Since I started this column last year, I've mentioned the ongoing copyright lawsuit between "Friday the 13th" creator and producer Sean Cunningham and the writer of the first film in the series, Victor Miller, and the impact the lawsuit had on "Friday the 13th: The Game" a few times.
I've been really interested in the case since the game's developers, Gun Media, announced last June that they were no longer legally allowed to create new content for the game because of the case. I wanted to do a deeper dive on the lawsuit, and there's probably no better person to talk to on the planet — with the exceptions of Cunningham, Miller and their attorneys — than Larry Zerner.
In 1982 Zerner starred in "Friday the 13th Part 3" as Shelly, the lovable nerdy character who wants to get the girl but instead crosses paths with Jason. The character remains so popular to this day partly because Jason's now iconic hockey mask was taken from Shelly, that Gun Media put the character in their game and brought Zerner in to voice him. But acting is just a side job for Zerner nowadays. His main focus is with his Los Angeles-based law firm, Zerner Law, where he specializes in copyright law.
Zerner took time last week to talk to me about the lawsuit and his involvement in the film and the video game.
DR: How did you get involved with the game?
LZ: I met the guys from Gun at E3 in 2016. I knew about the game, I had seen the Kickstarter, and so a mutual friend put us together. ... They were trying to show the game.
... And then we just sort of kept in touch on Twitter over the year. The game came out in May (2017) and in July Wes reached out and said "OK, we're going to put you in."
DR: What was your reaction when you got the call?
LZ: Great! Bucket list achieved! Being a character in a video game is definitely something you put on the bucket list and don't think you're ever going to get.
DR: How long did you work on the game and what was that process like?
LZ: The only thing I did was do my voice. So I went in for a day and did my voice. The mo-cap is the same for all the male characters. They didn't do new mo-cap.
DR: What was it like to return to the same character after about 35 years?
LZ: It was fun. Doing the voice is different. It's such a different thing. It was the first time I had done game voicing, and it's very different from screen acting where you're in a scene and there's a camera and you're working with other people. Here, you're in a room basically by yourself and there's a director outside telling you stuff. You have all these lines and you just say them. There's not a lot of rehearsal or anything, it's just go. It's a whole different skill set.
The thing with Shelly is he's really me. The first day of filming "Friday the 13th," the director said to me, "Don't put on a character, just make him you." So Shelly is me. When I had to go how is Shelly feeling about this, I'd just go, "well, how would I feel about this."
So it wasn't that tough to get back into Shelly-ness.
DR: Why do you think the character of Shelly has stayed so popular the past 35 years?
LZ: I think lots of people relate to being relate to being the sort of geeky, unattractive person who's trying to get the beautiful girl to like him and get shut down. A lot of guys can relate to that.
And also, he brought the mask, and that gets him a lot of points.
DR: How does the Higgins Haven map in the game match up with your memories of the set during filming? Did the team do a good job recreating it?
LZ: When I walked into the game barn, that was like "Oh my God. I've been in this barn and it really did bring back memories." The cabin itself, there's some similarities and some differences and of course the surrounding area is bigger. All we had was the cabin, the barn and the fake lake on the real set. The barn itself I was really impressed with.
DR: I've seen you play the game on some YouTube channels before. Do you play the game in your free time at all?
LZ: I haven't played in a while. ... I have limited game time. I'm only halfway through "Assassin's Creed," and I gave that up to go back to "Far Cry."
DR: In June 2016 Victor Miller filed paperwork to regain the rights to the screenplay he wrote for the original "Friday the 13th" film. Sean Cunningham countered by filing a lawsuit against Miller. Where are we at with the lawsuit now?
LZ: In this case, the judge did not rule on the motion until September of 2018, and they ruled in Victor's favor. They said Victor had the right to terminate. That meant in June of 2018 the termination went into effect. Under the law, that means he gets the rights back to his screenplay in the first movie only. He doesn't own any of the other movies or characters that only appeared in those other movies. And it only applies in the United States, the termination. So Sean still owns the rights to the first movie outside of the United States.
Victor won, Sean filed an appeal of the case and then a few weeks ago he withdrew the appeal, and my sources told me that was because of some technical thing (and he may soon refile), but it may be because they're talking a settlement and they needed to buy some time.
I hear they're talking settlement. They have, I think, another (two) weeks. Either he's going to refile the appeal or they're going to say they settled. I think Sean's chances on appeal are small and I think he knows that. And an appeal is going to take another two years, maybe three. And there's a lot of money at stake because you want to get the movies out. You're not doing anything, nobody's making money, so there's an incentive to settle and not wait.
I think there's a better than 50/50 chance that we'll see a settlement in the next 30 days.
Dusty Ricketts is the editor of The Destin Log and The Walton Sun newspapers and can be reached at email@example.com. He is currently playing "Star Wars Battlefront 2," "Friday the 13th: The Game" and "New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe." You can find him to play online through his PlayStation Network ID, DustRAG316.