted to do more than simply watch Stone's "World Trade Center." He decided to create his own version -- using a bootleg copy of the screenplay and Yale University student actors -- and offer it free on the Internet.

Although his film is only 12 minutes long and doesn't have a cast to rival Nicolas Cage and Maria Bello, it has brought the power of Hollywood down on him.

Paramount Pictures is suing Moukarbel in U.S. District Court in Washington, asking the court to prohibit the distribution of his movie. "He's free to make any World Trade Center movie he wants to make, but not our movie with our script," said Nancy Kirkpatrick, a Paramount spokeswoman.

According to its lawsuit, which was filed Friday, the studio is afraid that people will see the student film on the Internet and confuse it with the big-time Hollywood version set to hit 1,500 screens on Aug. 9 and backed up with a $40 million marketing campaign.

"Large numbers of people will see the Moukarbel Film first for free and determine, based on this poor-quality copy, that they do not want to pay to see the remainder of the WTC Film at a theater when it is released," Paramount's lawsuit said.

Moukarbel, who lives in Dupont Circle and graduated from Yale last month with a master of fine arts degree, could not be located for comment yesterday. On his Web site, his project is described as a "12-minute movie, adapted from a bootleg script for Oliver Stone's soon to be released film World Trade Center." His film has since been taken off the site, replaced with "VIDEO REMOVED AT REQUEST OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES."

According to the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, which has a link to the film on its Web site, "Moukarbel makes site-specific video and installations, often using found media or objects as his sources. His projects explore the idea of memorial, and are concerned with the way in which political events are edified. . . . The video was made entirely in the artist's studio using student actors and then released on the internet, intentionally pre-empting Stone's film release in August 2006."

The lawsuit compares the nearly identical dialogue from the Moukarbel and Stone films, which both document the ordeal of two Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officers. The Paramount film was made with the cooperation of the two officers, Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin. Paramount's lawsuit said it "owns the rights to the WTC Screenplay, and thus the right to be the first and only entity to tell this important story. The Moukarbel Film deprives Paramount of that valuable right."

Paramount's lawyers have also contacted Web sites that linked to Moukarbel's movie. On the site, a message from Paramount's lawyers replaced a link to the film.

Despite Paramount's pan, Moukarbel's movie was getting some good word of mouth, at least among the few who had seen it.

"It may not be Oliver Stone's version, but it actually was pretty good, better than the trailer that they released themselves," wrote "AuntPeru" on "Oh well, hopefully it'll show up on YouTube."

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