Behind "Runaways" film, legal battle simmers

Fri Mar 19, 2010 4:44am EDT
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By Matthew Belloni

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - At the Los Angeles premiere of "The Runaways" last week, screams reminiscent of a rock concert greeted real-life band members Cherie Currie and Joan Jett as they were introduced with stars Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart.

Not enjoying a Hollywood moment that night: Jacqueline Fuchs, the fiery bass player who performed in the 1970s all-girl quintet as Jackie Fox but whose absence from the premiere mirrors her disappearance from the story of the Runaways, as told in the new film.

Producers of the punk biopic, which opens Friday, chose to move forward on the project without obtaining Fuchs' life rights or those of Runaways guitarist Lita Ford. As a result, the bassist character was minimized, Fuchs' name was changed and Jett even dropped a cherry bomb of a lawsuit on her former bandmate when she raised a stink about the movie.

"Fuchs tried to have the ... film halted, and has demanded to see the script, even though there is no character based on her," claims a lawsuit for tortious interference with business relationships, quietly filed against Fuchs in December by Jett, her label Blackheart Records and music producer Kenny Laguna. Jett and Laguna are executive producers on the Floria Sigismondi-directed, Apparition-released film.

The story of Jackie Fuchs and "The Runaways" provides timely instruction for producers hoping to develop biopics and other fact-based projects without getting life rights from everyone involved. It also highlights one of the hottest debates in entertainment law: With the rise in popularity of real-life, ripped-from-the-headlines film and TV, what rights are necessary to make a film based on actual people?


Despite the occasional legal dustup (or, more likely, because of them), producers and studios often overcompensate by securing more rights than are actually required.

"I can think of four or five good reasons to acquire life-story rights, but needing them to make a movie isn't one of them," says David Halberstadter, a rights expert at Los Angeles law firm Katten.   Continued...

<p>Cast members Kristen Stewart (L) and Dakota Fanning pose for photographers as they arrive at the premiere of "The Runaways" in New York City March 17, 2010. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>