GEM VS. BURLESQUE (2010)
In September 2006 I copyrighted a screenplay about burlesque: Gem.
Four years later, in November 2010, Screen Gems released Burlesque, a movie.
I first viewed Burlesque in March 2011, when it came out on DVD. The movie contains a number of elements from Gem and I contacted an attorney about copyright infringement.
He was the only one I could find in his field who seemed like he might work for a contingency fee. As I told him, I couldn't pay any other way. He replied that this was not a case he could take on that basis.
That ended that, for a while anyway. I had it in mind to set up a webpage but it never got going. What got me started again was the calendar, seeing the approach of Burlesque's first anniversary. Didn't seem right to let it enter a second year without at least trying to correct the record.
READ GEM Gem is copyrighted © by the author, Michael Wren, all rights reserved. If you wish to link, please link to this page, not to the .pdf file directly. Please do not post it at any other website or distribute it in any way. The description of B-Girl Rhapsody (1952) on pages 28-29 is outdated; the maker -- Something Weird Video -- has replaced the VHS with a much improved DVD version.
This is the .pdf file I posted at SimplyScripts.com in 2008, with this synopsis:
I copyrighted Gem by mailing a printed copy to the U.S. Copyright Office on September 13, 2006 and was given copyright PAu003074083 on September 18. On October 10, 2006 I registered Gem and Gem Notes online with the Writer's Guild of America, west. WGAw registration numbers 1160095, 1160098 (renewed October 2011).
Trouble was, I had no idea of how to sell a screenplay. After a few approaches went nowhere, I mass-mailed query letters describing Gem to over 50 agents (the names came from a list posted at WGA). I did not enclose the script, just described it briefly. Most did not reply. One asked for a sample of the script, then returned it saying the descriptive passages were too long.
In late 2006 I changed the meaning of the title from the Gem theater to the stage name of the protagonist. I also began paring down verbiage.
On March 28, 2007 I submitted a printed copy of Gem to the Nicholl Fellowship competition. No luck.
On April 4, 2007 I posted a .pdf version at Zoetrope.com. It got 31 reads and a handful of reviews, most favorable, during the month it was "live."
I set up a Gem webpage for a while with the .pdf to download, and finally posted the screenplay online at SimplyScripts.com June 29, 2008, where it remains, with over 400 hits now.
I was out of ideas. I left the online script as-is and occasionally puttered at a revised version at home. All I could do was hope somebody would discover Gem.
My plagiarism alarm started ringing when I saw the promotional poster for Burlesque. Here's exactly how Screen Gems described it in their September 15, 2010 copyright registration (VA0001739261):
Gem has six characters. One is Star Bright, an aging headliner: "Her hair is jet black, and so is the star-shaped beauty spot. Her face is a work of art: heavy makeup, false eyelashes, lips a deep red... Star is calmly imperious, royalty." (page 83)
"It's part of the legend. I finally stand there... covered
only... with a strand... of priceless pearls... " (page 86)
And brunette/blonde, and old/young, and red lipstick emphasized, and transformation?
Star appears in two scenes. The first is a solo, this one she shares only with an unnamed young woman: "she has honey-blond hair in early 1950's style, as is her makeup (red lipstick, etc). We're never told this outright, but we guess she's a very young Ann." (page 82) Ann is our protagonist, the old stripper whose stage name was Gem. This scene is her backstory. When it opens she's a crushed, despairing girl with no future. Star Bright tries to help her. At the end of the scene she unwittingly succeeds, and Gem is born.
I bought the DVD.
I said that, and a whole lot more, yelled it sometimes, while the DVD played.
It isn't wholesale theft; much of Gem was untouched, the plots aren't the same, and almost no dialogue matches. Mostly it's bits and pieces scattered around the movie. But Burlesque contains enough from Gem that if a producer read the screenplay now, they'd accuse me of stealing from the movie.
