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Helm's Family Plans Lawsuit, Sorts Film Offers


SAN FRANCISCO — The family of Buck Helm, who survived four days in the rubble of the collapsed Nimitz Freeway after the Bay Area earthquake, has retained an attorney to file a claim against Caltrans--and a press agent to deal with reporters and "sort through" a plethora of offers from movie and television production companies.

"I'm taking all the offers," said Gary Frischer, the Beverly Hills public relations man who was hired by the Helm family's attorney, Vasilios B. Choulos of San Francisco. "We are sorting through all the offers at this time," Frischer said. "Some are lucrative."

But Choulos, in an interview, insisted that the family was not trying to cash in on Helm's instant status as a folk hero. "I want to deny and scotch that before it gets started," Choulos said.

Choulos said he hired Frischer, who is not well known in the Hollywood community, "to interface with the media."

Choulos said it is "premature" to discuss the sale of rights to the Buck Helm story. "Buck could take a turn for the worse," Choulos said. "He is a tough bird, (but) he is under heavy medication and has a tube down his throat."

Helm, 57, who spent 90 hours pinned in the Nimitz rubble and was rescued after officials had given up hope of finding more survivors, was transferred Thursday from Highland Hospital to Oakland's Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, where his condition remained "serious but stable."

The attorney first said the family had received "at least 50 phone calls" from television and film producers seeking rights to the story, though he later scaled the number back to 25.

"Their interest is noted, and they're told that at a later date, we'll get back to them," Choulos said. He declined to name the companies that made approaches.

Choulos said he was retained by Helm's former wife and their children "to look after his interests when a claim is made against the state" and "to sort out various problems." He also said he welcomes the state to set up a compensation package that would avoid taking the Helm matter to court.

The lawyer told an Oakland press conference Thursday evening that the family intends to set up a charitable foundation that would receive contributions from the public "to help victims less fortunate" than Helm. He was vague about how the funds would be disbursed.

Robb Rothman, a partner with Leading Artists Agency in Beverly Hills, said the "feeding frenzy" among Hollywood types is typical for such a high-profile story.

"There are a number of ways to tell this story: from the point of view of the family, from the point of view of the rescuers," he said. "In a true-life story like this, (producers) will go out and try to buy up as many peoples' rights as they can."

The agent, who is not involved in the Helm story, said that typically "a lot of marginal players" come out of the woodwork to bid for participants' rights.

Rothman said the Helm saga is best suited to movie-of-the-week treatment and estimated that the rights to the story could bring a total of $75,000 to $100,000 to all the major participants.

Typically, an independent producer would secure the rights to the story and then approach a television network.

An official at NBC said the network has not yet been approached. "Obviously, this is a very uplifting and heartwarming story, but that doesn't automatically make it a TV movie," he said.

"You've got to look at the whole package," he added.

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