Based on Clair Noto’s notorious 1980 screenplay The Tourist, originally considered as Ridley Scott’s follow-up toAlien, the “novelisation” was written by Lee McGeorge, an author specialising in self-published vampire fiction. Entitled Clair Noto’s The Tourist, but written without Noto’s input or permission, McGeorge’s novelisation was printed in a limited run of paperbacks, and made available as a free download, accompanied by a YouTube video in which the author explains the thinking behind the book. “The Tourist is a story that fans of science fiction have been waiting many years for,” he says. “It began life a screenplay written by Clair Noto and in the 1980s it was the hottest film script in Hollywood; it’s often referred to as one of the greatest movies never made.” McGeorge goes on to outline the story, which concerns a female alien, one of a number of extra-terrestrials living incognito in exile on Earth, seeking the means to return to their homeworld. “It’s a shame that no movie version exists,” he adds, “and I think it’s unlikely that it will be made in its intended form. So what I’ve done is the next best thing, which is to take all of that source material and convert it faithfully into a cleanly-written story.”
Although Noto’s name appears on the cover, and an old picture of the author in the YouTube video, further investigation reveals that the novelisation was written without Noto’s blessing or permission – and the she isn’t happy about it. “Clair is upset about the novelisation,” McGregor admits. “She hasn’t read it, but is aggrieved that (in her mind) people are exploiting her.” Noto’s reaction is hardly surprising. Not only does she claim to have retained the book rights when she sold The Tourist to Universal in 1980, in the intervening years she has seen a number of films that seem to have been lifted from the screenplay. “I think that the Chinatown sequence in Blade Runner was very much influenced by The Tourist,” Noto told me during an interview conducted for my 1999 book The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made. “I believe [Ridley Scott] even said that to me at one time.” The late Brian Gibson, who was attached to the movie version for years, agreed. “here have been too many movies where people have deliberately, or inadvertently, or coincidentally, used some of The Tourist’s premises. I think it was the resonance of the metaphor – that a whole lot of people live their lives on this planet secretly feeling like aliens – that would have made it a unique movie. But now, because the premise has been begged, borrowed or stolen, the metaphor no longer has that ring of something surprising.”
While it’s true that films as wide-ranging in style and subject matter as Blade Runner, Species, Men in Black and, most recently, Under the Skin, include themes which appeared in Noto’s original story, no one has taken the bold step, or the liberty, of repurposing The Tourist without the permission of the original author or the current rights holder. So how did McGeorge get away with it? “I did it as fan fiction under ‘Creative Commons,’” McGeorge explains, referring to the official means by which creators can grant others permission to create works (such as fan fiction) using elements contained within copyrighted material. “I am a commercial author,” McGeorge adds, referring to his other self-published stories, “but this book is 100% free download with attribution.” Attribution or no, no interpretation of “creative commons” or the widely-abused “fair use” laws allow an author to publish a work of fiction based on an unproduced screenplay, even one as widely read as The Tourist. Otherwise, anyone could write and publish a “novelisation” of, for instance, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, claiming “fair use”. McGeorge has a different interpretation.
“[‘Creative Commons’] license is what allows kids to record a cover of their favourite band and upload it to YouTube,” McGeorge insists. “I had a 30-year-old project. I wrote a fan fic[tion]. I printed 75 paperbacks and sent some to the original creative, plus Universal. Clair is unhappy, [but] everybody else loved it.” McGeorge believes that if it had been a short story published online, it would have been overlooked, but because he produced a professional-looking paperback, “there was a legal knee-jerk [reaction].” Thus far, however, McGeorge has received no official ‘cease and desist’ from Noto, Universal Pictures, American Zoetrope (which developed the film project for a time with director Franc Roddam), or anyone else connected with the original screenplay. “If somebody claims to be the copyright holder and asks me to stop, then of course I will,” he says. In which case, he adds, “You better download it quick before it’s pulled.”
© David Hughes