Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Kimberly Peirce has been set to direct The Knife, a drama for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment inspired by the true story of a South Central gang member who became a paid FBI informant. His covert collaboration with a hard-nosed agent led to a volume of busts ranging from crack and automatic weapons dealing to murder. It turned the gang scene so upside down that leaders issued a “kill all snitches” edict that put the informant’s life in constant danger. The script is being written by Vineet Dewan and Brian Grazer is producing.

Peirce, Dewan and Imagine’s Grazer and Erica Huggins essentially revived a project that the studio and production company first acquired two years ago. The genesis is The Inside Man, a 2008 GQ Magazine article by Guy Lawson. The piece told the story of the young Crips member who simply walked into an FBI office to offer his services because he was worn down by the senseless crime and killing around him.

Peirce, who followed Boys Don’t Cry with Stop-Loss, sparked to the subject matter at a time when such dramas were falling out of favor at Universal and other studios. She and Dewan made it easier to embrace by writing a 60-page script-ment, with Dewan fashioning a graphic novel. Both served as a detailed blueprint for the movie. Peirce just came off serving on the jury of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was impressed by the new indie model of tightly-budgeted films that sold like crazy to distributors. She thinks that if you are going to make an adult drama at a studio for less than $30 million, there are similar new realities that are worth heeding.

“We spent about four months working for free to put this together, because directors and writers have to go in with a movie like this totally figured out,” Peirce told me. “Many of my filmmaker and screenwriter friends tell me they’ve had to do the same. You just have to look at it as the answer to the question, what do I have to do to get a good movie made? A two-minute pitch isn’t good enough, and is there anything more mind-numbing than reading an outline? I fell in love with the two characters and immediately saw a classic buddy movie with this rookie gang-banger and a hard-nosed FBI agent who have to overcome a mutual distrust. The agent wants to infiltrate the gang at a time when the FBI had no understanding of gang structure. They were effective but there are so many conflicts that play out, like can you be an informant without being a rat, to can you trust an informant if his reason for cooperating isn’t that you will otherwise send him to prison for another crime he committed? I love true undercover crime stories like On The Waterfront, The Departed and Donnie Brasco, but Hollywood is moving away from films like these. We walked in and said, here’s the movie, it will cost under $30 million. And we walked out with much more than a development deal. It also helped that The Town and Takers came in at $30 million or less and grossed over $100 million. The studio told us to move as fast as we can and that’s what we’re doing.”

Peirce and Huggins tapped Dewan after reading his script Sand Dogs, which focused on ambulance drivers on the Gaza Strip and won the Nicholl Fellowship and a slot on the Black List. Dewan is repped by UTA, Peirce by CAA.