SOUTHFIELD, Mich (Reuters) - A U.S. Army sergeant who is suing the makers of Oscar-nominated film "The Hurt Locker" said on Wednesday he felt betrayed because they stole his story.
Master Sergeant Jeffrey S. Sarver, 38, has filed a lawsuit claiming that the film makers turned an account of his tense experiences defusing bombs in Iraq into the highly regarded action-thriller without his consent.
Wearing blue jeans and a blue pullover sweatshirt with wrap-around sunglasses pushed up to his crew cut, Sarver told a news conference he would have been happy to serve as a consultant to scriptwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow but was never asked.
"I felt a little bit left out," Sarver said. "I didn't know my rights."
Just after Sarver filed his suit on Tuesday, the film's distributor, Summit Entertainment, issued a statement reiterating the movie's claim that it is a "fictional account" about soldiers in the battlefield.
Sarver was the subject of a 2005 article in Playboy magazine under the title "The Man in the Bomb Suit."
The article was written by Boal, screenwriter for "The Hurt Locker," based on his observations as an embedded reporter with Sarver's bomb-defusing squad in Iraq in 2004.
Sarver's lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, said the main character in the film, Will James, was clearly a representation of his client, down to his personal call signal "Blaster One."
"If anyone tells you that Sergeant Sarver isn't Will James, that's a laughable statement," said Fieger.
"The Hurt Locker" has been nominated for nine Oscars. It got high marks from critics and has been considered a front-runner for best film when the Academy Awards are given out on Sunday.
Fieger declined to say how much Sarver was seeking. He said Summit Entertainment, U.S. distributor for "The Hurt Locker" and the film's producers could have avoided the lawsuit if they had attributed the story to Sarver's exploits in Iraq.
"It's common practice," said Fieger. "Now, having been caught, we see the type of things that these movie producers are willing to do to get out of having to pay for their mistakes."
"The Hurt Locker," released last June, has grossed about $19 million worldwide and had a production budget of about $15 million.
Fieger said he had been in contact for months with Summit Entertainment and producer Nicholas Chartier.
He gave reporters what he said was a copy of an e-mail from Chartier from late December saying he had never heard of Sarver.
"Everyone says it's one of the best movies of the year, did he just not like the popcorn when he watched the movie?" Chartier wrote. "I haven't taken any grossly unfair action against him. I've never heard of him. ... Did I steal his girlfriend? Never heard of him."
Other e-mails this week caused trouble for Chartier, who bankrolled the film. In violation of Academy rules, Chartier sent e-mails to Oscar voters asking them to choose "The Hurt Locker" over what he described as "a $500 million film," read as a clear dig at "Avatar."
Chartier has been banned from attending this Sunday's awards ceremony. He declined comment on Wednesday through a spokesman.
Boal told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that he had talked to more than 100 soldiers during his research "and reshuffled everything I learned in a way that would be authentic, but would also make for a dramatic story."
Not at all, said Fieger on Wednesday.
"For Boal to suggest that he conducted interviews with hundreds of people and this is an amalgam of all sorts of explosive experts is absurd since the only person he was basically with was Sergeant Sarver. Period."
Sarver lived in New Jersey before moving recently to Clarksville, Tennessee. He has served in the U.S. Army for 18 years and is still in active duty.
Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Sandra Maler