Star Bright got hit the hardest. To add to my description of Star: The actress who plays her is "around 70... [or] a few years younger" (page 2). Star is brunette and "wearing a black sequin sheath evening gown" (page 22).
Cher was 64 when she made Burlesque, and brunette. Her character Tess doesn't wear evening gowns, but has a black sequin top in both these scenes.
Gem page 21 -- Scene opens on a projection booth, a spotlight lens as it turns on. When the glare recedes we see Singer "standing alone on stage in the spotlight. We're looking up at her from behind and to the side. The spotlight is a bright dot in the distance and the beam itself faintly visible."
Burlesque 1:17:00 -- Tess exactly as described above. Only difference is the spotlight lens is just outside the shot (and the scene is underway).
To continue with Gem: "The auditorium is blackness to us... [Singer's] hair is dull black, streaked with gray... She will rarely smile." Singer performs for an unseen audience. She has two songs and in between she delivers a monologue about burlesque and how it died.
Singer's first song isn't in the movie. Her monologue was also cut, apparently after being rewritten to fit writer-director Steven Antin's concept of burlesque. In his DVD commentary (0:24:10), Antin says, "I'm sort of sad that we never shot it... Cher had this great monologue here where she explained what burlesque is, and she explained that burlesque actually started in the mid-1700's in Europe... things got shifted around and the monologue never happened..."
song is called "Hoping," wistful, then angry, softly hoping at the
end. She begins in a baby-blue spotlight (page 33). She
does not use a microphone. The opening lines:
1:14:20 -- Tess takes the stage in the closed and dark Lounge.
There's only her and a man in the balcony. He asks, "Want a
spot?" The light turns on, the blue beam visible. Tess
sings, "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me." She does not use a
microphone. The song is bittersweet, with the defiant refrain:
Gem page 82 -- Chorine (young Ann) is sitting on the floor crying, alone in a storeroom. She fell on stage, now she's hiding from the other chorus girls. Her hurt is summed up on page 93: "they left me."
page 83 -- Enter Star Bright. She helps the girl up, then opens her purse and hands it to Chorine: "Here. There's a bunch of Kleenex." Then she helps her fix her smeared makeup. "Star touches her own face to indicate spots needing more work, mimicking wetting her finger to instruct Chorine: 'Above your lip... smooth your cheek a bit, blend it in...'" until finally, "That'll get you by until you can put your face on again."
Later (page 93) she encourages Chorine with, "Stick it out in the chorus. It's not gonna be here much longer."
Burlesque 0:37:35 -- In the dressing room the other girls pointedly ignore Ali, then leave without her. Enter Tess, who sees her sitting there alone, glumly putting on makeup. She opens her purse and gets out a brush for Ali, then says, "All right, here, let me help you. First of all you've got to wet it..." She proceeds to do Ali's makeup. Tess likens the process to an artist, "You're painting a face."
Later (0:40:20) she encourages Ali with, "You know, you won't be the new girl forever."
Cher, in her Introduction to Burlesque: The Motion Picture (Universe Publishing 2010) on page 4: "Steven let me write a scene between Christina and me two days before we shot it! It was a little scene about a real-life experience I had had as a kid, watching my mother and her friends putting on their makeup together through our big back window." In his DVD commentary at 0:38:30, Antin says Cher contributed dialogue, Tess reminiscing as she does Ali's makeup. "I said, 'As long as you hit these sort of story points, we'll be good.'"
Finally, something I didn't know about the poster until I watched the movie; the tagline doesn't match Burlesque. Tess performs on stage twice, but is given no history (beyond having an ex-husband) and is never defined except as the owner of the Burlesque Lounge. Hardly "a legend." In fact, the word "legend" is never used in the movie, nor by Steven Antin in his DVD commentary, nor in any interview of him that I've read. It appears to not be in Antin's vocabulary (he says "icon").
