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$20-Million Lawsuit Filed Over ‘Look Who’s Talking’

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TIMES FILM EDITOR

Writer-director Amy Heckerling took her inspiration for her hit movie “Look Who’s Talking” from a 20-minute student film and other materials supplied her four years before “Look Who’s Talking” was released last fall, according to a $20-million lawsuit filed against her and Tri-Star Pictures Tuesday.

The suit accuses Tri-Star, which is distributing “Look Who’s Talking,” of conspiring with Heckerling to infringe Jeanne Meyers and Rita Stern’s copyright. The suit also names Heckerling’s associate, actress Twink Caplan. Caplan is alleged in the suit to have acted as Heckerling’s liaison with them during their early contacts.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Federal Court, says that Meyers and Stern approached Heckerling in late 1985 or early 1986 about adapting a short film that Meyers had herself adapted from Damon Knight’s short story, “Special Delivery,” for an American Film Institute project in 1984. Meyers and Stern claim in the suit that Heckerling asked to see the film and other story materials and that she kept in touch--through Caplan--for several months before writing them to say she was not interested in pursuing the project.

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A few months later, in January, 1987, Meyers and Stern say in the filing, they optioned “Special Delivery” to Tri-Star Pictures with the understanding that attempts would be made to develop it as a TV movie.

“Special Delivery” is described in the suit as a science-fiction story about “a married couple who learn that the wife’s unborn child has full, adult consciousness, a genius intellect, and the extraordinary ability to communicate with its parents and others in an audible manner although still in the womb.”

With Heckerling’s film, which has taken in $125 million in ticket sales, only the audience hears the fetus’ thoughts.

Heckerling, a graduate of AFI, could not be reached Tuesday for comment. Caplan, in a statement released through her publicist, said Meyers and Stern had sent a tape of “Special Delivery” to them, but it was not in a format they could conveniently see. Caplan said that neither she nor Heckerling ever saw the short film or a script.

In an interview with The Times in October, Heckerling said she conceived the idea for “Look Who’s Talking” shortly after her 4-year-old daughter, Mollie, was born. Heckerling said she and her husband, writer-director Neal Israel, kept putting thoughts into the baby’s mouth while wondering what she was thinking.

In their suit, Meyers and Stern list numerous similarities between their material and the film, saying that in both works, the lead character is a pregnant Jewish-American career woman with a male fetus who talks to the audience in a comedic voice-over. The plaintiffs’ story and the film both open with the graphic act of fertilization and follow the talking fetus through its gestation. Both stories end with the arrival of the baby’s sister.

The suit, which accuses the defendants of copyright infringement, unfair competition, theft of trade secrets and breach of contract, was filed by the Santa Monica law firm of James P. Tierney.

Meyers and Stern are seeking compensatory damages of $10 million and punitive damages of $10 million.


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