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Writer stirs up trouble over "Twister' screenplay

Published Jun. 19, 1996|Updated Sep. 16, 2005

When Stephen B. Kessler read that a big movie about Oklahoma tornado-chasers was in progress, it set off an emotional storm for the Kirkwood, Mo. resident. That storm grew in intensity as he learned more and more about the movie _ and later as friends called him from around the country and mistakenly congratulated him on selling his screenplay to Steven Spielberg.

Kessler's screenplay about Oklahoma tornado chasers was called Catch the Wind. He had written and copyrighted it in various forms in 1989, 1990 and 1991. It has been widely distributed in Hollywood, he said, and made the finals of a screenwriting contest sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That script, Kessler has alleged, was the uncredited _ and unbought _ basis for Twister.

Twister, of course, is the biggest movie of the year, and it's growing bigger by the day. The blockbuster disaster movie has taken in about $200-million at U.S. box offices since it opened May 10. Variety, the show-business journal, has predicted that its eventual worldwide gross could well exceed $450-million, making it one of the 14 or 15 highest-grossing films in history.

On June 4, Kessler and his lawyer, Mitchell A. Margo, walked into the federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis and filed a lawsuit that, in effect, accused some of the biggest names in Hollywood of stealing Kessler's screenplay. The suit, which details 31 alleged similarities between Catch the Wind and Twister, asked that Kessler be awarded all the profits for Twister.

Margo estimated that profits already had exceeded $50-million.

Among those named in the suit were writer Michael Crichton and his wife and co-author, Ann-Marie Martin, who reportedly received $2.5-million for the script of Twister; producer Spielberg and his company, Amblin Entertainment, and the two movie studios that co-financed Twister and plan on co-reaping its profits _ Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures.

Spokespersons for all declined comment.

The final version of Catch the Wind was copyrighted in 1991. Crichton, in his forward to the published screenplay of Twister, said he and his wife began writing it in January 1994.

Kessler's is not the first copyright-infringement lawsuit against Twister. Earlier this year, a writer named Daniel Perkins filed suit in federal court in South Bend, Ind alleging that Twister was modeled after a screenplay he wrote in 1989.


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