EXCLUSIVE: The Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal and Management 360 have partnered with financier/producer Megan Ellison to option The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, an article about WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange in The New York Times Magazine written by the newspaper’s executive editor Bill Keller. Ellison, an exec producer of True Grit, will finance the film through her Annapurna Pictures and she, Boal and Management 360 will produce. Boal might write the film, but that will depend on if he has time. In addition to the Kathryn Bigelow-directed Triple Frontier with Tom Hanks, Boal is collaborating with Bigelow on a drama that might go sooner, about a secret Middle East mission movie. If Boal is going to write the Assange script, he will have to do it quickly.
His is just the latest in a growing number of Julian Assange/WikiLeaks movies that should continue to swell as more books about the controversial figure get published. I’ve heard DreamWorks is circling Inside WikiLeaks, a book that will be released February 15. It is written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange’s number 2 at WikiLeaks who defected because he wanted WikiLeaks to apply journalistic discretion in the dispersal of secret government documents while Assange wanted to release as many as he could get his hands on.
There is also the $1.5 million memoir by Assange. Movie/TV rights will be handled by CAA for lit agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop, and rumors are that The Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass might come attached (insiders said that’s not definitive). Among the other Assange movies that have already mobilized, Universal Pictures will finance and distribute an Alex Gibney-directed documentary on Assange and WikiLeaks that will be produced by Gibney and former Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger, and HBO is in talks with BBC to collaborate on a pic that would be based partly on Raffi Khatchadourian’s New Yorker article No Secrets: Julian Assange’s Mission for Total Transparency. Another documentary, WikiLeaks: War, Lies and Videotape has been picked up to be distributed by Zodiak. There are two more books available for movies: WME is handling Megaleaks by Andy Greenberg, and there is also WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War On Secrecy is coming from David Leigh and Luke Harding, two reporters from UK’s The Guardian who were the first to receive leaks from Assange and then shared them with Der Spiegel and The New York Times.
Assange is a polarizing figure. Some hail him as a teller of hard truths who keeps governments honest, a rogue anti-hero out of a Stieg Larsson novel. Others feel that the former computer hacker is recklessly destructive in revealing documents that put lives in danger, and that his main goal is to fuel his own notoriety. He’s also currently under a cloud for suspected sexual indiscretions that Assange claims is an attempt to silence him. Clearly, Hollywood has decided he is compelling movie material. One seasoned book-savvy production executive said that stampede to make Assange movies is typical Hollywood. He predicted that most of the rival projects will fall by the wayside when one makes it to the start line. The exec added that, unlike All the President’s Men, Hollywood will be forced to script the Assange story as it plays out in real time. “Usually you like to know how your third act ends, but that isn’t possible here,” the exec said.
The project optioned by Boal, 360 and Ellison offers a compelling way to tell the WikiLeaks story without having to rely directly on Assange as the focal point. In the piece, Keller depicts Assange as arrogant with an ego that grows larger. Assange evolved from smelling like a homeless person in his first meeting with Times editors to dying his hair, cleaning himself up to become a celebrity, complete with a growing list of demands about what the Times could or couldn’t write about him. Keller also draws a picture of how The Times–which courageously risked the wrath of the Nixon Administration by publishing The Pentagon Papers because the documents leaked by Daniel Ellsberg proved the government was lying about the Vietnam War–had to carefully measure the value of a great WikiLeaks scoop with the damage that could be caused to American intelligence operations and the exposure of people who came forward to give information in oppressed countries. Keller also describes attempts by Assange to freeze out The Times after he objected to the paper’s coverage of him and his suspected information sources.
One thing that bodes well for Assange is that he doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Reports today have Assange being nominated for a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.