Saturday, October 09, 2004

I'm Dazed and Confused by this libel claim



In the "coming of age" movie genre, Dazed and Confused (1993) is one of my favorites. Now three of the director/writer's (Richard Linklater) former highschool classmates (Bobby Wooderson, Andy Slater and Richard "Pink'' Floyd) are suing him, claiming that the characters were based on them and that they have suffered embarrassment and ridicule. The plaintiffs say the suit has been prompted by the film's 2002 release on DVD and it's growing cult popularity.

This is just sad, these plaintiffs should be ashamed of themselves for trying to scam their former friend, who it may be noted, is doing quite well in Hollywood. There is no way these plaintiffs are so embarrassed at their depiction in the film that they need to sue over 10 years after its release (that is assuming the characters were even based on them and not merely named after them).

And what are the damages here? I seriously doubt these plaintiffs can prove some sort of monetary damage. I also doubt a jury would be willing to give these guys punitive damages, it'll be tough to make the director look like a guy who deserves to be punished for his actions here. At first I couldn't even think of what theory of law this case would be based on. There's clearly no right of celebrity here because the friends are probably nobodies, and there are no apparent copyright or trademark issues. My guess was that case was based in libel, but there is typically a short statute of limitations on libel claims.

Then I saw this - "Robbins says the lawsuit was filed in Santa Fe because it has a longer statute of limitations than other states for claims of defamation and false light," and also because of a more favorable jury pool. This is disturbing since libel has First Amendment implications in that it limits or chills speech. The statute of limitations on Libel should be fairly short in order to protect speech. This suit was filed in New Mexico, I wonder what the plaintiffs connections to that jurisdiction are? They all still live in Texas, where they went to school with Linklater. I imagine that NM and TX must be within the same federal circuit, but that is ridiculous that the parties may have to litigate in a place nowhere near where either of them live.

I don't think there's much of a libel case here -
First, the plaintiffs have to show that there has been a false statement that actually harms the their reputations, as opposed to being merely insulting or offensive.
Second, the statements would have to be false statements of FACT. Statements that can be objectively proven true or false, not merely opinion or exaggeration.
Third, the plaintiffs have to show that the characters/statements were "of and concerning" them. Meaning that people in their community who see the movie know it is about them (before they actually drew all this attention to the case). Just using similar names should not be enough.
Fourth, there may need to be some element of fault on the part of the defendant. Did he purposely ignore the facts and misrepresented them?

Here are some great quotes from this article in the Albuquerque Journal:

One plaintiff, Bobby Wooderson, for example, recently checked his teenage son into Harvard University, and when the boy's classmates learned Wooderson was the basis for the pot-smoking "David Wooderson" in "Dazed and Confused," "all the kids there wanted to do was smoke pot with him," said Santa Fe attorney Bill Robins III, who filed the suit.
...
Linklater, who wrote and directed "Dazed and Confused," only slightly modified the three plaintiffs' names...Plaintiff Bobby Wooderson is named David Wooderson in the movie; plaintiff Andy Slater is named Ron Slater in the movie; and plaintiff Richard "Pink" Floyd is named Randall "Pink" Floyd in the movie.
...
"Dazed and Confused" depicts Wooderson - who was played by actor Matthew McConaughey - as an "aging high school wannabe with the bad ass car, who despite graduating years ago, can't leave his high school 'daze' behind him," reads the suit.
...
The Wooderson character also says in the movie, "that's what I love about these high school girls; I get older and they stay the same age." Robins said the real-life Wooderson has never said any quote of that nature.
...
Slater is depicted as the 'school's in-house stoner and medicine chest,' '' reads the suit.
...
Richard "Pink" Floyd, is depicted in "Dazed and Confused," as "the school's starting quarterback, supposedly struggling with the choice between signing a pledge to not use drugs and alcohol or hanging out with his loser friends,' '' reads the suit. [Sounds to me like the plaintiffs are now Linklater's loser former friends.]
Despite the fact that Linklater has said in interviews that "Dazed and Confused" was fairly autobiographical, there's little chance this case will go anywhere if it is based in libel, partly because no reasonable person who saw "Dazed and Confused" would assume that the depictions in it are based on actual events, it's a work of fiction, a movie. These guys are wasting everyone's money with this suit and not only that, they will actually draw national attention to the embarrassing fact that they may have been cool pot smoking rockers in the 70's that were so much fun that a movie was made based on the good times they had. Man that really is embarrassing, I feel so sorry for them!

If these guys can get past the summary judgment stage then they will be able to force a big settlement from Linklater because defamation trials cost quite a lot. Hopefully this frivolous suit gets booted out of court at the pleadings stage. Well, there's a lesson for directors/writers - don't use names that sound like people you knew even if you're basing a character on them...ever. Once you leave your friends behind in that small Texas town and move on to Hollywood, they'll be coming for your hard earned paychecks if they have any shot.

Well, I never knew the people in the movie were based on these guys, now I do. I also would've thought they were probably cool if I had known it, but now that this comes up I think they are total wankers. Way to go guys, I hope you wasted plenty hiring your lawyer.

This is a great article on the situation, CNN article here, another good one from Texas here.

Here are the most up to date news articles on "Dazed and Confused," via Google News.

More on libel at the Media Law Resource Center.

Another fantastic movie by Richard Linklater is Waking Life. It's about lucid dreaming, so it's strange. Others I either liked less or haven't seen are School of Rock (didn't see) and Slacker (although intriguing, very boring). And soon to be released is The Smoker, The Bad News Bears, and The Scanner Darkly.

