Last May, while having dinner with a close friend, I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of unexpected compliments - for having had one of my books made into a film." What film?" I said. "Rio", my friend replied, adding that it was "the one about the two rare blue parrots". I confessed to having not heard of the film, but the last bit certainly rang a bell, as I was the author of a book called Spix's Macaw - the race to save the world's rarest bird. This true story charted the fortunes of a single male of this rare blue parrot and how he was reunited with a last female in a bid to save the species from extinction.
I wrote the story in part based on my experience of finding the last of these birds left in the wild while a member of an expedition with Brazilian scientists dispatched to locate the species back in 1990. We found just a single wild bird remaining. Some years later, I wrote the full story of why this gorgeous creature had entered such desperate straits, and described a subsequent rescue effort which involved re-uniting the last wild male with a female of his species in a bid to avert its imminent extinction. It was based on a great deal of research and rich in detail, drawing on documentary sources, my own eye witness accounts and interviews.
With evident similarities in the basic plot, I had a look online. I put my name, along with the words Spix's Macaw, Rio and film into Google and found that my dinner guest was not the only person to who believed that the film had been inspired by the book. And then I had emails from complete strangers, who'd seen the film and written to me with compliments on the story. Only one thing for it, I thought, a trip to the cinema.
Settling into my seat, and beyond the Twentieth Century Fox logos and trumpets, I was delighted to see such a wonderful film, but also struck by the many similarities between what I had written and what now appeared on screen. Aside from the basic plot of two rare birds that must fall in love to save their species, there were many matters of detail. For example, in my book I describe how trappers take a wild bird from its nest hole. The opening sequence of the film has a similar story. In the book I describe how a Spix's Macaw found in the USA is returned to Brazil. This is a central plot line in the film. I describe how this bird couldn't perch properly. In the film the captive bird that comes back to Brazil from the USA can't fly.
Later on in my book I describe how conservationists attempt to pair a couple of the birds in captivity. Scientists watch progress from outside the birds' aviary on a closed-circuit TV screen. The same scene appears in the film. A central character in the film bears similarities to a Brazilian ornithologist in my book. It went on...
For example, in Spix's Macaw I describe how when the last wild bird goes missing, posters are distributed with a picture of the bird with the headline of "have you seen this bird?" In the film, and after the two birds go missing, Linda, the central female character hands out posters and says "have you seen my bird?" In the book I describe how Rio de Janeiro bird traffickers sometimes dye more common species of parrot a different colour to make them look like rare ones. In the film, in order to fool their boss after they have lost the two bird characters, two of bird traffickers dye chickens blue. In the book I say how marmosets stole eggs from a Spix's Macaw nest. The parrot characters in the film have marmosets as enemies.
And then there was the timing of the idea for the film and the publication of the book. According to the director he had the idea for the film in 2002 - the same year my book was published.
Putting myself in the position of a screenwriter making a film about the Spix's Macaw, which this film is, I find it hard to see how that process could be completed without looking at the only book devoted to the subject - which mine is. It is surely a matter of common courtesy, as well as legal requirement, to acknowledge and credit sources of inspiration and information for a film like Rio? It wouldn't have been hard to do that.
So what now? I have been in touch with lawyers in London who advised me that I need to find legal representation in Los Angeles - the city where Twentieth Century Fox have their headquarters. This has not been easy, however. All the California firms so far contacted work for Twentieth Century Fox in some way or other, and therefore are unable to represent me because of their conflict of interest. So is there a firm in LA that is able to help? I am still looking.
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