Westfield Novelist's Lawsuit Rolls On
Joe Quirk filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Sony Pictures.
Joe Quirk is tenacious. In spite of accumulating 375 rejection letters before his 28th birthday, the novelist and Westfield High School class of 1984 graduate refused to abandon his craft.
His determination paid off in 1998 when the Wilson Elementary and Holy Trinity alum was catapulted from utter obscurity into the spotlight after penning ‘The Ultimate Rush,’ a thriller People magazine called the “Page Turner of the Week.”
Quirk’s novel tells the story of a rollerblading bike messenger charged with delivering a coveted package. If that premise sounds familiar, it might be because a recently-released film with a very similar name and storyline has once again thrust Quirk into the spotlight, forcing the artist into yet another uphill battle.
In August of 2011, Quirk filed a lawsuit against Sony Pictures in which he claimed the film 'Premium Rush,' starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is based on his screenplay from his novel 'The Ultimate Rush.'
According to a New York Times report, Quirk’s suit cites a long list of commonalities between the film and his novel, including character names, love interests, gangsters connected to Chinese organized crime, corrupt law enforcement agents and an irritable bike-messenger dispatcher with questionable motives.
Over the past two decades copyright infringement suits against major studios have usually been decided against the plaintiff. It seemed the odds were against Quirk, however, in July of this year, federal judge Richard Seeborg rejected Sony’s motion to dismiss Quirk's claim that the studio had breached an implied contract.
And so the lawsuit rolls on with Quirk needing to show “bilateral understanding of payment” and prove "not only that a copy of the novel originally provided by his agent ended up in the (producers') hands but also that each person who accepted it along the way did so with the expectation that payment would be due if the ideas were utilized," according to an article published in The Hollywood Reporter in July.
While Quirk, who saw the film twice during its opening weekend, could not speak about the lawsuit on the advice of his attorney, he did share the backstory that led him to where he is today.
After years of writing novels he deemed “too artistic, too literary or too self-involved,” Quirk, who had moved to Berkeley, CA, said he decided he wanted to write something that could easily transfer to the big screen. And it seemed as if he had succeeded, at least initially.
“It was very, very thrilling,” he said. “You can imagine, you’re toiling for about eight years and getting lots of rejection letters. I just set out to write a really exciting first chapter and the fact that it worked so well was just astonishing. Next thing I know every drug store, every grocery store I went in, there was my book next to Danielle Steele.”
It wasn’t long before movie studios and filmmakers came calling on Quirk, the oldest of six children, who had previously supported himself as a nanny.
"Warner Brothers bought the option to turn the novel into a film, which meant they controlled it for 18 months, and they wrote a couple of scripts,” explained Quirk, who said he had interest simultaneously from “a couple of independent filmmakers.”
The author said it gave him the sense that people reading the book were able to envision the story captured on celluloid just as he had hoped. Once the option expired, Warner Brothers renewed it for another 18 months. But despite "various exciting things happening, the film just never got made," Quirk said. As disappointing as that was, the novelist didn’t realize at first just how dramatically that would impact his future.
“Because there was movie interest in the book, my publisher put a fair amount of money into pushing the book. St. Martin's Press put down about a quarter-million to buy the rights to the paperback, so everyone was banking on it being a movie.
“To anyone who's not in the publishing industry, they think that I'm this big success but in the publishing industry, I was known as the guy who wrote this big book, that everyone was excited about and they said would be a movie and then it didn't happen and publishers lost money.”
As each subsequent novel he wrote was summarily rejected, Quirk said he just accepted that he had to make the switch to non-fiction.
Much like the protagonist in his thriller, Quirk remained undeterred and once again, the Westfield native achieved success, with his science-meets-relationships books about sex, biology, love and commitment selling in 19 countries.
After a near-decade-long hiatus, Quirk published the novel 'Exult,' which explores hang-gliding as a metaphor for the highs and lows of life.
An unexpected ally
Quirk has found an unexpected champion in novelist Anne Rice whose Facebook page features a link in support of Quirk's case.
"It was the strangest thing, when the lawsuit became public, she got in contact me with me and signed it 'Anne Rice' and I said, 'that sounds like the author.' So I just responded and she wrote back very passionately,” Quirk recalled. “She’s someone who’s worked with Hollywood and to my amazement, she read the entire legal complaint apparently. She just took it upon herself. It's astonishing, really, and very flattering."
Quirk is currently at work on a book for The Seasteading Institute about focusing on “how ocean cities will save the environment, feed the world and jettison millions out of poverty.”
Already sold to Simon & Schuster, Quirk is working on it with Patri Friedman, the grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.
“There are all these ways that ocean cities can solve food crisis and water crisis and environmental problems and it's astonishing to me that people don’t know about this," he said.
A self-declared ''weather-wimp," Quirk said he only returns to his hometown during summers and holidays but is grateful for all the support he has received.
When asked if his experiences in the industry have diminished his enthusiasm for his craft, the consummate storyteller said, "I don't think you choose to be a writer; I think writing chooses you."