Overall Similarities: Both Gem and Burlesque revolve around an older woman running a teetering burlesque show. A young woman arrives who is initially unwelcome, then a fluke event propels a display of her talent and she is accepted as the star. Both end with the girl saving the show. Both have suggestive dancing, but no violence and only a few seconds of mild nudity. My description of Gem for the Zoetrope.com posting ended with, "Edutainment, PG-13 (maybe)." Gem has almost no obscene language, Burlesque has a little more but still got a PG-13 rating.
Differences: Burlesque follows the young woman's career and her romantic life, Gem is told from the perspective of the older woman and has no love story. Burlesque is a lavish musical, Gem has only two songs and some film clips from old movies. Both go for what might be called burlesque-lite, but differ in their interpretation; Gem's Ann wants a return to 1950's bump-and-grind striptease, Burlesque eschews stripping for a Pussycat Dolls-style song-and-dance ensemble.
Gem pages 41-44 -- Liz (Ali's counterpart in the screenplay) takes the stage wearing street clothes, and undresses. Barefoot, she tries to pull off her jeans. After she almost falls, Ann tells her, "I should've gotten you a chair or something." Then Liz unwraps "ankle strap [shoes]. The shoe is ornate, but built very strong, with thick heels... the empty theater magnifies the sound of her heels on the deck. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP."
Note: Ankle-strap shoes were popular in the 1940's, fell out of fashion in the early 1950's. Star Bright wears them in both her scenes, as does Chorine. They make sense for Liz to wear on stage, because Gem is evocative of that era. As Ann tells her (page 44), "Good and sturdy. It's very close to what we used to wear." The shoes don't make sense as casual wear for Ali in modern-day Iowa.
Gem page 14 -- When Tina broaches the same subject, Ann replies: "You don't want this to be like a strip club. Lap-dancing? The word is 'slut.' Let's not do slut stuff." and more on next page.
Burlesque 0:24:15 -- Ali lobbies Tess for live music: "All the girls lip-synch... wouldn't it be great if we heard the girls actually sing?"
Gem page 3 -- Ann explains the problem in burlesque films to Tina, "most of 'em dub the music. Or they use phonograph records. It's just terrible... A live band makes all the difference in the world." Also on page 47.
Gem page 73 direction -- "Liz owns the stage." page 25 -- a heckler calls out, "You can't show me nuttin' I ain't already seen," to which Singer replies, "'Show me,' huh?"
Gem page 38 -- Tina whispers to Ann, on how to get rid of Liz: "Yes-yes, but just pro forma, so sorry, goodbye."
Gem page 74 -- Tina to Liz after they see her dance: "You can do that. You actually can do that... She can do that..."
Burlesque 0:56:55 The bank is about to foreclose on the Lounge and Tess can't pay. Marcus, a land developer, hands Vince an envelope, "I don't normally do this, but Vince, I'm doubling my offer." Vince takes it, saying, "It's either you or the auction house." He goes to Tess, who tells him, "No, I am not selling."
Gem page 106 -- Ann to Liz: "It's up to you. This theater can come back to life. But it needs performers. You're the only one we got. If you don't stay, this place will die. Tina doesn't care about show business. She's money. She'll take any offer she can get. You know who's gonna buy it? Some guy wants to build a parking lot."
Burlesque 1:12:20 Tess worries when Ali starts dating Marcus, but Ali shrugs her off. 1:13:40 Sean reassures Tess, "She's not going anywhere."
Gem page 75 -- Tina: "Don't let her get away!" Ann: "Aw, she's hooked." Tina: "What if she doesn't come back? Oh why didn't I have contracts ready?" Ann: "If she's happy she'll stay."
Gem page 33 -- Singer explains the death of burlesque theaters: "The buyers didn't want the theater, they'd just tear it down. It wasn't a money-maker. They wanted the land. Put up an office building, or a shopping mall. A parking lot."
Gem page 108 -- Gem is shot almost entirely inside the theater. It ends with the three women going outside, the first time we've seen them outside in daylight. When Liz takes the plunge and begins to woo Tina, we know the theater will live, and "the camera slowly begins TILTING upwards until it's centered on the sky, and then slowly begins to ZOOM until eventually all we see is blue sky." The sky dissolves to the 1948 film clip of stripper Hillary Dawn.
