Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE UPDATE, 9:30 AM: Just after Jeremy Renner and Homeland exec producer/director Michael Cuesta came aboard Kill The Messenger, the film has formalized a deal for Focus Features to take worldwide rights. Focus will distribute in the U.S., and Focus Features International’s Allison Thompson will sell foreign in Berlin this week. This development isn’t a shock, considering that Scott Stuber set it up years ago at his home studio Universal, and it is an excellent fit at Focus. The film is about journalist Gary Webb and how his mostly accurate investigative report on how the CIA helped introduce crack to California got the journalist smeared and fired. He eventually committed suicide.

EARLIER, JANUARY 31 PM: The movie packages are coming together on the eve of next week’s Berlin film market. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters star Jeremy Renner has been set to star in Kill The Messenger, a thriller that Michael Cuesta will direct that is based on the tragic tale of a journalist who committed suicide after being smeared by the CIA. The script was written by Peter Landesman. Cuesta seems perfect for this; he’s an exec producer and has directed numerous episodes of Homeland and has been integral in establishing the visual look of that show. He also helmed the pilots for Dexter and Elementary.

Scott Stuber, who set up this project eight years ago as producer at Universal, will be joined by Renner and Don Handfield, and it will be a co-production between Stuber’s Bluegrass and Renner’s The Combine. Naomi Despres is also producing. The film begins production in the summer.

This is a project that has been in the works for several years, and most recently it had been at Universal with Stuber. If the CIA mostly wears a white hat in Zero Dark Thirty for its dogged efforts to track and kill Osama bin Laden, the agency wears a decidedly black lid here. Kill The Messenger is based on the true story of Gary Webb, a San Jose Mercury News reporter who committed suicide after being the target of a smear campaign when he linked the CIA to a scheme to arm Contra rebels in Nicaragua and import cocaine into California.

Landesman (who is right now making his directorial debut on the JFK assassination pic Parkland) put the script together with source material from two books: Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, And The Crack Cocaine Explosion, by Webb, and Nick Schou’s Kill The Messenger: How The CIA’s Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb.

After he published his 1996 three-part series Dark Alliance, and implied that the CIA was a catalyst for the crack cocaine scourge in California, Webb was excoriated by colleagues in the press. The film will posit that Webb was mostly right, and that the CIA sought to smear him to conceal a scandal. The agency, in essence, concealed a deal with the devil that it made for what was believed at the time to be for the greater good. As a result of the smear campaign, Webb was destroyed; what should have been a careermaking expose turned out to be a career-ending debacle. Webb was jobless and in a spiral of depression when he ended his life in 2004.

CAA, which represents Renner and Stuber, will co-represent the film’s domestic distribution rights with WME, which represents Cuesta. The agencies will bring the project to Berlin. Renner is managed by Untitled’s Beth Holden.

Renner next stars in the Abscam drama that David O Russell is directing with Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper.

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