Copyright lawsuit targets Nicolas Cage movie. A veteran TV writer says he co-scripted ''Sonny,'' Cage's directorial debut, with the former bank robber who received credit


If you think Nicolas Cage’s directing debut sounds seamy — ”Sonny” stars James Franco as a young man who grew up in a New Orleans brothel and becomes a prostitute — you should see the behind-the-scenes story. Set to debut at the Deauville Festival of American Film on Friday, ”Sonny” has prompted a copyright-infringement lawsuit against Cage, screenwriter John Carlen, and the film’s producers and distributors, according to published reports. The plaintiff is veteran TV writer Robert Dellinger, who alleges he co-wrote the script with Carlen back in the ’70s when Dellinger taught a prison writing program in which Carlen, then serving time for bank robbery, was a student.

Dellinger, who has written cop show scripts for series from ”Kojak” and ”Starsky and Hutch” to ”21 Jump Street,” was himself imprisoned for extortion when he started the workshop at the Terminal Island federal prison in Los Angeles, Variety reports. One of his students was Edward Bunker, whose prison drama ”No Beast So Fierce” became the Dustin Hoffman movie ”Straight Time.” In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court, Dellinger says he and Carlen wrote four screenplays together that served as the basis for ”Sonny.” Dellinger tells Variety that the movie got close to being made several times, including once in 1984 when a young Cage would have played the lead. When he found out that the film was finally being shot last year, with Carlen listed as sole screenwriter, he says he tracked down the screenwriter, who ”told me he thought I was dead. You can call this story ‘Dead Man Writing.”’

The lawsuit seeks damages of $2 million and an injunction to block the foreign sale of the movie’s distribution rights. Cage and the other defendants have not commented on the suit.

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