I just remembered that Linklater was/is also involved in a controversy over the School of Rock movie (featuring Jack Black) because someone who started a rock music school for kids was claiming the script was based on their life. I can't find anything on that with a quick search though.

7 Comments:

Blogger Tristan Reveur said...

I really dig your blog. Im going to bookmark it and for me that has been rare thus far. I also was looking for info on this funny lawsuit after reading about it in the paper and there was a comment about a possible defense strategy for Linklater: It took the real-life men 11 freakin' years to determine that the cult classic's stoner characters might be based on them. Ha. Write on Chris...tt- T.R.

10/13/2004 10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said that "no reasonable person who saw "Dazed and Confused" would assume that the depictions in it are based on actual events, it's a work of fiction, a movie" Well, guess what? I went to that High School with Linklater and the others and I have to tell you I was sitting in shock when I first saw "Dazed and Confused" at the movies in 1993. I was gasping and pointing at the screen not believing that I was actually seeing my high school days played out before me. I later got several old high school buddies and we all went to see it together. They also recognized the characters and scenes. Although "fiction" in that there was not a "moon tower" where beer busts were held and dialogue is certainly created, the hazing is exactly how it happened and even the name of the pool hall (The Emporium) is the same. I am proud that our high school friend has made it big in pictures. I love his films and am sorry that he is being sued but then in this society I am not surprised.
Zig1

10/18/2004 10:17 AM  
Blogger CRC said...

Hey Zig,

I'm honored to have a true Dazed and Confused personality commenting on my site. I guess you would be like one of the people in the background of the film! Sounds like you all had a good time down there. What I meant though is that the rest of the world certainly didn't think of the film as depicting actual events. Also, even though those events are VERY similar to your high school experience they aren't totally DISsimilar to the high school experiences of people all over the country (like myself).

In a way, all movies are "based on actual events" because they are all reflections of what goes on in our society. But they are typically a patchwork of events, often taken to some extreme - like the insanity of the beer bust in Dazed and Confused. I went to parties like that during high school too, but they weren't usually that wild. I had some friends that were similar to those in D&C (many of them are still like that now).

So if the director had made a few minor changes (like the names of the characters) he would've been fine for the very reason that this stuff goes on everywhere. Of course, with defamation if your reputation is injured among the people in your local community and circle of friends that is all that is required for an action. Now everyone knows it was them though, so they've drwan attention to themselves, further "damaging" thier reputations I guess they would say.

It is a shame that they feel they deserve something from D&C and are willing to go after an old friend's money. Pathetic really. You can say you're not surprised in today's society, but is this something you would ever do? I;m sure the vast majority of people wouldn't even consider taking such action. In my opinion, these guys are making a money grab pure and simple.

10/18/2004 10:33 AM  
Blogger CRC said...

Zig,

I'd like to know more about how you felt about the film when it first came out and then now. Have you even been offended by it's depiction of your community or people you know? Did you think less of the real people portrayed by characters in the film after seeing it?

10/18/2004 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You wrote:
"I'd like to know more about how you felt about the film when it first came out and then now. Have you even been offended by it's depiction of your community or people you know? Did you think less of the real people portrayed by characters in the film after seeing it?

I am happy about the film both when I first saw it and now. I guess it is getting more attention now. At first when I mentioned it, very few people had heard about it. I'm not ashamed. My friends know what I'm like now and that is all that matters. That was then and this is now. I guess if I was turned down for a job or something because of people's impressions of me after seeing the movie, then that would be different.

Offended? No, not at all. In fact it made be proud that my HS days are immortalized in film. It also made me realize that my HS days were perhaps not as bad as I thought. I thought I was in a town full of rednecks but like Pink says in the movie "I had the most fun I could, while I was stuck in this place." I'm a little embarrassed by the ridiculous hazing. I thought it was stupid then so I chose not to go. I guess the boys did not have a choice though about being paddled.

I certainly don't think less of the people portrayed, if anything I am jealous that they got the credit. If it had been my name used, I hope that I would be strong enough to not sue but if I was still stuck in that town a cool 6 figure (or more) settlement might ease my pain.
By the way, there are other very familiar names in the movie that are not plaintiffs in this case... yet.
Zig

10/18/2004 4:25 PM  
Blogger CRC said...

Zig,

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment here about the D&C situation. I hope to write more on the case as more information about it becomes available (I'm particularly interested in how the plaintiffs think they will be able to maintain the suit in a NM jurisdiction).

I also hope that you will come back and comment about how you feel about the film or the plaintiffs in the defamation claim whenever the spirit grabs hold of you. There are lots of people wondering what's going on and you have provided some great insights into the feelings of someone closely involved. It's much easier for a reader to think of the plaintiffs as money-grabbers until someone like you comes and tells how it actually feels to have your town/HS/self portrayed in a film in this way.

Just so you know, it isn't as if you aren't writing for no audience. This site gets at least a thousand hits per week and has been receiving hundreds per week by people who have searched for information about this lawsuit (I can tell where they come from, their "referral page"). So there are interested people out there who are reading your comments. Thanks again Zig!

CRC

10/19/2004 4:16 PM  
Anonymous HanginChad said...

Nice blog, good info on the suit. The plaintiffs aren't going to dismiss the suit? IT'D BE A LOT COOLER IF THEY DEE-ID!!

6/04/2006 4:53 PM  

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