Q. I'm currently writing a screenplay about a former child star who's struggling with living life as a has-been. The main character is a real former child star. Except everything that happens to him in the story is fiction. I believe they call those Factions. I haven't finished the script yet, but when I do, I plan to get it copyrighted and then send it to this actor. Now, here's my question: Can I be in any kind of legal trouble for writing a script with a real actor as the main character if the plot is fictitious? I guess the closest example I can give you is the movie Being John Malkovich.
It's not illegal to write a fairy tale about a real person. It's only illegal to publish it without his permission.
The problem is, a real former child star may not want to play a "has-been." They may have other things going on.
I don't know why you need it to be one particular child star if everything's a fiction. Just make sure the backstory is all fiction too. Then you can get any number of different former child stars to play the lead, or go with someone new.
It took some doing to get Bill Shatner to star in FREE ENTERPRISE (though it ultimately gave him a new career as a professional blowhard) and John Malkovich rejected BEING JOHN MALKOVICH several times.
One of the specs on the Black List is Gary Coleman vs Emmanuel Lewis ... I haven't read it yet, but I plan to.
I have been around and around and around on this subject with various writer friends. I humbly submit that you are better off painting a crystal-clear picture of this person, as you perceive them, and then changing the name.
If you show someone a fictional representation of a real person, the reader/viewer will immediately start to notice all the ways in which the two are different (i.e., your version is wrong.)
But if you show someone a fictional character who bears a striking resemblence-but-is-not-named-after-a-real-person, the reader/viewer will immediately start to notice all the ways in which your character shows great insight into the kind of person Laura Bush/Diana Ross/Lorne Michaels* really is. End result: You look like a genius.
There are exceptions, of course, but they usually rest on the shoulders of extraordinary performers, which you do not have access to at the script phase. But if they come along, there's no saying you cannot switch back to the "real" names.
(I'm thinking here of Dr. Evil, not Jack Donaghy.)
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