There isn't much burlesque in Burlesque, and it mostly involves Lili St. Cyr, the top-ranked U.S. stripper of the 1950's. In Gem the honors go to Lily Ayers, less known but in my opinion superior (she's the centerpiece [pages 26-30] of Singer's monologue). However it happened, maybe a name mix-up or they just decided to go with the majority opinion, Lili St. Cyr was chosen for Burlesque. Thing is, writer-director Steven Antin doesn't seem to know about her.
In the movie (0:19:40) Ali has a brief montage beginning with a half-dozen books on burlesque dropping onto her bed. Most visible are Jane Briggeman's Burlesque: Legendary Stars of the Stage (Collector's Press 2004), and Len Rothe's The Queens of Burlesque (Schiffer 1997). We see pages with photos of beautiful women, predominantly Lili St. Cyr.
In his director's commentary Antin never mentions Lili. This woman was the preeminent stripteaser in the US and Canada from the late 1940's to the early 1960's, and she's the only burlesque performer to get any attention in this movie. Repeat, the only one. Yet Steven Antin doesn't say one word about her, not even her name.
But he does tell us why he wanted the montage: "We need to see Ali interested in the world of burlesque and studying the world of burlesque at home."
Five minutes later (0:25:00) Antin's talking about the unfilmed monologue: "Tess, Cher, explained what the world of burlesque is and how it has nothing to do with G-strings and pasties and it is not about a tawdry world that... is commonly associated with burlesque today."
Huh? But that's what he wanted Ali to study--
And it dawned on me; Antin has no idea what was in those books on Ali's bed. He doesn't know they portray a "world of burlesque" that isn't his Pussycat Dolls version but the real thing, which means strippers, who of course wore "G-strings and pasties." Sometimes they don't even wear those. Briggeman's book includes a photo of Rose La Rose in a peek-a-boo outfit. Her nipples are fully exposed, can't quite see her crotch since she's standing behind a chair. Antin doesn't know that. He doesn't know that Rothe's book has a demure but definitely nude photo of Lili St. Cyr. Antin would probably think all that was "tawdry," if he knew. But he doesn't know.
Steven Antin is credited as sole writer of Burlesque, but he doesn't know what's in his own movie. I can't think of any reason for that except -- he didn't write it.
Lili St. Cyr appears again at 0:38:00. We see a close shot of her photo clipped to Ali's dressing-room mirror. The girl stares at it for inspiration; Lili evidently is her ideal. Again nothing from Antin.
The stripper is in Burlesque one more time, indirectly. At 1:00:10 Ali is singing, wearing an outfit of pearls. Suddenly the top of the outfit flies into the air, then the bottom. She feigns surprise and covers strategic areas, and we catch a few glimpses of skin. I smiled with recognition, and probably other burlesque buffs did the same. This is a redo of Lili St. Cyr's famous "Flying G-string" stunt from the 1940's, where an invisible fishing line was attached to the vital triangle. At the right moment an offstage helper tugged on the fishing rod and the G-string went flying into the air as if by magic -- all eyes went to maximum zoom -- then the lights dimmed low. Blatant gimmickry, but it helped launch Lili into stardom.
Antin's commentary: nothing. Silence. Then, finally, "Christina does a beautiful job here of doing a very tongue-in-cheek, funny Betty Boop-style performance here that makes it wildly accessible." Lili who? He doesn't know. Nobody told him.
There's no question that Burlesque uses material from Gem. I'll go the next step and suggest that Gem was the original script for Burlesque, then got sliced and diced as Steven Antin boot-strapped it into a $55 million-dollar musical. I can't prove that, but the timeline fits.
April 4, 2007 -- I posted the .pdf of Gem at Zoetrope.com. This was its first public exposure. During the one month in which it was viewable by members, 31 people downloaded Gem. Any or all of them could have copied it to other people, who could have copied it to other people, which means the whole world.
