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FILM CLIPS MAIL CALL : Whose Virus Is It Anyway?

March 21, 1993

I am writing in response to Robert W. Welkos' article "A New Yorker Writer Unleashes the Most Virulent Strain of All: Movie Producers" (Film Clips, Feb. 28)

The article implies that my writing partner, Laurence Dworet, and I are ripping off Richard Preston's article in our "Virus" project for Arnold Kopelson and Warners. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Preston is a little naive if he thinks that by writing one article in the New Yorker he somehow owns an entire subject. Many others have been writing about these deadly viruses for years, and the amount of information available in the library is vast. The 1989 Reston, Va., incident is covered extensively in the medical literature, as are the 1976 and 1979 Ebola outbreaks in Zaire and Sudan.

Although Preston did a great job of researching and writing "Crisis in the Hot Zone," Dworet and I felt that his story could not serve as the basis for a major film. We had no desire to write a movie in which the dramatic climax would be the killing of 200 monkeys.

We pitched Warner Bros. our own idea, which we had been thinking and talking about for 10 years. I will not describe our story except to say that it is a "crisis procedural" of the sort we have written in the past.

Our story is in no way based on Preston's article. Preston does not own the research facilities of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases; the U.S. government owns it, and therefore it belongs to all of us.


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