Michael Mann just told me all about the hot title that’ll get buyers buzzing in Berlin this Wednesday: Avatar’s Sam Worthington has closed a deal to make The Fields, a fact-based drama that marks the big feature directing debut of Ami Canaan Mann who is Michael Mann’s daughter. Michael Mann will produce with Michael Jaffe in a co-production between QED and Mann’s Forward Pass. The film will begin shooting April 5 in Louisiana. Financing is QED, whose chief Bill Block put up the money for the Oliver Stone-directed W and District 9 and is heading to Berlin to broker international rights. QED and CAA will sell domestic.
The drama is based on a true story of a pair of detectives investigating a series of unsolved murders in a stretch of bayous near the oil refineries in coastal Texas where as many as 70 bodies have turned up over the past 30 years. “Sam read it, met Ami, and he was in. And for me, this is a dream come true to enable Ami to do this,” Michael Mann told me. “Sam will play Jake, this tough-minded misanthropic Texan, who with his partner Brian wind up waging something of a war against these unknown assailants, a ferocious battle to save each other and the life of this young street kid.”
The script was written by Don Ferrarone, a former top DEA operations agent whom Mann met while exec producing the Emmy-winning 1990 miniseries Drug Wars: The Camarena Story. After Ferrarone retired, he told Mann the story of these agents he met in his travels and Mann hired him to tell the story. That was a decade ago. “It took time to get it right and for it to come together in this incarnation,” Mann told me. “It’s a brilliant screenplay, filled with things you cannot make up in Hollywood, things you would have had to find the dead bodies in a heroin operation to understand. That’s why it’s such a haunting piece. This is such a spooky zone in Texas where cell phones don’t work, where the homes sit on trailer stilts, and where there’s a hand-painted sign on the bridge that reads, `You Are Now Entering the Cruel World’.”
Right now there’s a long list of accomplished Hollywood talent working with their kids. Among the latest is Denzel Washington, who always used his son John David as a sounding board for choices and took him on as co-producer of The Book of Eli. And producrt Art Linson now teams on his projects with son John Linson. About his daughter, Mann told me, “She’s absolutely her own person, and I’d say she’s better than I am. She has razor-sharp intelligence, and there is great taste and artistry in what she has done as a director.” Before she took a hiatus to have a child, the USC Film School grad directed an episode of Friday Night Lights, and before that an episode of Robbery Homicide Division, the drama series which Michael Mann exec produced. This is not Ami Mann’s feature directing debut: she helmed Morning and screened it at Sundance in 2000. On The Fields, Ami’s sister, Aran, will do the production design.
Meanwhile, Dad said self-financing scripts, which he did on Heat, is a must in the current shifting studio climate. “I try to finance and own whenever I can, because it allows me to choose where I want to be in business closer to the eventual release date given the rate at which [studio] administrations change. It’s really like casting, only you are casting who you’re going to be in business with on a specific movie, based not only on distribution, but marketing and advertising.”