April 26, 2007; December 9, 2008 -- This is the earliest record of the movie that I found (copyright or otherwise). Option agreement for "Burlesque / by Steven Antin" executed between Pearl Pictures, Inc. and Behave Productions, Inc., recorded at U.S. Copyright Office September 16, 2009 (V3582D906). Behave Productions is Sony Pictures, owner of Screen Gems. Pearl Pictures, Inc. is probably Steven Antin. CorporationWiki lists him as President of Pearl Pictures in California, articles of incorporation filed in 1996.
FYI, CorporationWiki also lists a Pearl Pictures, Inc., a Florida corporation registered in 1992, Louis J. Pearlman, Director. He's the 1990's "boy-band" mogul who was one of the producers of Antin's 1992 movie, Inside Monkey Zetterland. Exposed in 2007 as a con man who swindled investors out of 300 million dollars, Lou Pearlman is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence.
September 18, 2009 -- This is the only copyright record I found that references a screenplay; Electronic file (eservice) for Burlesque, recorded at U.S. Copyright Office November 10, 2009 (PAu003438427). Pearl Pictures, Inc. and Behave Productions, Inc, both listed as "Co-author of entire 130 page screenplay dated 9/18/09." If I read the entry right, it is a transfer to Behave Productions, Inc.
wrote the script, and Diablo Cody ('Juno') revised it." "'Ever
since I saw my first burlesque show over five years ago, I've wanted to
make a film like this, and finally persuaded Steve to write a spec
script on the topic,' Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper said."
just got a rewrite from Diablo Cody and the script is really strong,'
said Antin, who wrote the original draft of 'Burlesque.'"
Merryman and David A. Newman... recently worked with Screen Gems when
they penned a draft of the upcoming pic 'Burlesque.'"
script passed through uncredited rewrites by such experienced hands as
Susannah Grant ('Erin Brockovich') and John Patrick Shanley
Coyote Ugly (2000) Violet, the protagonist, is a blond girl whose mother has been dead for 5 years. In Burlesque, Ali's mother died when she was 7. Both movies open on a small-town street, across from the bar (Ali) / pizza joint (Violet) where the girl works. In their first half, roughly, the two movies have a nearly identical plot:
Coyote Ugly (Director's Cut) 0:07:00 -- Violet moves to NYC and into an apartment. Her friend pushes a roll of cash on her, then puts it in the freezer. At 0:17:40 Violet returns home from plugging her audition tape and finds that her apartment has been burglarized. She rushes to the freezer and finds the roll of money gone. She sits on the floor and cries.
Burlesque 0:04:10 -- Ali moves to LA and into a hotel. She puts her cash (part of which was pushed on her by a friend) into a Ziploc bag and then into the toilet tank. At 0:25:10 she returns from work and finds that her room has been burglarized. She rushes to the bathroom and finds the empty Ziploc on the floor. She sits on the bed and cries.
Coyote Ugly 0:32:00 -- Violet is pulling on tight jeans, and jumps in the air to get them up. (LOL, shared credit with Gem. Back to page 42 and Liz getting her foot caught in her jeans. She loses her balance and "overcompensates, first in one direction, then the other, hopping on one foot... Ann realizes Liz is about to go down and rushes over to her.")
Burlesque 0:28:50 -- Ali dresses in front of Jack, pulling on tight jeans, and jumps in the air several times to get them up. She loses her balance and falls over.
FYI, Diane Warren, who wrote, "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" for Burlesque, also wrote four songs for Coyote Ugly. Probably doesn't mean anything -- Warren is a prolific songwriter -- but seems worth noting.
Very possibly there are more we don't know about.
Burlesque (2010) Scripts
Two alleged drafts of Burlesque are posted on the Internet. COMPARE WITH GEM
Comments or questions?
Copyright © by Michael Wren
page created November 30, 2011, last modified November 25, 2013