Over a year after its release and with a sequel supposedly in the works, the faith-based hit starring Kevin Sorbo has been hit with a lawsuit claiming producers took its premise in bad faith. John Sullivan and Brad Stine today sued Pure Flix Entertainment and its CEO David A.R. White, seeking at least $10 million in damages and alleging that God’s Not Dead was based on a “faith-based Dead Poets’ Society” concept called Proof that they came up with back in 2009. “God’s Not Dead, which is the Proof film simply slightly modified and re-titled liberally, substantially draws upon material from the Proof Treatments, including the genre, mood, pace, themes, settings, characters and plot points,” says the four-claim complaint filed in L.A. Superior Court Friday (read it here). Plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial.
“God ‘s Not Dead, as in the Proof Treatments, tracks the conflict on a college campus between extreme atheists and evangelical Christians, with each designed to be marketed to the Christian community as a galvanizing mechanism and a movie with concrete teaching segments set up in a classroom and debate setting,” says the legal document from attorneys Simran A. Singh and Michael Trauben of Beverly Hills firm Singh, Singh & Trauben, LLP. In the detailed filing, plaintiffs Sullivan (pictured at right) and Stine say the faith-based Pure Flix promised them compensation for the treatment and producer credits on the finished product.
Promises that are not exactly pocket change when you consider that the Harold Cronk-directed God’s Not Dead has made more than $60 million on a budget of $2 million since its March 21, 2014, debut. Unlike a lot of these types of lawsuits, the plaintiffs aren’t exactly untested novices themselves. With an already established relationship with Pure Flix, Sullivan is also the co-director of 2012’s 2016: Obama’s America, which is the second-highest-grossing political documentary of all time, and last year’s Lionsgate release America: Imagine The World Without Her with conservative writer-director Dinesh D’Souza. As an actor, Stine has appeared in a number of Christian-themed films and projects during the past decade.
Let’s just say the two of them feel very strongly that their Proof was shell-gamed into God’s Not Dead in an attempt by White and crew to renege on what they thought was a done deal. “Regarding the compensation Pure Flix agreed to pay Plaintiff in connection with Defendant Pure Flix’s production of a film based on the Original Treatment, in the same email, Defendant White expressly represented that Pure Flix would take ‘22.5 point’ for ‘[p]roducing’ and Plaintiffs would receive ’10 points towards [Plaintiffs] … with producing credits’ and that ‘Brad will get $10K for acting in it,’” says the complaint in reference to July 2009 correspondence attached to the filing.
After various drafts on the Proof project, today’s complaint says that Pure Flix tried to sell the script back to Sullivan and Stine in the spring of 2012 for about $5,000. The duo declined the offer only to, they claim, see God’s Not Dead show up on movie screens nearly two years later.
Now the debate of a different nature has ended up in court with proof at the heart of it in more ways than one. Today’s lawsuit comes just two days after God’s Not Dead producer and Pure Flix partner Russell Wolfe died of ALS complications. While not named as a defendant, Wolfe and emails he wrote are cited several times in the complaint.