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securing the rights to a person's life's story

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William Parsons's picture
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Joined: Jan 2019
securing the rights to a person's life's story

In research I've done recently concerning torture for a screenplay I'm soon to start, I came across the incredible life's story of Omar al-Shogre.

Omar has a gripping life's story, one that I personally think is incredibly cinematic: an image which has seared itself into my mind is Omar carrying his closest cousin Bashir, whom he loved as a brother, in order to help Bashir go to the bathroom and eventually Bashir died right there in Omar's arms. Imagine you're Omar, 19 years old, and your beloved cousin dies right in your arms. I can't even rap my mind or my heart around how that must have felt. And yet almost every photo you see now of this young man, 27 years old currently, he has a big smile and his eyes are bright with happiness and hope.

The depiction of Omar's life's story would make a wonderful 2hr/2 1/2hr movie or, even better, a limited series. Omar survived years of torture in the infamous Sednaya Prison in Syria. Omar's life's story is gripping far beyond what he survived but what this incredible young man has done with his short but packed 27 years on this earth since his release from that "Syrian slaughterhouse". He is a truly incredible person, one whose story I passionately feel needs to be told.

Several months ago I reached out to Omar, asking permission to meet with him to start the process of telling his life's story in a cinematic form, but he never replied to me. I encourage you to explore the following resources:

Survivor recounts four hours of torture a day in prison

OmarAlshogre.com

Surviving and Escaping the Syrian Prison System (podcast)

Omar Alshogre (Wikipedia)

Torture victim fights to bring the Syrian regime to justice

I see this project as a real star vehicle. Riz Ahmed comes immediately to my mind, both the skill and talent as an actor that Ahmed would bring to the role of Omar but also how Ahmed equals Omar's own astonishing natural good looks. I see this vehicle as both massively commercial and a darling and a winner with critics and audiences alike.

I'm wondering if any of the rest of you have encountered this same circumstance, of coming across an incredibly-cinematic life's story of a person but you've been unable to secure the rights to that life's story. I'm wondering what avenues you took or any thoughts/suggestions you have of avenues I may take. It does seem logical to me that I must start with Omar himself and that, if I don't receive a reply from him, I must take that as he's not interested and that the project is dead before it has ever gained life.

I've been giving thought to reaching out to a literary manager (or, more to the point, my own literary manager once I have secured one, which I do feel is going to happen for me soon) or to an entertainment attorney, who may have more luck, based on experience and know-how, with making contact with Omar. At the same time, the last thing I want to do is to pester Omar or to scare him away. I feel in my gut that, if I could sit down with him just once, I could help him to see how powerful his story is and how cinematic it is and how it can reach so many people and touch their minds and hearts with a story — and a topic — that must be told.

Any thoughts and/or feedback anyone out there has, I already look forward to reading it.

Cheers, Kerry

Lily Blaze's picture
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Joined: Aug 2019

I had an idea for a feature based on real facts in Montreal. The whole thing was canceled because my contact got arrested. So, as it turned out, that info is not open to the public. Lesson learned. I've been very careful ever since.

However, I have seen writers resolve a similar situation in two ways.

One, don't use real names. In essence, write a fictional story inspired by true events. People do that all the time, and it's only after the fact, when there's some success, it's mentioned that it was based on a real story. See Room (2015) for reference. I mean, if this is based on someone no one has heard of and probably will never know, do really need to use real names?

Two, get permission. This might extend a lot further than an email, a physical letter, or a phone call. Family members, friends, etc. You might even need a translator, because whoever you're asking isn't able to communicate in English. And if there's still no response, then, as sad as it might be for you, move on.

The fact remains, without permission which includes public domain content, you can't legally copyright, and none's going to touch that.

William Parsons's picture
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Joined: Jan 2019

Thanks so much, Lily. I sure do appreciate your feedback.

I just checked out "Room" and I see exactly what you mean.

The more I give this project, about which I am so passionate, thought, the more I'm thinking of going the first route you mention, namely fictionalizing Omar's story to the sufficient extent that I'm not stepping on anyone's toes. I believe I have the skills as a storyteller and as a screenwriter as well as the imagination to pull such a feat off.

Having said all that, I would just as soon go the second route you mention, namely get Omar's permission. What I find so compelling and gripping about this story and why I am so passionate about it is because it is indeed a true story, a true story about this incredible, remarkable young man who has gone through so much in his short 27 years and come out the other end with an outlook and an attitude and a zest for life I could never hope to emulate. I am so reminded of "Unbroken" and the incredible story of Louis Zamperini.

I am going to pursue the two-pronged attack I describe above. If I do write this screenplay, I won't write it for a bit yet, considering the number of projects I have slated before it. I am going to continue to pursue contacting Omar. Gently, though — as I mentioned above, I don't want to scare him away. And, oh, yeah: Omar's English is near flawless, so contacting him directly is not a problem.

Thanks again, Lily. Your comments mean the world to me. Cheers, Kerry

Lily Blaze's picture
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Joined: Aug 2019

Sounds like you got a good handle on things. Best of luck!

William Parsons's picture
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Joined: Jan 2019

Thanks! That means a lot.