Mark Dunn, a New York-based playwright, has filed a multi million-dollar suit claiming his 1992 play Frank's Life was the basis of the hit Jim Carrey film The Truman Show. The suit, which was filed in Manhattan federal court June 16, targets Paramount Pictures, the studio that produced the film, as well as producer Scott Rudin (also a frequent Broadway producer) and Truman screenwriter Andrew Niccol.
Dunn's Frank's Life was produced Off-Off-Broadway from May to August of 1992 at 13th Street Repertory Company in Manhattan. Dunn told Playbill On-Line that the play enjoyed a popular run and received good reviews. The playwright submitted the work to Paramount's New York office in June or July of 1992. The studio rejected the script in August, according to the suit.
Dunn said he became aware of The Truman Show a few years ago when someone pointed out a blurb about the movie in a trade paper. Curious, the playwright acquired a copy of the screenplay and realized it mirrored his own work. Truman, which has been widely praised for the inventiveness of its plot, is about an guileless young man (played by Carrey) who comes to realize that his entire life has been the subject of a long-running and highly successful television show.
Frank's Life contains all the major characters found in the film, said Dunn, including the central dupe, the show's megalomaniacal creator, and the lead figure's wife and best friend, who are in reality paid actors. "The similarities are incredible," Dunn said. "There's no way in the universe that [the film's creators] could or would want to take every element of the play. But basically there are enough elements there that we felt we could take action."
The playwright explained that he didn't file suit earlier because "you can't file an injunction against something that hasn't happened yet." Even after the film came out, however, Dunn was reluctant to face the possibility that his idea has been stolen. "I was having a terrible crisis," he said. "It's hard to describe. My wife and I were both sent into an emotional tailspin by this movie. We turned off the TV whenever a commercial for it would come on. We even asked our friends not to see it or talk about it." Dunn finally viewed the film the weekend of June 12-14, and had his lawyer, Carl Person, draw up the suit June 15. A call to Rudin's office was not returned. Though best known for his movie work, Rudin has in the past few years become heavily involved the theatre producing. Some of his credits include Passion, On the Town and Indiscretions. He is currently represented on Broadway by David Hare's The Judas Kiss. A representative at Paramount could not be reached at press time.
Dunn, a native of Memphis, TV, has been writing plays for 15 years. About a dozen have been produced and several published, though Frank's Life is not in print. His other works include The Second Annual Heart o' Texas Eczema Telethon and Elvis and Eleanor.
The suit seeks all of Paramount's proceeds from The Truman Show. After 10 days in theatre, the movie has grossed $60 million. Dunn said he had received no response from the defendants.
-- By Robert Simonson