A writer who claims the 2021 comedy “Don’t Look Up” was substantially similar to his self-published novel is suing writer-director Adam McKay and Netflix for copyright infringement.
Author William Collier says that in 2007, he sent his daughter, who was working at Mosaic Media division Jimmy Miller Entertainment, an email with the text of his novel “Stanley’s Comet,” for the company to consider as material. Collier alleges that his novel had numerous themes and plot points in common with “Don’t Look Up,” which McKay is said to have written in 2019. Jimmy Miller Entertainment was McKay’s manager at the time and collaborated with him on films such as “Talladega Nights.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California on Wednesday. Collier is named as plaintiff, while McKay, his production company Hyperobject Industries and Netflix are defendants.
“The plot of both works is practically identical,” the lawsuit alleges. It goes on to describe the elements both the novel and screenplay have in common: “Low level scientists find a large comet that is headed straight towards Earth and is going to destroy the Earth and wipe out all humanity in a matter of time. In conveying this message to the public, the scientists go on a morning talk show (which undermines the urgency and nature of the matter) which then causes most people to be unbothered by it. Even the presidents and government leaders downplay the comet’s apocalyptic effect. Eventually, the comet is visible to the citizens of planet Earth and mayhem ensues as the comet is rapidly approaching.”
After sending the unpublished novel to his daughter, Adrienne Collier Florence (now Metz), Collier self-published “Stanley’s Comet” in 2013 in the book “In Extremis, Two Novels.”
“Don’t Look Up” was released to Netflix on Dec. 24, 2021. It went on to be nominated for four Oscars, including best original screenplay. The lawsuit alleges that McKay’s explanation of how he came up with the idea for the story was explained differently in several different interviews, and that his co-writer, David Sirota, had expressed surprise that he was given a story credit since his only contribution was a comment about climate change that he had made to McKay, musing “that it was like a comet (or an asteroid or a meteor, depending on the interview) hurtling toward the Earth, but no one seemed to care.”
“McKay credited Defendant Sirota as the co-author, even though, apparently, Sirota wrote not a single word or contributed anything at all to the writing of the script, other than his off handed climate change comment,” the suit states.
Collier is asking for a minimum of $5 million in damages.
Variety has reached out to Netflix and to McKay’s reps for comment.
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