'Paul' location prompts anxiety from another world
When the alien comedy "Paul" opens today, filmgoers will be given a look at a number of real-life locations, including Comic-Con's San Diego Convention Center and the Little A'Le'Inn, a bar and restaurant outside Area 51 in Rachel, Nev. The latter is portrayed in a scene that has the film's stars, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, on a road trip of notable extraterrestrial spots; it offers a colorful look at a bar that's filled with all manner of outer-space kitsch.
But that sort of authenticity doesn't come without snags or stress. The Little A'Le'Inn's two owners cried foul this week, telling 24 Frames that their bar was reconstructed on the movie's New Mexico set without their permission. and that one of the pair, played by Jane Lynch, was depicted in the Universal/Working Title film without their permission as well.
"If they [production managers] had been up front and honest, we would have agreed to it. But they weren't," said Connie West, who owns the bar with her mother, Pat Travis-Laudenklos, portrayed by Lynch in the film.
West said she and Travis-Laudenklos had originally been told by someone who came to the bar that they were making a documentary and they then agreed to allow photos to be taken on that assumption. She also sold a production scout $4,000 worth of merchandise. They were surprised to see, then, their bar replicated to a high level of specificity both in "Paul" and at the after-party of the film's premiere (Universal paid for them to come). West said she is contemplating legal action.
Universal declined to comment, but 24 Frames was able, via a source familiar with the project, to get a look at a series of legal documents. Among them was a set of releases that contained signatures that appeared to belong to Travis-Laudenklos granting permission to depict both the bar and her likeness, on documents that clearly referred to a feature film titled "Paul."
Still, the complaints highlight how difficult it is for movies to depict locations with authenticity, and why producers often opt for entirely fictional sites instead. (In this weekend's "The Lincoln Lawyer," for instance, some of the Southland landmarks from Michael Connelly's novel are replaced by more generic sites.) When filmmakers aim for something more realistic -- Pegg and Frost wrote part of their script in the bar and modeled the scene after it -- it can cause waves among the real-life people, who are surprised to see their handiwork in someone else's creation.
"You understand on an emotional level why people feel like something was taken from them," said Bill Grantham, an entertament lawyer based in Santa Monica, of cases like this. "But the question is often whether they own what's been taken and whether they can stop someone from taking it."
Grantham noted that a wide range of 1st Amendment protections makes these cases difficult for a plaintiff to win, especially when there's a release; aggrieved parties would need to prove, among other things, that there was some misrepresentation involved in securing it.
Still, Grantham recalled the instance of Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys" in which a high-end design chair was copyrighted and portrayed without permission in the film, resulting in a court granting an injunction after the movie was already in theaters. Litigiousness can make studios either waiver-crazy or, worse, opt out of locations altogether. Or, perhaps, wish they'd set a movie in outer space, where there aren't many people around to complain.
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: A scene from "Paul." Credit: Double Negative/Universal Pictures