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Wednesday, September 30, 1998 Published at 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK


Truman Show embroiled in real-life drama

On the box: Jim Carrey takes the lead in The Truman Show

British audiences are finally about to see Hollywood's most talked-about movie of the summer.

But across the Atlantic, the real drama about The Truman Show is about to erupt in the courtroom - one man is suing the filmmakers for what he claims amounts to blatant plagiarism.

The film, which has grossed over $125m since it opened in the US in June, stars Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank who realises his life is just a television show.

Everyone Truman meets is an actor, from his family to strangers on the street.

Critics and moviegoers alike applauded the film for Carrey's performance and the issues it raised.

Multi-million-dollar lawsuit

But writer Mark Dunn is furious about the film's commercial and critical success, because he claims it is a copy of a play he put on in New York in 1992. He is suing Paramount, the studio behind the film, for $200m, claiming there are 108 similarities between the film and the stage show.

Also included in the suit are producer Scott Rudin and screenwriter Andrew Niccol.

Frank's Life ran for three months before Dunn, 41, submitted the script to Paramount and Fox studios, both of which turned it down.

[ image: The Truman Show: Carrey plays a man who finds his life is a TV show]
The Truman Show: Carrey plays a man who finds his life is a TV show
"Borrowed from entire play"

But Paramount are fighting back, claiming Niccol began writing The Truman Show before Frank's Life was first performed. Niccol's former manager claims to have a copyrighted treatment from 1991 which is similar to The Truman Show.

Dunn is determined to see his case through. "It's not my contention that they just took the premise. It's that they heavily borrowed from the entire play, including the plot, characters, theme, and a lot of scenes. It makes me feel like nobody's safe from being taken advantage of," he told The Independent newspaper recently.

When The Truman Show was released in June, Dunn says he was even telephoned by a theatre critic congratulating him on making it to the big screen. His lawyer, Carl Person, calls it "the best case I have ever seen".

Similarities with other productions

But American critics have pointed out Dunn's play is not the only production The Truman Show resembles.

The Los Angeles Times has commented on striking similarities between the film and a 1966 short film called The Secret Cinema. Directed by Paul Bartel, it features a woman who suspects her boyfriend and colleagues are secretly making a film of her life. It was remade for a 1986 TV series.

A 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone is also said to be similar in concept.

Dunn is still working by day in a New York library as he prepares to fight his case. But industry magazine Variety's film critic Todd McCarthy points out he isn't the first, and he won't be the last writer to claim the big studios have ripped off his work.

"I don't attatch a huge significance to the similarity because there is no such thing as an original idea," he told the LA Times.

The Truman Show opens across Britain on October 9.

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